Building Good Habits & Understanding Why Life Feels So Off
So I’m going to start off by telling you about my story with habit tracking. Whether you can already see the usefulness in habit tracking or are just here because you feel like your motivation and happiness are spiraling and you want to get it back on track – bear with me.
I started habit tracking sometime early 2017 and I created a pretty extensive habit tracker much like the free one I’m sharing with you in this post. Some people only track a few things, some track a lot of things, some people only track mood, and others go all in like myself and try to track everything! Initially I thought it was really fascinating to see how my mood correlated with a lot of the big habits in my life (or just things I knew I SHOULD be doing). I saw that when I was REALLY consistent with things like daily gratitude and feeding myself spiritually nourishing information that my mood soared. In the first few months that I started tracking not much of my surroundings and circumstances in my life changed – I just paid attention more to keep my good habits on a roll because I was seeing when I was slacking off. That’s the other thing – it’s easy to go about your life and THINK you’re keeping up with things like self care, mental awareness, etc. When you’re tracking (and you’re honest in it) you can’t fool yourself into thinking that you do it “most” of the time or “pretty often”. It’s there clear as day on paper that you’re not quite as consistent as you thought. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all “wow I’m not taking care of myself”. There were many things that I was SURPRISED I was so consistent with because I thought they weren’t my strong suit.
I used the firm information that tracking gave me to build really strong habits that were positively affirming and after time affected my quality of life. It was also like a game with myself at times – how much could I keep up with good habits? Fast forward about a year and life was going splendidly. My mood was pretty consistent and positive, I had confidence in my habits, I had a pretty good routine, I also had a list of things that I knew could reset my mood and mindset whenever I experienced a slump. All of those things that I observed positively affecting my life were right there with CHECKBOXES next to them when I need a pick-me-up. But schedule and life changed a little bit and I thought I didn’t have time for habit tracking (plus, I was just SOOO good at all of these habits that if I felt off I knew I could course-correct without seeing it on paper, duh). I stopped. I stopped habit tracking and it wasn’t the end of the world. But after awhile with new circumstances and life change I wasn’t truly holding myself accountable. A lot of my good habits stayed strong because they were truly habits on their own, but I lost the perspective of my mental health that tracking provided me. It wasn’t that habit tracking made me a better person or suddenly changed my life – it’s that it gave me a true picture of what I was ALLOWING my mind to do, what moods I was sitting in, what I was becoming complacent in, and what I was flat-out ignoring. Habit tracking isn’t just a list of things to do, or something that every “healthy” person does. It’s a tool to keep you grounded. Keep you accountable. After that, I found myself in a place of not just poor habits but chronic negative moods. It was like I awoke one day and couldn’t pinpoint where it had all started to fall. But the reason I felt like that is because that’s how life works – your whole life isn’t comprised of one big decision to be better. It’s made up of small, little decisions done consistently. So where’s one of the first places I turned to get back on track? Yeah, you already said it. Habit tracking.
Make it a habit
Before you worry about having a bunch of habits that you’re good at to track – just make habit tracking a habit. Otherwise, if you’re not consistent with that then you won’t have any good information to work with.
Set a time every day to habit track.
You can keep it next to your bed and track the previous day right when you get up, do it before bed, or set an alarm to do it on your lunch hour. It can be any time, just pick one that works with your schedule and makes sense.
Make it easy.
If you have a planner, print it off and put it in there. If you lose papers like nobody’s business and can’t remember the last time you wrote with a real pen then keep it on your phone and use the markup feature or pdf reader to write on it with your finger. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You know you, make a system that you’ll actually keep up with.
Track what you think you need.
If you don’t think you need to track when you experience fatigue because it doesn’t happen to you very often – don’t! The shorter your list of things to track the more likely you are to actually track it everyday. BUT – if there are things you know you should track – ADD IT! You probably have a pretty good idea of what you struggle keeping up with or what affects your mood the most.
Circumstance, Self Care, & Good Habits
Ideally, you’ll use each category and topic for whatever suits your needs best. If “playful activity” for you means knitting – by all means do that. But for most intents and purposes here is what I was going for with each title.
