Tracking habits can become an important part of achieving your long-term goals, as the little things you do day to day can have a large impact over the long term. This post is a prompt to think about your current habits and how to identify and improve them.
The habit loop
The habit loop was first discussed in Charles Ruhig’s book The Power of Habit. This framework provides a very simple approach to identifying habits. The “habit loop” consists of 3 parts, the Cue, the Routine and the Reward. Breaking these down, the cue is something that triggers the habit loop (time, place, smell, etc), the routine is the habit itself (the action you take) and finally, the reward is the pleasure you receive from completing the routine.
You can’t forget bad habits, however, you can replace the routine in their loops for a better one.
Having the ability to identify habits is the first step in being able to improve them. All habits should follow the 3 part loop, however, you will need to experiment with locating each part. The routine is the easiest place to start as it will likely be the part you want to change. For myself I wanted to start stretching in the mornings, however, I either found myself forgetting or just avoiding the routine. I created an alert (cue) using a habit-tracking app on my phone, which lead to me completing the stretching (routine) and finally checking off the circle in the app (reward).
When to use habits
Of all the different productivity techniques and tools, habits fit into their own category. There are 2 main use cases for habits, the first is when you find yourself adding a task to your to-do list that you need to complete every day and the second one is when you want to form a new habit. Two examples from my personal life would have to be washing my face and reading.
I wanted to start washing my face twice a day, however, prompting myself to do this through my to-do list just wasn't going to work. It would require creating two tasks at set times in the morning and evening with no means of tracking long-term performance. The second item of reading every day was too sporadic to add to my to-do list and I also wanted to be able to track my progress over the months.
At first, you might think tracking habits can be done within the to-do list, however, this would not be advised. To-do lists aren't great for tracking performance over time and this becomes really important when trying to form a habit.
Habits and Goals
During the annual goal setting, I typically find that some of my goals will require new habits to be formed. There are also tasks to schedule and calendar events to plan, but a lot of the time I will need to start to do something every day to achieve the goal. One of my goals this year was to complete 6 online courses throughout the year. I knew there were a few ways I could approach this, one of them being to schedule entire weekends with blocks of study to cram in courses, however, I wanted to space out the content and also build it into my daily routine. This is where I decided to add and track a study habit that I could check off each day after completing any type of studying that day.
I will write up a blog post soon on the app that I use to track all my habits. Until then I would recommend reading The Power of Habit and trying to identify the cue → routine → reward cycles of your own habits.