This post is part of a 31-day treatise on habits. <— Click there to see all the posts.
When it comes to making your good habits stick, there are two things that are essential: tracking and rewards.
First, let’s talk about tracking.
Tracking can take a few forms. Some people like to use apps to track the progress of a goal. Others simply make a check mark on a calendar. I like to create a quick document with a table that shows the days of the week on top and the habits I’m working on on the left. Each day when I accomplish that task, I put a check mark in the box.
Tracking can become a type of reward in itself. It feels great to see how many days you stuck to your good habit. This system is as old as Benjamin Franklin, maybe older. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin uses Franklin-esque resolutions trackers each month. You can even download them free from her site.
Tracking works. There’s something thrilling about seeing the progress you’ve made. It gives you motivation to keep going until the new habit is ingrained into your life. At that point you don’t need to track it.
As we talked about in the post about how habits work, rewards are also very important.
Of course, meeting a goal is a reward in itself. But if the goal is going to take some time, you need a way to reward yourself in the interim to keep you motivated to keep going.
Rewards were confusing to me at first. I kept hearing about rewards being important for acknowledging progress, but didn’t know how to implement that. How do I reward myself for saving money? By blowing some on a trinket? How do I reward myself for eating right? With a cupcake? I couldn’t reconcile it.
Then I realized that I engage in rewarding activities throughout my day that don’t involve things counterproductive to my goals. For instance, one of the things I enjoy doing is reading the blogs I subscribe to in my RSS reader. Instead of doing that just whenever, I do it after I’ve written two blog posts. It becomes a reward. As I wrote about earlier, reading is one of my favorite activities, but I use it to reward myself later in the day when I’ve accomplished the important things on my to-do list.
Maybe just re-framing an activity or shuffling it around in your schedule will turn it into an insta-reward. Maria Cilley (aka FlyLady), that household management guru that has helped millions of people go from mess to bless, encourages drinking your morning coffee AFTER getting dressed to the shoes and tidying up the kitchen.
Perhaps you need new shoes or a new purse. Instead of going out and buying it today, make it a reward for exercising every day this month. When I decided to make getting up early and writing a habit, I rewarded/bribed myself with Trader Joe’s chocolate or almond croissants. Hey – whatever works!
Finally, one last tip that has helped me stick to good habits: Involve your children (assuming you have them!). There are two reasons this is a great tip. One, children are very good B.S. detectors. They are quick to point out hypocrisy in adults! If you set a goal and then don’t do it, they’ll relish the opportunity to remind you. 🙂
Secondly, because we all want to set a good example for our kids and pass along our virtues, we’re helping train them in good habits when we ask them for help in holding us accountable.
I’ve read that Jim-Bob Duggar (certainly no greenhorn when it comes to parenting!) asks his kids to remind him when he’s getting angry. He wanted to work on that bad habit so he involved them to keep him accountable. And it really works.
What do you think about tracking and rewards? What do they look like for you?