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The Ultimate Habit Tracking Guide (+ Habit Tracker Template + List of 101 Good Habits)

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Habit Tracker Guide

N.B., Click here to get a FREE blank, printable Habit Tracker template as part of FASTER TO MASTER‘s FREE Productivity Templates download.

If I could wish for one superpower, the ability to turn good, compounding behaviours into habits wouldn’t be my first choice (hello #timetravel ⏳).

But it would be close.

Because it’s a fact: hacking your habits is hands-down one of the most valuable life skills you can master. If you learn only ONE thing this decade, make this it.

And yet most of us are shockingly bad at it. Partly because we don’t know how. But mostly because consciously cultivating new habits is difficult.

Enter the humble habit tracker – your new accountability buddy and the best tool I know of for planting new patterns of thought, word and deed.

But there’s a catch. Because though habit trackers may seem simple, they’re disarmingly hard to use well.

The good news? You’re in the right place. We’re about to cover everything you need to know about habit trackers, load you up with 100+ good habit ideas and even give you a free, printable habit tracker template to get started with.

By the time you’re done here today, you’ll be a habit building machine. 💪🤖👍

So without further ado, let’s begin!

The Ultimate Guide to Habit Trackers 📓

Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s ultimate habit tracker walkthrough:

N.B., This guide aims to be quite complete but if you have any feedback or questions at all, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP. 👍

The Habit Tracker: The Beginner’s Guide 📝

Let’s talk definitions. For the sake of the next few thousand words:

  • A habit is any behaviour you often and regularly do, by and large automatically; and
  • A habit tracker is any tool that monitors if and when you complete that behaviour.

The goal of a daily habit tracker is to help you consistently do (or stop doing) a behaviour until it becomes (or is no longer) automatic, i.e., a habit.

Capeesh? 🤓

Manipulating habits is a powerful life skill because many consistently repeated behaviours (like saving money 🐷 or snacking 🍔) compound into big, life-altering outcomes (like financial freedom 💰 or diabetes 🤒).

Turning good behaviours into habits makes them our default, automatic choices of action. This all but eliminates the willful effort required to repeat them. Which, in turn, greatly boosts the odds of achieving the outcome they lead to. Disrupting bad habits has the opposite effect, with similarly rewarding results. 📈

It follows that skilfully engineering good daily habits is an astonishingly useful skill – allowing us to intentionally sculpt the subtle forces which dramatically shape the course of our lives.

What Is a Habit Tracker?

Habit trackers are an incredibly effective way of achieving this.

Write down a behaviour, make a note each day if it did or didn’t happen and voilà. A simple but effective tool for conquering common obstacles to consistency (e.g., overwhelm, distraction, forgetting) which helps us better persist until habits to take root. 🌳

You’ll find everything from habit tracking journals and habit tracking apps to habit tracking templates and calendars. Some are free. Some are paid. But at the end of the day, they’re all more or less fancy ways of tallying ✓s and ✘s over time.

Here’s an example from page 7 of the TRACKTION Planner:

Habit Tracker Example

Paper vs. digital, offline vs. online, simple vs. decorative – the choice is yours. My preference (and recommendation) is to keep things offline and simple.

Why? A big part of habit building (including habit tracking itself) is to make action as easy as possible. The major flaw in app, online or decorative habit journals is they introduce friction in the form of e.g., battery life, internet access or your own perfectionism. And that friction rarely compensates for itself with truly meaningful gains. 😣

Expert Tip: If your homemade habit tracker takes more than five minutes to set up then the only habit you’re building is one of procrastination. Not only are you wasting time, but you’re also likely to abandon your tracker the moment it picks up a coffee stain. Put down your glitter and snap out of it.

On a similar note, don’t get sucked into the pointless debate on whether it’s better to tick/cross, shade/un-shade or colour code your habit tracker. They’re all good approaches, try the ones that appeal to you and stick with the simplest that works. 🔨

3 Awesome Benefits of Habit Trackers

Building good personal habits is hard. And habit tracking can feel intimidating.