- Conflict – anything that causes tension. Argument with a spouse, disagreement with a coworker, misunderstanding with a friend, etc
- Headache/Sick – this one is pretty self explanatory. Every person will have a different definition of how bad they have to feel before they call it “sick”. But I definitely recommend tracking headaches because sometimes things like that can correlate with your water intake, sleep, or even conflict.
- Acne – Pop up today? Mark it…if you want. Or cross it out and change it to something else.
- Fatigue – if fatigue is only marked by literally falling asleep at your desk, okay. But for me fatigue is just any day that I don’t have my normal exuberant energy.
- Positive Event – anything that can positively affect your mood. If you get a promotion or your love finally pops the question that might send your mood soaring no matter what the other circumstances.
- Replenishment Activity – #selfcare. This one is going to be different for every person. Those things that you start doing and then the next thing you know 4 hours has passed, or that instantly make you feel relaxed, rejuvenated, or more at ease. For me some of those things are listening to a motivating podcast, doing a craft/art, watching a documentary that teaches me something, going on a walk with someone I can have great conversation with. Keep a list as you discover what these are for yourself.
- Playful Activity – foreign subject to adults. I know you’re going want to skip over this one, but until you try to start making play apart of your life I don’t expect you to understand. It can be as simple as playing a board/card game with friends or as intricate as going to a murder mystery party. The point is that in today’s society most of us don’t take enough time to play because we think it’s only for children. But our soul’s need it.
- Socializing – did you go about your day not truly acknowledging anyone or did you actually have a meaningful encounter with someone? Did you hang out with friends? Put your own spin on it based on how social you are or want to be.
- Hours of Sleep – just write ’em in!
- Healthy Food – don’t overthink it; was your food GENERALLY healthy or did you eat fast food all day?
- Adequate Water Intake – everyone needs a different amount of water… but did you drink enough?
- Exercise – whether you consider a brisk walk or a 45 min powerlifting session a workout, as long as your heart rate rose you can mark it!
- Hygiene – put whatever stipulations on this one too. Generally I’d say at least shower and brush your teeth… but for myself I also include washing my face both morning and night because otherwise it’s one of the first things I want to skip.
- Tidy Environment – were you surrounded by clutter all day at work or home or were things orderly keeping your mind at ease?
- Affirmations – they don’t have to be complex but affirmations are just positive statements you make to yourself to encourage your mind to overcome limiting beliefs and negative thoughts.
- Gratitude – whether you keep a gratitude journal or just think of a few things quickly in your mind every day this one will take your thoughts and your attitude far.
Positive & Negative Emotions
Most of the Emotions at the bottom are self-explanatory and just like the others I encourage you to put your own definition and spin on them. Trying to fit your feelings into someone else’s box probably isn’t helpful, so just go by whatever your gut tells you they mean.
Things to consider tracking if you think it would help you:
- When you take your vitamins
- If you eat breakfast (for those of you who need to, but don’t)
- When you make your bed (I know you’re laughing at this one – but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how much the simple act of making my bed makes me feel like I have my life together.)
- How much caffeine you’re having
- Did you actually leave the house today? (probably more for those work-at-homers or stay-at-home mommies)
- Read a book
- Acne (might be related to sleep or caffeine and you didn’t even know it)
- Alcohol (do you experience fatigue only when you consume alcohol? maybe something else?)
- Your appetite (technically we should feel hungry, but easily satiated… if that’s off whack I’d suggest tracking it and seeing what else it correlates with)
- Over Eating
- Under Eating
- Your period (hey… I mean you can write off a lot of stuff because of this one. OR you can look to remedy any negative effects when you actually see them on paper.)
Make it Your Own
This is YOURS. You can mark it up, do every day a different color, cross things out, change categories or titles, whatever you need to do!
My favorite thing to do is to mark the negative emotions (along with some of the circumstantial things like conflict, headache, sick, etc) with a different color than I mark everything else. At the end of the month when I’m looking back I can easily see the difference between my positive and negative emotions. Then if there’s a concentration of that color around a specific circumstance (or blank spaces where I didn’t keep up with some of my good habits) then I can understand just how important those things are to my overall mindset and life.