1) It helps you build a map of your behavior
It’s no coincidence that so many people use habit tracking techniques to setup the building blocks for long term change. The simple act of tracking your habits is the best way to build a map of your behavior. What do maps do? They give you the information you need to navigate from where you are to where you want to be.
Charles Duhigg is famous for popularizing the golden loop of habit change. The golden loop is made up three parts, namely, the cue, the routine, and the reward. However, Duhigg doesn’t explain that in order to identify your cues, you need to monitor your behavior over a period of time. What’s the best to do this? With habit tracking of course.
Simply put, habit tracking is the tool you need to identify the triggers that set you off. Once these triggers are identified, you can create strategies to combat those triggers and start altering your behavior.
2) Failure Doesn’t Stop You From Moving Forward
Asking a chain smoker to document every smoke over a two week period is from asking that smoker to give up smoking for two weeks. The first option (tracking the habit) is achievable, and it helps lay the foundation to tackle the problem head on, regardless of whether you succeed on that first day.The second option might result in success, but it so often ends in failure. This is an issue, because that failure can knock their confidence and make them less willing to try again in future.
The reality is that there are a lot of people out there who believe that going cold turkey is the only method for breaking a habit. The fundamental problem with this approach is that it ignores the likelihood of relapse. You need a strategy that doesn’t kill all your hopes and dreams every time you make a mistake.
Obviously the end goal is remove the bad habit once and for all, but creating a scenario where you only have one shot is both unhelpful and ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of going all in during a poker game. Of course it’s great if the flop goes your way but if it doesn’t? You are screwed! That’s what happens when you adopt an all or nothing attitude to habit change in general.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to put everything on the line in order to change. Every time you fail with an all or nothing attitude, long term success moves further and further from your grasp. It’s hard to imagine the benefit of such a black and white approach.
Fortunately, habit tracking won’t berate you every time you step out of line, and it will allow you to bounce back from failure and relapse.
If you still aren’t convinced, let me put it this way. Imagine you’re standing at the halfway line of a basketball court. The objective is to throw the ball into the hoop from 15 yards away, but there’s a catch. You only have one ball, while your competitor has a hundred. Who is more likely to achieve the objective of throwing the ball into the hoop?
Bringing this back to habit change, why would you setup a scenario where you only have one shot, as oppose to one hundred? This is not an attitude of weakness and it doesn’t mean you are condoning failure. It simply allows for the possibility of failure, while creating the perfect springboard to get back on the horse quickly if you happen to fall off.
The net result is more opportunities to make the change stick, for life.
3) You Remove The Curse of Judgment & Guilt
In Jennefir McGonigal’s excellent book ‘The Willpower Instinct’, she makes it explicitly clear that guilt and judgment only make bad habits worse. Why is this? Because when we feel guilty after a slip-up, 2 things happen.
1) You look for comfort, and often find it in the very habit you are trying to break
2) It triggers the ‘What The Hell’ effect
What is the what the hell effect? In short, it’s when a minor slip up leads to a gargantuan downfall. It’s when you say to yourself “I’ve already smoked one cigarette today, what the hell, I might as well have a few more.” It’s the first domino in a chain of bad behavior that you know all to well. It’s a very real psychological reaction to failure that causes you to cash in on the opportunity to misbehave while you can.
Thankfully, habit tracking doesn’t require you to crucify yourself every time you make a mistake. It simply acts as a behavioral mirror that will help you change your behavior over time.
4) The Power of Food Journal Stats
The statistics on food journals speak for themselves. Here’s an example, from research funded by the national Heart, Lung & Blood Institute of America. The study of nearly 1,700 participants found that keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss. The study found that the best predictors of weight loss were how frequently food diaries were kept and how many support sessions the participants attended. Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.”
In the study above, keeping a food journal wasn’t the only weight management technique available to the participants. However, the findings make it crystal clear that keeping a food journal is ultimately what separated the successful participants from the unsuccessful participants.
This is scientifically validated information that can be applied to just about every habit that you might want to break. Yes, there are other techniques and strategies that you should incorporate into your habit breaking plan, but habit tracking should ultimately form the backbone of
5) You tap into a reservoir of bonus motivation.
This point is best explained by a personal examples
Example – This actually happened after I downloaded a financial app that tracks all your spending in order to help you save money. After setting things up I started pouring through the data. I wasn’t expecting the KFC Colonel to reach out of my phone and slap me in the face. The data made it clear that I had developed a habit of eating a KFC Twister for lunch. I was both shocked and appalled.
After this realization, I made a strong commitment to avoid KFC lunch time visits at all costs. In addition, every time I felt the urge to indulge in some fried chicken, I thought about how awful it would be to open the app and face the ugly truth that my desire to consume oily chicken was out of control.
Long story short, the accountability factor that’s built into habit tracking quite literally has enough power to deter you from repeating the mistake you are trying avoid. Simply knowing that you have to own up to your error brings with it an extra layer of motivation that is difficult to access through other methods.
There are so many tangible benefits with habit tracking, it’s hard to imagine why anyone that is struggling with a bad habit would be unwilling to adopt the strategy into their lives.
However, it’s very easy to read about how to fix a problem, without actually putting any of the ideas that you come across into practice.
My biggest breakthrough with my compulsive skin picking habit happened while reading a book by Annette Pasternak called ‘Skin Picking – The Freedom To Finally Stop’.
For me, the most important message in the book is that if you aren’t willing to track your habits, you aren’t ready to stop.
Before reading this, I read about all the strategies and techniques that one can use, without actually implementing them. After that realization, I started tracking my behavior with immediate effect, and I am happy to report that my progress has been nothing short of amazing.
Although there are still bad days and I’m not quite of the woods just yet, if I think about where I am now vs where I was 1 year ago, the difference is night and day.
If you would like to achieve similar progress and break the most destructive habit in your life, do yourself a favour and make habit tracking the cornerstone of your habit breaking strategy. And if you are still resisting this suggestion, remember Pasternak’s words.
If you aren’t willing to track your habit, you aren’t ready to stop.