But when you consider that (A) good habit trackers take less than 1 minute to fill and (B) the benefits of habit tracking far outweigh those costs, it quickly becomes a no brainer.

Still not convinced? Here are three habit tracker benefits that make learning to use them one of the best decisions you’ll make:

Benefit #1: 🔬 Habit Trackers Create Clarity

Habit trackers have unlimited, unbiased memory. Which is more than we can claim for ourselves.

Without them, it’s easy to lose track of our failures or forget to compound our victories. With them, there’s no escaping reality. And a chain gang of ✘s or a battalion of ✓s can make all the difference between action and indifference.

But there’s more to clarity than just keeping a scorecard. Keeping track of habits reveals fascinating patterns of cause and effect. Which habits are hardest? When do we struggle most? Why? And what can we do about it?

Habit trackers create a clarity that helps you answer such questions, discover new insights and unlock new incentives to change your behaviour.

Benefit #2: 🔍 Habit Trackers Force You to Focus

A common hurdle most of us struggle with is not that we don’t do enough. It’s that we do far too much. As a result, we do most things passably and little excellently.

But when most of the juice comes at the end of the squeeze, passable just doesn’t cut it. 🍋

Tools that repeatedly remind us of our few most vital priorities help us do less. But by doing less, we end up achieving far more.

How does this translate to habit tracking? Simple: If you try to change 20 habits in the next year, you’ll make no meaningful progress on any.

But if you consistently work at just ONE new habit, every three months, for the same 12 months (i.e., four habits in total) I’d wager two years of free coaching there’d be no part of your life you’d still recognise when our experiment ended.

That’s why good habit trackers keep thing simple. They limit how much you work on and then keep you focused on just a handful of habits that matter. They help you accomplish more, by making you do less, giving you the focus you need to lodge permanent change in your brain. 🧠

Benefit #3: 😝 Habit Trackers Make You Feel Good

We all know how it feels to tick off a task on a to-do list.

It may seem insignificant, but that cathartic act of completion triggers a cascade of chemicals in your cortex that feels every bit as rewarding as eating cold chocolate 🍫 or snuggling into clean sheets 🛏.

And that satisfying sensation isn’t a just a bonus. It’s a vital cog in the habit building machine. It’s the punctuation mark that tells your brain, “let’s do that again.”

The simple act of ticking your progress is a startlingly strong way to reward and encourage good behaviour. Habit trackers aren’t just the means, they’re the end.

How to Use Your Habit Tracker Effectively 🚀

Habit trackers are simple to use but much harder to use well.

Here are a few tips to help you make yours a powerful, permanent fixture in your life.

How to Make Habit Tracking a Habit

Using your habit tracker consistently is a habit in itself. To make it stick…

📝 Keep your habit tracker simple and accessible. Friction is the enemy of action. Eliminate as much of it as possible by keeping your habit tracker quick to complete, easily accessible and resistant to wear and tear. Common mistakes include turning your habit tracker into a calendar or treating it like a piece of artwork.

With the former, the golden rule is as follows: If it’s not a behaviour that you’d like to turn into a habit, it doesn’t go onto your habit tracker. If it’s already a habit or you can’t actively influence it, either don’t track it at all or track it somewhere else (like your calendar). The cleaner and leaner your habit tracker, the more effective you’ll find it.

With the latter, I suggest decorating your habit tracker with the same care you’d take decorating a spanner. That way, if you botch it or lose it, you can replace it quickly and with minimal fuss. (If you’re the kind of person who likes decorating spanners then you’re on the wrong blog.)

Fill out your habit tracker at the same time every day. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to anchor it to a set of reliable cues – usually a predictable time or a place where you’ll regularly perform the new action.

I’d suggest filling out your habit tracker as part of your daily evening review or last thing before your evening meal. That way your evening routine will quickly become a cue that prompts you to update your progress.

