One of the things I hear frequently from clients and students is how difficult it can be to maintain motivation, even when we know that a particular habit helps us to feel better. When the world feels chaotic and out of control, or our life circumstances change drastically, those habits seem less important as we’re simply trying to survive.
Making sure your basic needs are met has to come first, obviously. But once we’re back in our window of tolerance, each of us has our own ways to support mental, physical and emotional well-being. Whether that’s gardening, physical activity, meditation, FaceTime with a loved one, or anything else at all, there are resources that you use to create a healthy, sustainable structure for yourself. You know that if you can do those things, you’ll be better supported internally to handle the external turbulence.
And yet somehow, we don’t always seem to get around to doing those things we meant to do.
So: how do I stay “on track” to support myself? .
I began using a habit tracker a few months ago.
I use it as a tool for both accountability (to help create and maintain habits) and to track trends over time. I use a paper version because I am a tactile person and I enjoy the satisfaction of making check-marks every day. At the end of the month, I review my (now coffee-stained, crumpled) paper to see what worked well and what didn’t. Then, I can make changes to my goals for the following month.
This is not a tool for shame or guilt. Instead, it’s a compass to keep me on track with the habits and resources I find useful to support my physical and mental wellness, work (paid and unpaid) that is important to me, creativity and growth. For example, this month I wanted to prioritize anti-racism work, so I made sure that it was a daily item. When I noticed that two days had gone by without making a check-mark, I was able to regain focus.
It also helps me to analyze personal trends. Reviewing my June habits compared to my May habits, I did not complete as many online Kinstretch classes. The number of classes I filmed per week also fell in June. I understand that this was because I completed three online workshops in June that kept me busier than I was in May.
What happens if I have a day or a week where I just can’t seem to meet the goals?
In the past, I would have felt guilty for not doing the right thing. I am able to take a more holistic view now. I always keep two things in mind:
- I know there are days when I just won’t be able to meet the goal. Life happens and that’s okay.
- I remember why I set the goal in the first place.
Knowing these two things, I give myself permission to have days where I need to adjust my plans. If I start to feel guilty or anxious about not meeting the goal, I remember why I set it– not to adhere to some arbitrary external number, but because I want to support myself in some way.
On the other hand, if I find that I’m not making time for a particular habit consistently, I can decide whether or not this is a habit I want to prioritize.
I had “Cardio” listed on my tracker for May and June because I was curious how often I was making time for these– I didn’t set a goal. Only three times over the two months did I engage in a pure cardio session. However, I found that I was getting my heart-rate sufficiently elevated during my strength training sessions. For July, I might decide that I want to make more of an effort to attend my friend Tangela’s amazing WERQ dance classes because they’re so much fun, and then I would adjust my goals accordingly.
Keep in mind that these are your goals, or resources, or habits (frame it in a way that feels helpful for you). You don’t need to do 10,000 steps just because someone said it was a good idea. Think about what makes you feel happy, alive, grateful, or joyful. That’s where your tracker starts.
Rather than thinking of the Habit Tracker as a set of external rules to follow, I see it as a list of resources that lift me up and guide me where I want to go. It’s a work in progress and changes over time– because my life and my needs are constantly shifting. Make sense?
I’m including a link to download your very own copy of the Habit Tracker I use myself below.
I’d like to encourage you to be playful with it and use it in a fun way. As you fill it out, ask yourself: What supports me? What makes me feel good? How often do I do the things that I really love? Remember that what works for me might not work for you– including this Habit Tracker. If it feels like it just isn’t working for you, then recycle it and be done. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing what your experience is. Happy Tracking!