Track Your Habits Before You Do Them

I recently went through a “habits revamp” — I took a close look at my habits and asked myself which ones I wanted to keep, which ones I wanted to discard, and which ones I wanted to replace.

Doing 30 minutes of yoga every morning? Yeah, that’s a good habit to keep.

Eating lunch while scrolling through social media and Reddit? That habit needs to get replaced. (I like the idea of giving myself a mental break, but I realised I was spending a lot of this time hate-reading a group of subreddits — and I didn’t like that.)

Solving the “feeling tired” problem by eating a bunch of candy? That habit needs to get discarded ASAP. Having a piece of candy now and again is fine, but I never eat just one piece. I’ll go to the candy shop across the street from my apartment, buy a box of truffles or English toffee or peanut butter cups, and then eat the whole box at once.

So I added a bunch of rows to what I call my “Daily Spreadsheet” where I track everything from sleep to mood to bowel movements, and I labelled each of them with a habit I either wanted to add to my life or a habit I wanted to remove from my life.

Then I woke up the next morning, opened my Daily Spreadsheet, and filled out each cell with one word: YES.

YES, I’d gone the entire day without hate-reading the internet (even though the day had just started and I hadn’t even checked my email yet).

YES, I’d gone the entire day without bingeing on candy (even though I hadn’t even eaten breakfast).

YES, I’d gone to bed on time that evening (even though I had just woken up).

You get the idea.

By filling out my spreadsheet before my day started, instead of using it as a way to report how the day had gone, I found myself pre-committing to my positive habit changes.

Which meant that I stuck to my habits.

Because I’d already told myself I had.

I’ve been keeping this Daily Spreadsheet for half a year now, and switching to the pre-log system has been essential in helping me make the choices I want to make during the day.

It’s similar to the “log your food before you eat it” strategy, for those of us who use nutrition trackers: by telling ourselves what we’re going to eat during the day, we don’t have to make decisions in the moment. We already know that we’re going to play Baba Is You during our lunch break instead of scrolling Reddit and Twitter (which is how I replaced my hate-reading habit), or that we’re going to go for a walk after dinner.

If You're Tracking Calories, Log Dinner First

Tracking what you eat is a lot like budgeting: You have a certain amount of calories or nutrients to “spend” throughout the day. Planning is key, which can be a little nerve-wracking: What if I spent too many calories on breakfast? Will I be hungry at dinner?

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I should also note that pre-logging my habits has helped me understand how I need to refine my habits — because I recently discovered that pre-logging “I won’t binge on sugar” didn’t actually stop me from eating the entire chocolate squirrel I bought at the candy shop (instead of rationing it over several days).

This means I needed to change the habit to “don’t buy more than one serving of candy at a time.” If I buy a box of toffee or a chocolate squirrel, I will eat the whole thing at once, so my new habit is to only buy a single truffle or a single toffee finger, and only once a week.

And I’m going to stick to it, because I’ve already told myself I will.


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