🙉 Don’t take failures personally. Building daily habits to improve life takes time so go easy on yourself. That’s as true if you’re just starting out as if you’re a pro in a rough patch. Avoiding your habit tracker because you can’t stand the sight of its blank spots or ✘s won’t solve the problem. Either use them to inspire you or simply start over from scratch.

🎯 Never miss twice. No matter how long your streak you’re bound to eventually break it. When you do, don’t give up or use it as an excuse to indulge in old ways. Instead, recall that that being human is complicated, admit that missing once in a while is inevitable and promise yourself that you’ll never miss twice.

That kind of self-love won’t just make you a happier person, it can spell the difference between getting right back in your stride or losing months of carefully curated momentum. 🎢

How to Break Bad Habits

Whether it’s smoking, snacking or nail biting, habit trackers are an excellent way to break bad habits and there are three main bad-habit-breaking approaches: avoidance habits, metric tracking and override habits.

🚫 The main way people try to break habits with habit trackers is with avoidance habits. To set an avoidance habit, simply put the word “no” in front of your chosen behaviour (e.g., “no smoking”, “no snacking”, “no nail-biting”) and then track how you get on each day.

Avoidance habits are a good place to start but they have some major flaws (we’ll talk about those in a minute).

The first alternative to avoidance habits is to use metrics. Where habits are ✓ or ✘ activities, metrics let you count or measure progress. So instead of “no smoking” (a habit), you might track “number of cigarettes smoked” (a metric) and then gradually reduce consumption over time.

This approach is especially helpful for compulsive, unconscious behaviours (e.g., “nail-biting” or “cursing”). Tracking instances will make you more mindful of the behaviour and its triggers as well as giving you more time and space to adjust.

N.B., you’ll find a metric tracker on page 9 of the TRACKTION Planner and we’ll cover the full details of metric tracking in another article.

↩️ The second (and most effective) alternative to avoidance habits are override habits. An override habit is any good habit that eventually out-competes one or more bad ones.

For snacking 🍔, your override habit might be exercise 🏊‍♂️. For nail-biting 🤚, you might choose deep-breathing 🧘‍♂️. In any case, a well-chosen override habit is always more powerful than an avoidance habit.

Why? One reason is that it’s always more psychologically sustainable to build something good than to eliminate something bad. There’s a feeling of progress and improvement that’s more fun, more rewarding and more addictive than grim self-denial.

But to really understand why override habits are so powerful – and to learn how to pick them effectively – it helps to explore how habits really work in the brain.

How Habits Work

There are two things you should know about habits.

The first is that every habit follows a “habit loop” 🔁 with four predictable parts – (1) cue (2) craving (3) ritual and (4) reward.

🍭 A reward is anything that increases pleasure (from a sweet taste to a sense of fulfilment) or decreases pain (from physical discomfort to a sense of anxiety or shame).

⚙️ A ritual is any set of actions that predictably leads to reward, from eating (for pleasure or to alleviate hunger) to running, nail biting, smoking, meditating or any other behaviour.

😦 A craving is a strong psychological desire to close the gap between where you are right now and how you expect to feel when you’ve got your reward. Hunger is an example of craving as is needing to “get out” when you feel trapped, scared or anxious.

🎬 A cue is anything that kicks off a craving. It can be internal (e.g., an arising thought or emotion) or external (e.g., a place, person, time, sight, smell or sound).

The second is that you never forget a habit. When a cue (e.g., anxiety) triggers a craving (e.g., relief) it’s like a million tons of water appearing at the top of a mountain 🏔. The water wants to flow down to the reward as quickly as possible and it always prefers the behavioural path of least resistance. 💧

Like drops on a stone, the more you repeat a ritual the deeper and more inviting its channel becomes. And even if you start sending the flow down alternative pathways, the original route never fades. It remains carved in your brain like an old, empty riverbed.

