Would You Benefit from a Habit Tracker?
Confession: I've been trying to quit biting my nails since Tove Lo released the song "Habits" back in 2014. Whether you're trying to start a new workout regimen, or attempting to kick something to the curb that no longer serves you, the process can feel like a constant struggle. That's why it's no surprise that many folks turn to habit trackers to help them navigate making changes in their life (whether those changes are big or small). The question is: Do they work for you? (Related: The Best Digital Planners for 2022 to Help You Stay More Organized This Year.)
Starting new habits comes with a myriad of benefits. Research shows that developing new forms of behavior may boost self-confidence, and lead to better overall wellbeing. Plus, you're also reaping the rewards of whatever habit you've developed. It's a win, win, win. Ahead, dive into how these habit tracker apps work, how to know whether or not they're right for you, and, finally, how to choose one. Ready? (P.s. download the #ShapeFreshStarts Habit Tracker below — there are two empty spaces for you to "choose your own habit" — and use the hashtag on social media as you progress).
How Habit Tracking Works
First thing's first — a word on how habit tracking works. Forming a habit famously calls for the "three Rs": reminder, routine, and reward. For example, if you're trying to get out for a walk at lunchtime to refocus and clock a few thousand steps, your reminder might be a ping on your phone that reads "Get out there!" After that, you have the routine itself (your stroll), and the reward of your choice (let's say, a cup of warm chai tea or hot cocoa).
In general, habit trackers — whether analog or digital — help you track your "three Rs," playing up the "reward" aspect of the routine. For example, one top-rated habit tracker app called "Streaks" helps you create consistent habits that are designed to help you feel like you're building momentum. While many habit tracker apps operate on a binary (you either did your workout for the day or you didn't), some — including Way of Life — leave room for that gray area where you should still get some credit, but may ask you to journal about why you didn't accomplish a certain action item. This self-reflection may help you get to the root of why you skipped your habit, so you can get ahead of that mentality the next time. (More: 75 Journal Prompts for Self-Reflection)
In short: There's a lot of variation in how habit trackers can work, but most operate on the researched-backed "three Rs."
How to Know If a Habit Tracker Is Right for You
For some, habit tracker apps will offer a sense of freedom and accomplishment and offer a means to help you notice the benefits of your good choices. For example, if you've pledged to practice yoga every day, perhaps you're feeling more relaxed, flexible, and at home in your body.
However, psychologist Sherry Benton, Ph.D., chief science officer of Tao, an online therapy resource, warns that habit trackers run the risk of causing more harm than good for some people's mental health. Take stock of your feelings: Monitor your emotions while during the habit tracker for the first week or two, she suggests. "Check in with yourself. Is habit tracking helping you feel better, or is it making you feel guilty, ashamed, inadequate?" says Benton.
If you find that you're obsessively checking your habit tracker, or feeling stressed every time you're on the app, this technique might not be best for you. "This is very individual," says Benton. "Most people do best with social support and encouragement. For example, some people find the three rings on the Apple Watch for standing, moving, and exercising really motivating. Others feel as if they are being nagged by their watch," she explains.
How to Use a Habit Tracker Appropriately
While every habit tracker or app comes pre-loaded with different instructions and features, a good rule of thumb for healthy habit tracking is to record your habit and move on with your day, says Dr. Benton. "The key to using it is moderation," she says. "If it becomes too rigid and leads to feeling guilty when you don't follow it perfectly, then it has gone too far."
One way to set yourself up for success before downloading a habit tracker app is to think about what features you're looking for. Ask yourself:
- Do you want something simple that allows you to simply check in daily?
- Do you want something that allows you to share progress with friends?
- Do you want to track habits you're trying to to break and habits you want to foster?
- Do you a habit tracker that focuses on creating a morning (or nighttime) routine?
- Do you want tangible advice on habit formation as well as the ability to track behaviors?
- Do you want a habit tracker that will encourage daily self-reflection as well?