For years now, I’ve been using a tool to track my habits throughout the year. I track new habits, so I can evolve into the person I want to be.
Without changing my habits, I’ll just keep repeating the same habits that form my life, and never grow.
This tracking tool makes a HUGE difference in helping me establish new habits or accomplish my goals.
Every January, I begin a new, Year-long Habit Tracker. My yearly reset first began when I found a hand-drawn version online (many years ago). I don’t know who created it…I tried to find the person who created it to give them credit, but no luck. This is the original version.
Since then, I’ve tweaked it, so I could keep track of more habits; the original had room for only four. Now, my Year-long Habit Tracker shows me 6 months at a glance, takes up two pages instead of one, and allows me to track up to 8 goals.
My year-long tracker really helps me, especially at the beginning of the year, although you can start at ANY time of year.
I use this tracker because it reminds me about the habits I want to develop, and it helps me stay more accountable to reaching my goals. I keep my tracker sheet on one of my kitchen cupboards, where I can see it every day. A BIG benefit to this year-long tracker is that you can see your year (or 6 months) progress at a glance. I find it much more powerful than a weekly or monthly tracker.
Will this work for you? It can if you want to make changes in your life.
You don’t have to design a specific goal to use this year-long habit tracker though. You can pick something you want to incorporate in your life more, and then just track it to see how often you do it. It can serve as a record of your behaviors.
Want to know how often you are getting to bed by 10 pm? Track it. Once you see that you’re doing that behaviour more (or less) than you realized, you can make changes.
I’m sharing this year-long tracker and how I use it because it really keeps me accountable and focused on the habit I’m trying to establish. You might find it helps you too.
Don’t worry about having to check off a habit everyday for 365 days! The idea is not to be perfect. Keeping track of when you do complete the habit is the point. Focus on the positive. As you’ll see soon from an image of my actual tracker, I don’t do any habit perfectly. I see my progress, not perfection.
Whether I actually do a new habit every day, or if I just do it a few times a week, it doesn’t matter. When you’re trying to add new habits and change your life, it’s great to see the days you actually did them!
Not sure if this habit tracker will help you? Let me get into some of the details to help you decide.
First, I’ll explain the approaches to this way of tracking habits. Then I’ll show you how it works. Finally, I’ll tell you why and how it has been so helpful to me.
3 Approaches to Tracking Habits
There are 3 different approaches to using the Year-long Habit Tracker.
- Year-long Focus: Choose one important habit or a few habits you want to add, change or remove, and commit to them for the whole year. I usually have 6-8 habits, and honestly, I never stick with them all. 8 is too many. I recommend 2-4 habits. Sometimes, I’ll start the year with 4 habits, and later in the year, I’ll add a couple of new ones. Here’s an example of a Year-long Focus:
- January through December: Drink 64 oz of water & walk outside every day (Imagine how you would feel after doing just these two things, daily, for a year!)
- Build to 12: Choose one new habit and do it for all of January. Then, in February, add one more new habit while continuing with the habit you did in January. Then add another habit in March, and so on. With this method, you could master 12 new habits by the end of the year! (Note: If you choose this approach, you’ll have to make your own tracker that allows for 12 habits; my tracker has room for 8.) Here’s an example of Build to 12.
- January: Get to bed by 10 pm daily
- February: Bed by 10 pm & Drink 64 oz water daily
- March: Bed by 10 pm, Drink 64 oz water daily & meditate daily
- April: Bed by 10 pm, Drink 64 oz water daily, meditate & eat a salad daily
- May: Bed by 10 pm, Drink 64 oz water daily, meditate, eat a salad daily, walk outside daily
- …and so on
- Monthly Focus: Choose a couple of habits for January to try them out. Then in February, choose a few new habits, but stop the previous habits. Continue each month trying out new habits. Then at the end of the year, you can see which habits you were able to do more consistently, and you can commit to some of them long term. (Note: With this method, you may need to use an extra sheet to have room for your legend-I’ll explain the legend later). Here’s an example of a Monthly Focus:
- January: Drink 64 oz water daily & do yoga 4 times per week
- February: Eat a salad & meditate daily
- March: Have a green smoothie in the am & walk outside daily
- April: No restaurant food (inside or take out) & stretch daily
- May: No sugar & cycle daily
- …and so on
Regardless of the approach you take, the idea is to think about new habits you want to establish. They may or may not be part of a bigger goal. If you have a hard time thinking of a habit, then think of a goal and break it down into something daily you can do that helps you work towards that goal.