If the deepest current channel is a ritual that you want to break (e.g., smoking), one option is to use an avoidance habit (e.g., no smoking) to block the pathway. But all this does is force the water to find alternative routes to escape through (e.g., removing yourself from the stressful situation).

This is one reason avoidance habits fail. Very strong cues (e.g., a bad break up) can produce too much water (e.g., high anxiety) for substitute rituals to handle. If the situation can’t be escaped, the mounting pressure can overwhelm your resistance and relapse down its original pathway (i.e., smoking). 💦💦💦

What’s more, and without intervention, there’s no guarantee that the substitute pathways (e.g., snacking, drinking, nail biting) won’t prove as harmful (if not worse) than the primary alternative. The result? In attempting to break one bad habit, you might carve out multiple new ones. 🤦‍♂️

So, what’s the solution?

Hacking the Habit Loop

Now that we understand the habit loop, there are three places we can skilfully hack it: (1) cue (2) craving and (3) ritual.

🎬 Hacking cues is as simple as identifying, then eliminating (or avoiding) bad triggers. The clarity that habit trackers create will help you identify cues. And when you know what’s tripping you up you’ll automatically take steps to address it. Of course, you may not always want or be able to eliminate bad cues completely, so it’s a good thing we’ve got two more options.

😦 Hacking craving involves softening the rawness of suffering with practices like meditation, gratitude or prayer. Acceptance flattens the mind, replacing rapids and waterfalls 🌊 with flat, gentle deltas 🏖. The problem’s the same (the water still has to flow down) but you get far more time and space to work in. It’s not a quick or surgical option but it is incredibly potent.

⚙️ Hacking rituals is where override habits come in. The goal is to break a bad habit by building a good one that offers a deeper, more attractive pathway from cue to reward.

The substitute ritual could be direct (e.g., snacking on fruit instead of junk food) or indirect (using exercise to feel good about yourself instead of food). It doesn’t really matter so long as the new ritual flows to the same ultimate reward as the old one 🏁.

Once again, habit trackers are your friend here. With more clarity, you’ll be able to identify triggers, clarify rewards (i.e., why you really do what you do) and proactively carve out good alternatives that bypass the original pathways.

Of course, the most powerful strategy of all is using all three approaches. But if you had to pick one, then hacking rituals gives the best balance of immediacy and efficacy. The pay-off of being able to transform your mind so it naturally favours good habits can’t be underestimated.

So what’s are the tricks to building good habits? I’m glad you asked. Because that’s our next topic exactly.

How to Build Good Habits

Building good habits is hard. Not only does it take time to carve new primary pathways, it also takes effort. Until your new habit is automatic, you’ll have to wilfully divert the natural flow of behaviour towards your new rituals.

Here are a few tips to maximise your odds of success:

1️⃣ Start with one habit. Building new habits is harder than you think. And as we’ve already mentioned, the risk of trying too much is failing at everything. For the first month of tracking, start with just the one most vital habit on your wish list. Ask: “If I could only build one of these habits this year, which one would make the biggest difference to my life?”

See how you feel for month two. If you’re confident, pick a new primary habit to track and shift last month’s habit to the second slot on your habit tracker. If not, stick to one habit and don’t worry. Even if you only manage to build two or three new keystone habits in a year you’re already outperforming almost all of your peers.

☑️ Make your habit realistic and binary. A habit is a ✓ or ✘ activity. If you think going straight from one to the other might be tricky, consider simplifying your habit and building it up over time (e.g., meditate for 2 instead of 20 minutes, or try daily walks before running). And remember, you can always use metrics track incremental progress.

🏆 Make your habit relevant. I believe daily meditation is invaluable. But maybe you don’t. And that’s OK. Don’t try and build habits just because other people say they’re important. Build habits that are relevant to your life and excite you. You’ll have a much easier journey and you may find that your tastes change over time.

