Did you know that one of the easiest ways to change your behavior is to simply measure it?
Research shows that merely asking people to track what they do immediately and significantly improves their performance in that area.
For example, studies have shown that people who track their steps with a pedometer increase their physical activity by 27% (1).
What gets measured, gets improved.
And in this article, I’d like to share my favorite tool for taking advantage of that.
The Habit Calendar
A habit calendar is exactly what it sounds like — a calendar for tracking your habits:
Here’s how it works:
- Write down the habits you want to track in the top row.
- Check off each habit as you complete them every day.
- Celebrate each small success. You rock! :)
Why it Works
There are five primary reasons why the habit calendar is such a powerful tool for behavior change:
- It creates triggers — No more forgetting about your habits. Each time you look at the calendar, you’ll know exactly what to do next.
- It saves energy — Instead of deciding what to do in each moment, you just follow you’ve already laid out. That way, you avoid decision fatigue (2).
- It offers rewards — Each time you check off a habit on your calendar, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment. That positive feeling will help reinforce the behavior.
- It leverages “sunk costs” — The more you invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it (3). So, the longer each streak in your habit calendar becomes, the more you’ll exert yourself to keep them going.
- It provides feedback — Every day you use your calendar, you’ll collect data. That data can then be used to improve your performance in the future.
I hope you find those benefits compelling. If so, let’s have a look at how you can set up an effective habit calendar in five steps:
1. Choose Your Habits
You might wonder what habits to put on your calendar.
If you’re a long-time reader of my articles, it’ll come as no surprise that I recommend focusing on your fundamentals.
Ask yourself what core behaviors typically makes the foundation for your best days.
In other words; what keystone habits make you feel great and perform at your very best?
These are the daily disciplines you want in your habit calendar.
2. Make it Simple
According to behavior expert BJ Fogg, there is a tradeoff relationship between your motivation for, and the simplicity of, a habit (4).
If your motivation is high, you can get yourself to do difficult things. But if your motivation is low, you can only get yourself to do simple things.
And since motivation tends to come and go, it’s usually better to focus on the simplicity aspect instead.
How? By making your daily habits so simple you’d feel silly not to do them.
That way, you’ll get them done no matter what your motivation level happens to be on a given day.
Focus on getting checkmarks into your habit calendar, and you’ll find that your simple habits will naturally grow over time.
3. Set Your Daily Minimums
Once you’ve decided what (simple!) habits to track, you need to quantify the amount of effort you’re required to do to check off each habit.
For example: How many minutes will you meditate? How far will you run? How many pages will you read?
You want unambiguous targets, so you don’t have to waste time every day deciding if you achieved them or not.
So, make sure your daily targets are specific and measurable.
4. Establish Your Rules
It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to stick with all your habits every day.
Sometimes, you’ll want to take a break, and sometimes you’ll get sick.
On these occasions, I recommend putting down letters on your calendar.
For example, if you are on vacation, you can write a V on that day. If you’re sick, you can put down an S.
Set clear rules for special occasions when you’ll permit yourself to skip your habits.
That way, you’ll be able to keep your streaks going when you have legit reasons to miss a certain number of days.
5. Design Your Environment
We don’t often think about it, but our environment influences our behavior in a big way. For example:
If we have cookies on the table, we’re likely to eat them. If we have a remote control on the living room table, we’re likely to turn on the TV. And if we sleep with our phone next to our bed, we’re likely to pick it up first thing in the morning.
In many ways, we shape our environment, and then our environment shapes us.
So, make sure your surroundings support the habits on your calendar.
Make them as easy as possible to do, and competing behaviors as hard as possible to do.
That way, your environment will continuously nudge you in the right direction.
Lastly, I have a few more suggestions I want to share:
- Affirm each small win — Every time you check off a habit, tell yourself: “That’s like me!” That simple mantra will help boost your self-image and improve your performance over time (5).
- Be kind to yourself — When you slip up on your habits, that doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human. So, treat yourself with compassion, and practice getting back on track quickly.
- Do a weekly review — Schedule 15 minutes every Sunday to celebrate your wins and analyze your streaks. Use this time to tweak your habits, so you’ll be likelier to succeed next week.
You can download a free habit calendar here. Then follow these steps to get started:
- Choose your habits. Put your keystone habits in the top row.
- Make it simple. Aim for habits that are so simple you’d feel silly not to do them.
- Set your daily minimums. Quantify each habit, so you know exactly when to check them off.
- Establish your rules. Decide the particular circumstances when you’re allowed to skip your habits.
- Design your environment. Make your habits as easy as possible to do, and competing behaviors as hard as possible to do.
Thanks for reading, and have fun with your habit calendar!
- Pedometers help people count steps to get healthy
- Decision fatigue
- Loss aversion and the sunk cost fallacy
- BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model
- With Winning in Mind: The Mental Management System: An Olympic Champion’s Success System by Lanny Bassham
Hat tip to Sarah Moore for creating the habit calendar in this article!