For example, if you want to write a book this year. What do you need to do? You need to write every day. It doesn’t matter if you write in a notebook or on the computer. It doesn’t matter when you write. Even if you aren’t 100% sure where the book is going, you will get clarity and make progress toward your book if you write every day. Keep it simple.
If you need some habit ideas, check out the big list at the bottom of this post.
How the Year-long Habit Tracker Works
First, you need to decide on 1-3 habits you want to add, change or remove. Usually, these habits are things you ideally want to be doing everyday, or you want to change or stop a habit you’ve been doing most days. You may prefer to shoot for a habit a certain number of times per week or per month instead of daily.
Whatever works. No matter how you do it, you can track them all on your year-long tracker and watch your progress.
Here are some examples:
- getting up an hour before you usually do, for whatever reason
- having a tall glass of water when you come home from work, instead of a glass of wine
- spending 10 minutes tidying instead of pushing things aside for “later”
- no snacking after 7 pm
- no alcohol
- no restaurant food
To decide on a goal or habits, think about something you’ve wanted for a long time. It might be related to health, wellness or weight loss, or it might be a burning desire to do something that’s been inside you for years.
Maybe you have a goal closer to your heart like spending time with family or working on communicating with your spouse. Maybe you’ve just become aware of some habits that aren’t serving you well, and you want to make a change.
Think about the things you tell others you “should” do, or that you wish you had more time to do. If you deeply want to learn how to stick with meditating, make that a daily habit. You can start with 1 minute a day and build to a level that is comfortable for you.
If you feel stuck for ideas, check out the big list of habits at the end of this post.
Once you’ve decided on your habits, you can print your Year-long Habit Tracker. Below is an editable Word version as well as a pdf.
After printing your tracker, create a legend at the top. Write the habit next to a square and give that square a color. For example, you might choose blue for drinking 64 oz of water daily and green for walking outside.
Assign a row in that month for one habit. I assign rows in the order I record them in my legend. Check out this screenshot to see an example of what this looks like.
After you’ve recorded your legend and identified each habit’s row, you’re ready!
Post your tracker sheet somewhere you’ll see it every day. At the end of each day, before you head to bed, fill in your square for any habit you conquered that day. Alternatively, you can fill in your square in the morning for the previous day.
I like to keep my tracker front and center, which is why I put it on my kitchen cupboard. I decided long ago that I don’t care if others see it.
The habit tracker is for me, and I’m not embarrassed about it, nor do I care what other people think. Even when guests are over, I don’t take it down. If you prefer more discretion, you could keep it in a folder, but make sure it’s somewhere that you’ll see it daily.
Another thing…Since you’ll be filling in a square for each day that you complete a habit, make sure you’ve selected habits that will make you smile and that you’ll feel proud to accomplish when you fill in the square. If your habit isn’t exciting to you, or doesn’t make you feel awesome for doing it, choose another habit.
Why the Year-long Habit Tracker Tool Works
At first, filling in your squares each day may seem like a small accomplishment. After all, it’s just a tiny square on a big page, right? Don’t be fooled by this initial feeling. Why?
When your colorful squares start to add up, you will “see” your progress grow. After a few months, you’ll get a clear picture of the habits you’re sticking with, as well as the ones that you’re not. You’ll see tons of squares filled in. You’ll see your progress and feel proud.
Sometimes, you might feel like you earned half a square for a habit. Maybe the habit was to walk for 30 minutes, but you walked for 15. Go for it and fill in half that square!
You might notice patterns too. Maybe you’re great at getting out for a walk during the week, but you tend to not do it on the weekends.
You may find that a habit you thought was important, just isn’t important to you anymore.
You might want to add a new habit at some point in the year.
You might adjust a habit part way through the year. Instead of looking to see your square filled in every day of a month, you might decide you want to see that you’ve filled in squares for at least 15 days of the month.
The point is that you will gain insights about you, your habits, your goals and your desires. The evidence of your habits will be in front of you to see. You can make adjustments along the way to fit your needs.