🗓 Do it under the same conditions each day. Remember the cue part of the habit loop? Well, it turns out you can use them to your advantage. By repeating a ritual at e.g., the same time, the same place or with the same people every day your brain begins to link habit with context. And when those cues are things that reliably occur every day you create dependable anchors that make it easy to change your behaviour.

My favourite anchors are waking up, meal times and going to sleep. They’re perfect, nicely spaced points in your day to establish new rituals. Another superb strategy is to use habits as cues for more habits. ⛓ So when you complete habit A, you always start habit B. By making habit A e.g., the first thing you do when you wake up, you trigger a powerful chain of rituals that sets your day up for success.

🚫 Don’t track stuff that’s already a habit. We all like to celebrate victories. But a habit tracker that’s full of robust habits will clutter your mind and detract from what really matters. To maximise the relevance of your habit tracker, reserve it strictly for behaviours that aren’t yet established.

How Long to Track Habits For

One common question people ask me is “How long does it take to form a habit?” or “How long does it take to break a habit?

You’ll find a lot of crap on the internet (occasionally even from those who should know better) about how long it takes to build or break habits. Most of it comes down to people misusing averages from spurious studies. Rarely does it take into account individual difference or the challenges of reacting to realistic conditions.

The simple truth is that building or breaking a habit takes as long as it takes. Some habits take 2 seconds. Others take 20 years. And fixating on an average or median of ~30 – 60 days is a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

Your character, culture, calendar, prior conditioning, company and even the weather can all impact and even uproot long-established behaviours.

Track your habits until you can’t imagine them (not) being part of your day.

Then stop tracking them.

And if you relapse, accept that that’s just part of being human and track them again until you reestablish your results.

A List of 101 Good Habit Tracker Ideas 💡

What habits should you track? That’s a wonderful question.

The short answer is to start with the one habit that most excites you and promises to most change your life. 🔥

To help you get going, here’s a list of habit tracker ideas split roughly into TRACKTION’s eight, core life areas. (See F2M‘s Wheel of Life guide for more info).

Don’t let the list overwhelm you, we’ll cover exactly when to use it and how in the final next actions part of this guide. But for now, here’s the list of good habits to track:

(Got a good habit to add? Leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the next version!)

😊 Good Health Habits

  1. Brush teeth
  2. Floss teeth
  3. No smoking
  4. Take medication
  5. Take vitamins/supplements
  6. Wear sunscreen

🥗 Good Eating Habits

  1. Drink 8 glasses of water
  2. Eat 2 types of fruit
  3. Eat 5 types of vegetables
  4. Eat breakfast
  5. Eat less/more than calorie target
  6. Fast
  7. No alcohol
  8. No caffeine
  9. No junk food
  10. No meat
  11. No processed food
  12. No soda
  13. No sugar

🏋️‍♀️ Good Exercise Habits

  1. Exercise (Cardio)
  2. Exercise (Strength)
  3. Stretch
  4. Walk the dog
  5. Walk 10,000 steps

😴 Good Sleep Habits

  1. Get into bed by 9 PM
  2. Lights out by 10 PM
  3. Nap for 20 mins
  4. No screens after 7 PM
  5. No snooze button
  6. Sleep for 8 hours
  7. Wake up at 6 AM

🧘‍♂️ Good Mindfulness Habits

  1. Do a random act of kindness
  2. Journal
  3. Meditate
  4. Pray
  5. Say “I love you” (agápe)
  6. Show gratitude
  7. Walk in nature

👫 Good Social Habits

  1. Talk to a stranger
  2. Go to a group class
  3. Attend a social event
  4. Call a family member
  5. Catch up with a friend
  6. Say “I love you” (philia)
  7. Show appreciation

👶 Good Family Habits

  1. Eat as a family
  2. Do a family activity
  3. Get home before bath/bedtime
  4. Honour story time
  5. Play with kids
  6. Check in with a family member
  7. Say “I love you” (storge)

