Habit tracking – How to easily make good habits stick

When we want to build a new habit or get rid of an old one, we tend to focus on what positive change the behavior will bring. We see only two options. To succeed right away or fail. With the all-or-nothing approach, the habits become more difficult to stick to. Failure becomes far more common than success. When we change our focus from weeks or months to days, we start to focus much more on the behavior itself. A habit tracker is a great tool to begin the change of perspective and make sticking to your habits easier.

Below we’ll look into what a habit tracker is, what the benefits are and how you can implement habit tracking into your life.

An infographic showing information about habit tracking
Habit tracking

What is a habit tracker?

A habit tracker is a way to keep track of how good you are at sticking to existing habits. These habits could be daily, weekly, monthly, or any other time interval. However, most find habit tracking to have a great effect on their lives when done daily. It’s useful when you’re trying to make good habits stick but also when trying to eliminate bad habits.

There are many ways you can do habit tracking. No approach is proven significantly more effective than others. It mostly comes down to your personal preferences but more on this later.

The most important thing is that you make tracking enjoyable and convenient. If you can’t make tracking your habits into a habit, you won’t benefit from this tool.

Related: What is a habit?

The benefits of habit tracking

Habit tracking has many benefits that can help you get rid of bad habits and make sure that your good habits stay. It’s a crucial tool for self-improvement.

It gives the feeling of small wins 

Any success is built upon accumulating many small wins. When you track your habits, you celebrate every time you do a good- or avoid a bad habit. 

Your brain gets a small reward anytime you do something that signals success. When you physically note the success, this satisfying feeling becomes more noticeable. It seems more significant.

Related: How to reward yourself

It gives you confidence 

Every time you successfully do a difficult behavior, you send a message to yourself. You show yourself that you’re capable of doing difficult things.

As the streak grows and the small wins accumulate, you begin to trust yourself more. Feel more confident. Confidence that’ll show up not just around the habit but in most aspects of your life.

It makes you focused

As you see the streak grow, it’ll become easier to stay focused. You’ve slowly built the belief in yourself that you can do difficult things. 

As the streak grows, breaking it seems more difficult. Where it before seemed the easiest to avoid doing the behavior, it now seems to have consequences avoiding it. It will help you stay on track

However, breaking the streak isn’t the end of the world. More about that at the bottom of the page.

It helps you change your perspective 

Tracking your habits can help shape and redefine your definition of success. We often tend to look at long-term goals and the end destination as the measure of success. However, once you begin to track your habits, your focus will shift from the end goal to the next time you intend to do the behavior. Even to celebrate that.

When you track and celebrate small wins, you’ll slowly shift from looking at the end goal to the actual behavior itself. The habit becomes easier to build and stick to. The process of reaching your goals becomes far more enjoyable.

Which habits should you track?

There are no right or wrong habits to track, as long as they serve a purpose in your life. However, the more impact a specific habit can have on your life, the more likely it is that you should make an effort to track it.

The following habits all work well with habit tracking.

A picture showing examples of the habits you can track with a habit tracker
Which habits can you track?

Remember that there are no right or wrong habits to track. If the habit serves a purpose in your life and you believe it to be important, it is. There are no wrong habits to track.

Related: Get an overview of your habits with a habit scorecard

How to effectively track habits

The most important thing when it comes to tracking your habits is actually tracking them. Otherwise, it won’t help much. 

There are three times I have found it to be especially effective to do this. You can pick one time that suits you the best or, over time, track different habits at different times.

Right after the habit

You get a small win from the habit. When you add the extra feeling of success from tracking it, it’ll become much more powerful. Over time, the behavior will tie to the feeling of success you get from noting it.

Tracking the habit right after it occurs is easiest when the success of the habit is easily definable. It can be when you work out, read, meditate, journal, or similar. 

You can add what and how much you did to your tracking. If you’re competitive, this will create additional motivation to improve next time.

In the evening 

In the evening, you have a clear overview of the day passed. Assessing your behaviors is often easy. Tracking your habits in the evening gives a sense of calm before bed. Making the habit is easy, as it can tie to an existing habit in your nighttime routine.

Tracking your habits in the evening works well with all types of behaviors.

In the morning

When you wake up is a great time to reflect on the previous day. It’s also a great time to reflect on your successful habits. It allows you to start every day with the feeling of a win.

