Surely the unicorn of habit tracking exists
May 18, 2023 8:24 AM   Subscribe

What it says on the tin, really. Many moons ago I could think I'll start doing something and simply... keep doing it till it became a part of my routine. Now, alas, those days are long past. And yet good habits (mostly health related) still need to be formed. How?!

Things I've tried -
(A) Apps - for someone as Always Online as I am, I'm extremely good at ignoring notifications I don't like.
(B) Chat with therapist: We set up a dedicated WhatsApp chat just for tracking and I...ignored that too. They've gently called me out but no more. And I don't want to be scolded into it. Negatively reinforced habits don't last.
(C) Accountability- buddies - we all slip up and enable and comfort each other and then go back to our merry ways. Of COURSE you had to stay up late watching Netflix instead of going to sleep at a reasonable hour, friend. You must forgive yourself and do it again tomorrow. Gah.
Surely someone has figured this out! Thanks.
posted by Nieshka to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is a really common feature of ADHD. Have you been screened? This type of task avoidance/executive dysfunction is very treatable with medication.

Even if you're not ADHD, you may want to look into resources aimed at people who are, as this is a super common issue and many people have developed coping methods. YouTube will have plenty, browse around and see if anything speaks to you.
posted by ananci at 8:42 AM on May 18 [5 favorites]

Try attaching a habit to another habit that’s firm. Mine are:
- While my kid is in the bath, I either floss or do a face mask
- While my tea boils, I fill my water bottle
- When I have a long zoom meeting where it’s ok to have my camera off (like a full-company presentation), I either colour my hair or do laundry
- On Sundays I’m home with kids for a few hours with no scheduled plans, so while they play I can do a bit of computer work as long as it’s not too high-focus. So throughout that time block, I intermittently pay bills and pack up Amazon returns.
I try to be religious about doing it so the habit doesn't feel breakable.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:37 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Make the right choice the easy choice. I was very successful at exercising when I brought my work out clothes to work, so all I had to do was change and go on a run in the park by my office. The mild embarrassment I would feel if I brought my gym bag home without exercising helped me just do the thing rather than skip it. If I came home and sat on the couch with every intention of going on a run… I ended up staying on the couch.
posted by MadamM at 9:41 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Atomic Habits. You attach habits to other habits and ultimately change your identity. Your identities are what forms the basis of your thoughts and from there, most things are automatic.

It's like if you forget to brush your teeth but always remember to take a shower in the morning, you put your toothbrush and toothpaste right there in the shower where you see it. Or if you need to remember to take a pill, the pillbox is on top of your morning contacts that you can't see without.

The identities reinforce over time with this unconsciously and consciously. I say this as someone with ADHD, but it really does come down to "Do. Or do not." And I remove self-destructive thoughts like "I'm lazy and can't adhere to a schedule."
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:49 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]

This is silly, but works for me. I put stickers on a calendar. Different stickers mean different things - penguins for 20 minutes of cleaning, bees for getting out of bed when the alarm goes off, stars for taking a walk, owls for writing. I put the sticker on the calendar as soon as I do whatever it is - I read in some habit book that it's important to establish an immediate reward so you get a little dopamine hit. I use small stickers so I can fit several into a calendar square - the search term for that is "chart stickers." I can look at the calendar and tell at a glance where I'm doing well and where there's room for improvement.

I heard a doctor who has a podcast and uses stickers say she'd run ten miles for a sticker. It's weirdly motivating.
posted by FencingGal at 10:14 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

The thing that works best for me is making it super-easy and putting cues unavoidably in my line of sight. There are things I do every day with no problem, like making myself coffee and brushing my teeth, so my allergy pill bottle is right next to the coffee pot, and my face wash (I don't know why I resist washing my face!) is right next to my toothbrush.

"Don't" habits like "don't stay up late watching Netflix" can be especially difficult so it often works better to turn it into a "Do" like "do put your phone on the charger with the short cord and get in bed." Or if you're watching in bed on a TV, your "do" could be "turn on the timer and leave the remote on the opposite side of the room."

I really only track for things I might accidentally do too often, like PT exercises that I'm supposed to do every other day or a pill that I'm supposed to take once a day. And for those I keep a piece of paper next to the pill bottle or in the area where I usually do my exercises and I X off a calendar square or write down the day of the week or something like that. Super basic. For me the main thing is just to do it today - stickers and badges and streaks don't really do it for me.
posted by mskyle at 11:13 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

There needs to be an emotional payoff for the behavior. It has to feel good. So, find or bake in the “reward” some sense of aahhhh relief / release at the end of the behavior. Like that frisson of completeness I get when I squeegee my shower.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:30 PM on May 18

It's been my experience that it has to be a habit you want to do as opposed to one you feel you should do.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:49 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

As for actual habit tracking, I use an app that I have on my main screen when I look at my phone, one of the only apps on that screen, so I remember to open it before going into the other screen to get to my mobile game. I currently have a 177 day streak in both habit tracking and gacha, would be over a thousand if I hadn't lost a day to the flu.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:54 PM on May 18

Nthing getting screened for ADHD. We don't form habits like neurotypicals do. If you have ADHD then habit formation advice for neurotypicals won't work for you and you need to seek out ADHD-specific coping strategies.

I have dozens of phone alarms set reminding me to do various daily tasks and without them I would not remember despite having done the tasks every day for months or years. A neurotypical would do those things on autopilot by now but if I turn off my reminder alarms then I would forget them completely.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:22 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Your current state is at equilibrium. If it really were that “easy” for you to do the thing you would have done it already. Therefore, it may be worth considering brainstorming what obstacles are preventing you from doing the thing. Once you address the obstacles it can be easier to do the thing.
posted by oceano at 8:29 PM on May 19

I know you've tried both apps and accountability buddies, but if you haven't tried Habitica, it might be worth a look, as it sort of combines the two. It's a bit silly (it's RPG-themed, with quests), but if you join a questing party, your missed habits damage them as well in a way that's clearly defined, rather than a nebulous sort of enabling. I've found that if I'm about to skip something, the thought of damaging 15 other people because I didn't do it is enough motivation to do it. (Unless I truly don't want to do it for other reasons; if that's the case, then, yeah, as others have said, that's something that has to be addressed before any "method" is going to help.)
posted by ilana at 1:17 PM on May 20

"It's been my experience that it has to be a habit you want to do as opposed to one you feel you should do."

+1 - and it can feel silly, but really thinking about why you want to do it can help (so you're looking forward to an awesome outcome rather than avoiding a terrible fate). I'd consider looking into Kelly McGonigal's work on habit formation. She has some exercises to help you get to the root of what is most important about the change you want to make.

On the other hand: when I'm tempted to skip something, I occasionally ask myself "Do you want something that's hard now (doing the dishes late at night when I just want to sleep) or hard later (not having any clean dishes for breakfast)?" It's nice to think of what I'm doing as a present for future me.
posted by abry0 at 6:23 PM on May 20

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