Why I Track My Daily Habits

I once read an essay called, 16 Habits You Should Do Every Day. In it, the author outlined daily habits and a system for tracking them, and why sticking to the habits lead to long-term success in different areas of his life.

Similarly, I use a Google Spreadsheet to track a long list of my own habits. Everything from fitness, to meditation, to reading, to diet, to blogging is covered in the sheet. I have reminders set up to check in on these habits twice each day, marking cells green for complete and red for incomplete.

The level to which I track is considered OCD by some of my friends. But months of tracking has produced amazing results in different areas of my life. Thanks to tracking:

  • I put on 4 kg of muscle at the gym after years of spinning my wheels and not getting results.
  • I consistently read at least an hour a day, where previously I’d only picked up a book after some boost of inspiration.
  • I take cold showers every morning and after every workout, which accord a long list of benefits for our physiology and psychology.

In the months of tracking these habits, I’ve noticed some interesting things:

First, each of these habits was something I’d previously integrated into my life, but later abandoned at some point for whatever reason.

Second, none of the habits are tied to any tangible goal; the only goal is in the execution of the action itself.

Third, I’ve reached levels of success in some of the areas that I hadn’t achieve prior to tracking the habit.

These observations led me to a few conclusions about the value of habit-tracking.

Consistency

The simple act of tracking my daily activities brings my behavior patterns into awareness. Being aware of these behaviors allows me to see when I fall off, and be prepared to course correct. In the absence of tracking, there is no accountability system in place to signal, “hey, you missed a day!”

And that level of never missing a day is what leads to results and fulfillment long term. Approaching habits with the mindset of just being consistent rather than being perfect takes the pressure off. As one of my mentors says, “consistency beats perfection, always.”

Want to get in better shape? Put down the 6-Pack Abs program and instead map out a plan for getting to the gym a few times a week for the next 2 years.

Consistency beats perfection. – Mario Tomic

Want to write a book? Find an environment and writing schedule that allows you to focus and work on the book each day for several months.

Falling in love with the process

One of the best parts about staying consistent is that it changes the object of my focus. Instead of worrying about whether not I’m doing something right, I simply enjoy the process of doing, and disregard the result. And enjoying the doing is the way to enjoy life.

It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result. – Mahatma Ghandi

This sounds easy in principle but it actually requires mental discipline to enjoy ourselves. We’ve been wired and conditioned to chase goals, objects, and outcomes in almost every area of life. Daily tracking is an effective method for unwiring these old behaviors and rewiring the brain for newer, better habits.

The more I track, the less pressure I feel about achievement – because I know that the journey itself will lead to the rewards I want.

If that sounds esoteric, I agree with you. But there’s a simple exercise you can try on your own that instantly changes the focus of any activity.

Let’s say you’re building the habit of exercising. Here are some common thoughts and questions people have:

  • “How can I get myself to the gym 3 times a week for the next 3 months?”
  • “What’s a good way to wake up earlier and go for a jog?”
  • “How many pounds should I lose before I will look good?”

These questions are okay, but they’re still coming from the frame of short term reward. A better frame to come from: “I’m going to be doing this every day until I die.”

As soon as you adopt that mindset, your entire perspective shifts. You’re now free to take baby steps. Free to small chunk your way every day, to congratulate yourself on small victories.

I wasn’t able to stay consistent at the gym until I bought into the mindset: “this is something I will focus on every day until I die.” Instantly, I started becoming more aware of my health in every area of life – how certain foods affected my mood, how important getting good sleep is to long term health and happiness, and above all, establishing a fitness routine that allowed me to take small steps every day and let the results come as they may.

So ask yourself: “if I were to do this every day until I die, how would I do it differently?” There’s a good chance you may change your goal or ditch it entirely.

Appreciating the little things

It feels great to think long term and enjoy the ride. As I continue to enjoy the process and let the chips fall where they may, there have been some unexpected side effects.

One of which is taking absolute joy in small, seemingly insignificant activities. Cleaning my room, arranging some chairs, cooking my food – all of this is incredibly fun.

These little joys extend to business, too.

Tasks that had previously seemed like work, I now look forward to. Calling and emailing clients was once a scary proposition, and now just another fun part of the day. Managing virtual employees once seemed daunting and complicated, now it’s a way to connect with people who share my vision. Even writing – something I always dreamt of but only recently decided to pursue – is now something I look forward to each day.

The effect of which on my business is focusing on understanding processes on a fundamental level, rather than focusing on the results I can get from them. Not surprisingly, a richer understanding leads to more success in the long-term.

You have to UNDERSTAND the bottom, before you can CONTROL the top. – Alex Becker