💏 Good Relationship Habits

  1. Flirt with a stranger
  2. Go on a date
  3. Have sex
  4. Organise date night
  5. Say “I want you” (éros)
  6. Spend quality time
  7. Treat partner

📚 Good Study Habits

  1. Attend all classes
  2. Clear flashcards (SRS)
  3. Learn 5 words in a foreign language
  4. Learn 3 new interesting facts
  5. Practice a skill for 15 minutes
  6. Read 10 pages of non-fiction
  7. Studied for 5 pomodoros
  8. Studied with a friend

(see also good productivity habits)

⚙️ Good Productivity Habits

  1. Back up devices
  2. Check in with accountability buddy
  3. Clear inboxes
  4. Do 4 hours of deep work
  5. Do a weekly review
  6. Do end of work shutdown
  7. Do evening routine
  8. Do morning routine
  9. Make bed
  10. No emails before 11 AM
  11. No social media before 4 PM
  12. No TV / Netflix
  13. Tidy living space

👩‍💻 Good Work Habits

  1. Call 1 prospective client
  2. Do some training
  3. Get to work by 7 AM
  4. Meet 1 new colleague
  5. No meetings before lunch
  6. Read 10 pages of research in your field
  7. Tidy workspace

(see also good productivity habits)

💵 Good Money Habits

  1. Add to savings account
  2. Cook dinner at home
  3. Fix instead of replacing
  4. No online purchases
  5. Pack lunch for work
  6. Review daily spending
  7. Spend less than budget

🏡 Good Lifestyle Habits

  1. Do something scary
  2. Do something just for you
  3. Do something for the first time
  4. Enjoy me-time
  5. Listen to a podcast
  6. Plan an adventure
  7. Read 10 pages of fiction
  8. Work on a hobby

Remember, these are just examples of good habits to have. You can always come up with your own ideas of good habits to start.

How to Recover When Your Habit Tracker Breaks 🔧

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: You are perfect just as you are even if you miss the odd day of habit tracking or end up with a page full of ✘s.

Don’t take your habit tracker personally.

Do take a step back and reflect curiously on what might be broken:

  • Could your habit tracker be simpler?
  • Could you track fewer habits?
  • Could your habits be more exciting or relevant?
  • Could you break your habits down further?
  • Might an avoidance habit, metric or override habit be more effective?
  • Have you set your habits up for success?
  • Are my expectations on habit building unrealistic?
  • Would it just be easier to start again from scratch?

When it comes to unlocking the full power of habit tracking, these are the details which make all the difference.

Contemplate these questions, make some changes and remember: there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. 💪

Getting Started: Habit Tracker Next Actions ➡️

That’s it! The ultimate guide to making habit trackers an invaluable part of your day.

What should you do next? Simple:

  1. List all the habits from the list of habit tracker ideas that you’d be excited to work on;
  2. Brainstorm any additional habits for your own personal habit wish list;
  3. Pick the ONE habit from your list that would most transform your life;

N.B., If you’ve completed a Wheel of Life on page 6 of the TRACKTION Planner your ONE habit should relate to your lowest scoring area of life.

  1. Decide how (when, where, who) you’ll anchor your new behaviour in your day;
  2. Open your TRACKTION Planner to page 7;
  3. Write your new habit in the first column of the habit tracker;
  4. Add up to four more habits to the remaining columns;
  5. Set repetition targets for the week ahead; and
  6. Get started right away. Take action now!

And that’s all there is to it!

As I said at the start of this guide: the power to direct the small actions that lead to big outcomes is one of the most valuable life skills you can master.

And for that, there’s no tool as practical or as powerful as a habit tracker.

So get to work!

➡️ Download F2M‘s FREE Productivity Templates OR

➡️ Get your first TRACKTION Planner

➡️ Work through the checklist above.

➡️ Leave a comment and tell me what habit you’re be working on.

Decide today to take control of your actions, master your outcomes and remember: “we are what we repeatedly do, excellence thus is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle

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