One other bonus…You can use the year-long tracking sheet to actually record the data of your habits. Maybe you don’t know how often you really work out or eat vegetables, but you want to find out. You can track it on your year-long sheet and find out.
As a result, you might notice that in a 30 day period, you ate raw vegetables only once, or that you ate a salad 25 out of 30 days. Either way, you’ve gained valuable information you can use when setting goals and changing your habits.
To give you an idea of the insights you might get after tracking your habits for six months to a year, here is a quick recap of my last six months of 2021 (July through December).
I started with 7 habits, but tracked only 6. Over time, you can see that I committed to 4 habits most often, but I really narrowed in on two of them.
My number 1 habit that I tracked was the number of days without alcohol. Over the years, I’ve learned how toxic wine and other booze is, and how it really isn’t good for my health. I’d like to drink less, and possibly stop consuming alcohol altogether. I filled in a pink square for any day that I did not drink.
This year, I went many weeks without drinking at all. However, when I was drinking wine regularly, I thought I wasn’t doing a good job at not having alcohol. I felt like I’d let myself down.
I remember having this feeling in November, so I decided to have a closer look at my tracker to see where I was at. When I looked at all the squares colored in for days I didn’t consume booze, I realized there were a lot of days I didn’t drink at all!
In October and December, I did drink on more days than I didn’t. However, half of July, all of August and September and most of November were filled with days I chose to not drink. Yay for me!
Instead of looking to see all the days I did choose to imbibe, I saw all the pink squares that showed, overall, that there were more days that I did not have alcohol.
I wouldn’t know my accomplishment and see my progress unless I tracked it. It’s also likely that I would’ve drank more often without my habit tracking. Deciding to change a habit and filling in that square helped me to make the change.
Another goal I had was to eat a plant-based diet more consistently. I didn’t do as well in that area, although there were many days in a row when I stuck with that. Having seen the results of the last six months of 2021 in terms of my diet, I’ve had a realization that will help me set a habit for next year.
Instead of filling in a square at the end of the day for eating plant-based, I’m going to fill in a square for when, at the end of the day, I feel good about what I ate that day. Even if it means I ate one piece of cheese. At the end of a day I know what I ate, how much I ate, and whether I feel good in my body or not.
The next prominent habit I continued to develop from 2020 and into 2021 was walking outside as much as possible, although I allowed treadmill walks to count too. The habit was so important to me that I set a 1200 km walking goal for 2021.
As of the writing of this post, I still have 19.90 km to go (and less than 30 hours to do it!). I also know that if I didn’t track my walking this year, I would’ve walked less. Way less.
What about You?
Now it’s your turn to decide. How can you make your life better? What changes do you want to make? If you want a change in your life, you have to be willing to change.
Tracking your habits is an effective and satisfying way to make those changes. Remember, start small and build. Progress over perfection.
Some Final Tips
Track your progress and see what happens. The Year-long Habit Tracker will give you information. It collects data about your habits.
Try it for a month and see if it helps you. Then do it for as long as you can to see what you learn about yourself.
Big List of Habits (for ideas)
- not eating out
- one meal with greens
- eat sitting down
- eating at the table
- not eating in the car
- no drive thru meals
- eating meal with family
- make a new recipe
- cook one meal a day
- no processed food
- no sugar
- 1 cup of coffee per day
- alcohol only on weekends or x times per month
- drinking 64 oz water per day
- yoga ex. 10 times a month
- walking, cycling, etc.
- took the stairs at work instead of the elevator
- # of pushups, squats, etc.
- resistance training
- other body movement (shoveling, gardening, cleaning the house, etc.)
- trying something new
- take a small risk
- not staying late at work
- check work email only twice
- 1 hour quality time with kids
- connecting with family and friends
- hug someone
- connect intimately with partner
- pursuing a hobby
- learning a new skill
- limit social media
- self-care habit: bubble bath, getting a pedicure, etc.
- read for 20 min.
- write in journal
- write at least one paragraph towards book
- note 3 things you are grateful for
- deep breathing for 2 min.
- listen to guided meditation
- get 10 minutes of sun
- one act or random act of kindness
I wish you joy and fulfillment in the new year. Don’t be afraid to go after the life you want by changing some of your habits.
Good luck to you in 2022!
Live your true life,
Note: This post is modified from its original version from my previous blog.
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