Welcome to the Healthy Habit Hacks blog series! We’re here to help turn your healthy intentions into habits. Each month we’ll provide an article with tips on how to move from wishing to doing. We’ll start with an introductory hack and two sections based on your intentions – one section geared toward building healthy habits and the other focused on breaking bad ones.
The Healthy Habit Hack for this month is: Track your actions!
Once you’ve set a health goal, tracking your actions is one sure way to help you get started and stay on track. Did you know that 69% of U.S. adults use tracking to manage their health or that of a loved one? Self-tracking is defined as the practice of repeatedly recording information such as behaviors, thoughts, and feelings about oneself.
Tracking your actions does several things. It raises your awareness and provides a record of how you spend your time. Sometimes, just knowing that you will be documenting your behavior helps keep you honest and keeps you focused on your goal. Using a tracker or keeping a log for a period of time can help you learn what works well for you and what your stumbling blocks may be. A log helps you identify patterns, triggers that may tempt you, and cues that may prompt you to change. Reviewing your log and looking for patterns and cues that work can help you stay focused and give you the confidence to stay on track while seeing what challenges you face may help identify when and where to seek support.
Where and how often do I track my actions?
To keep track of your actions, you’ll want to record or log them. It doesn’t matter where you keep this log. You may find a digital device or an app tracker that you enjoy, or you may like to keep a paper log or jot down your thoughts in your digital notes.
You’ll also want to track your actions regularly. When starting a relatively specific habit, like eating more fruits, or breaking a bad one, such as cutting back on sugar, tracking every day for one to two weeks can be beneficial. The first couple weeks helps to fully understand your patterns, and then continuing to track at least several days a week after continues to build the habit. On the other hand, a more complex issue like losing weight, quitting smoking, or managing a medical condition like blood pressure may require daily tracking for a longer period of time before moving on to less frequent (but regular) tracking. It may also be hard to start out daily tracking so you may want to start small and track twice a week and build up to 6 or 7 days a week.
Building healthy habits
As you’re working on building a healthy habit, start by picturing where you want to be and write it out or sketch it in your log. For example, if you’re planning to exercise more, draw a picture or find a photo of yourself exercising and feeling accomplished. Next, determine your specific goal for the behavior you’re working toward.
Goals could be: I will eat a low-sugar breakfast 6 days a week; I will meditate for 10 minutes 4 days a week; I will exercise 30 minutes 5 days a week.
Next, assess your actions in the log or tracker that work for you. Log your behavior for several days or even one-to-two weeks so you can get an accurate view of your current habits. When you log your actions, you may want to also log your feelings, where you were, who you were with, if anything or any person or feeling caused you to act the way you did. Those insights can help you find from where and whom to gather support and what might stop you from making a change.
After a set period of time, review and adjust your behavior. If you’re successful, celebrate your success and reinforce the situation, time of day, or person you’re with that has helped you stay on track. If you’ve struggled, examine what internally or externally is stopping you. You may also want to adjust your goal – for example you may realize that it was too ambitious to eat low-sugar 6 days a week and you want to start with 3 days, or it may be too little to meditate 10 minutes each a session and you want to meditate 20 instead.
Breaking bad habits
As you’re working on breaking a bad habit, start by picturing where you want to be and write it out or sketch it in your log. For example, if you’re planning to quit smoking cigarettes, draw a picture or find a photo of yourself feeling accomplished and smoke-free. Next, determine your specific goal for the behavior you’re working toward. Goals could be long-term or short-term.
Here are some examples: I will quit smoking on March 1, 2022; I will journal every cigarette I smoke for 14 days; I will delay my first cigarette of the day for seven days; I will drink no more than 3 drinks on any day and drink only 3 days a week; I will alternate an alcoholic drink with water and lemon every day that I drink for 14 days; I will replace a negative thought with a positive one.
Next, log your actions as well as your feelings, where you were, who you were with, if anything or any person or feeling caused you to meet or miss your goal. Those insights can help you find from where and who to gather support and what might stop you from making a change. If you’ve struggled, examine what internally or externally is stopping you.
When it comes to breaking bad habits tracking or journaling can be critical as it helps identify triggers and temptations. Logging your cravings for sugary drinks, cigarettes, or alcohol (including when, where, and with whom) may help you identify triggers and temptations that cause you to drink soda, smoke, or drink. Logging your mood and what tempted you to do so further helps you understand the cravings and reasons why you typically engage in the behavior.
Here’s a running list of our Healthy Habit Hacks. We’re here for you as you make your way. You got this!
- Start where you are – have a vision and a plan but don’t overthink it. Instead, consider your current assets, past successes and trials and leverage them to get you started right away.
- Track your actions – track your progress and regularly examine it to identify patterns, successes, and challenges. That way you can celebrate and learn from success as well as learn from your attempts.