Tracking in the morning works especially well if you want to get rid of negative behaviors that usually happen in the evening. It can include watching porn, scrolling mindlessly on social media, or late-night binge eating.

Related: How to create a morning routine

Track habits offline 

Tracking habits offline is the preferred strategy for many. It allows you to get a break from screens.

Let’s look at some of the most efficient approaches for offline habit tracking.

Habit Journal

The first approach to tracking is to make yourself a simple habit journal. You can easily make your own habit journal in a notebook (Or as a part of your daily journaling)

When you want to start journaling, you begin with the date. Next, you’ll want to have a sign that indicates either success or failure (I use smileys for this) and write how many days your streak has been running. In the end, you’ll write some notes about the habit that day. How much you did, when you did it,  how it made you feel, or anything you find relevant.

On the days you miss the desired behavior, write honest notes without excuses. You can use this information to stay on track next time.

A habit journal is the most effective way to track habits. However, it does require a lot of effort. If you struggle to start, you might want to begin with one of the other approaches.

Habit Calendar

A habit calendar is simply a calendar in which you track your habits. Assign a small sign to each habit you’re tracking and write them in the calendar every time you have completed the desired behavior. 

A habit calendar shows your progress visually. It’s pleasing to see how the streak slowly grows from days, to weeks, to months. 

Posts its

Using posts-it to track habits is maybe the simplest way to do this. The post-it can be hung anywhere, you can’t avoid seeing it. The most effective is on the bathroom mirror.

Write the starting date at the top and write the habit you want to make stick or get rid of. Every day you succeed, you can add a dot, X, or line on the paper and slowly watch it grow. The benefit of hanging it on the mirror is that you get to look yourself in the eye whether you succeed or not.

Habit tracking with google sheets or excel

An example of a habit tracker made in google sheets
A simple habit tracker made in google sheets

Google sheet is a great free tool to use for habit tracking. There are several ways to do this.

You write down the habit you want to track on the left side. Note the date above and then mark the fields each day with colors either signaling success or failure.

If you want to make the use of google sheets even more effective, you can write a small, simple note about how you did that day. You could track pages read, miles run, minutes spent studying, or something that applies to your situation.

Below you’ll find a free google docs template to help you get started with habit tracking. The sheet can be copied and inserted into excel.

Free template for tracking your habits in Google Sheets

To use the tracker you have to copy the template and insert it into your own sheet.

Apps for habit tracking 

Most find manually tracking habits the most rewarding and effective way of staying on track. However, some do prefer using an app for this purpose. Luckily, there are some great apps for this.

Strides: Goal Tracker

Strides is a simple app that helps you stay on track with your habits. It has a long list of habits to select from but allows you to add additional trackers. You can see your progress and follow as your streak grows. It can act as a cue with daily, timed notifications.

The free version won’t allow you to track more than three habits. This forces you to be selective and only track the habits that matter to you.

I am sober

I Am Sober is maybe the best app to get rid of bad habits. It has a wide range of bad habits to track and offers numerous features. You can follow your streak, resources saved, create pledges to yourself, and much more.

I Am Sober is free (except for a few features which for most won’t be needed) and easy to use, making this a great app for tracking bad habits.

Breaking the streak

Nobody is perfect, and your streak won’t be either. You might forget to track your habits one day or miss the intended behavior another. 

The fact that you messed up one day won’t undo the good work you put in. The thing that matters is how you respond to it. 

Get back to the habit the following day. Get back to tracking and begin to rebuild your streak. You can use the old streak as a point to beat. Let that desire fuel you when it becomes difficult. 

Knowing why you didn’t succeed that day can be useful when trying to avoid future slip-ups. Have you been too strict with yourself? Is the habit doable for long periods? Do you want the habit in your life? Ask yourself these questions and use the knowledge to improve your future self.

Related: Common habit myths

Sum up

Habit tracking is as the name might suggest, a way of keeping track of habits. It creates small wins, gives confidence, helps you stay focused, and positively changes your definition of success.

You can track habits on paper, in Google sheets, or with different apps. You can do this at any time of the day. There’s no wrong way to track habits, and any kind of tracking has benefits.

If you miss a day and break your streak, get back to the habit and focus on beating your old streak. See it as an opportunity to learn and not as a failure.

What to read about next:

Habits- A simple guide to self-improvement with better habits

Good habits – How to effectively build healthier habits

The Habit Scorecard – How to find your hidden bad habits