Did that get your attention? Excellent. I’m writing about habits today, and I'm posting after Dan’s really well-written article, so I felt it was important to mix it up a little bit. First off, let’s set the mood. Here are some puppies.
OKAY SETTLE DOWN. Let's get down to business. And today our business is habit tracking. In case you haven't heard of Frankenlog, it’s a monthly spread that incorporates a number of features like future planning. But let's just pull off one of Frank's many parts (gross!) and look at it individually for a bit so we can discuss the value and benefits of habit tracking.
Legend has it that Jerry Seinfeld once counseled a new comedian that the best way to "git gud" was to write jokes every day, and to put an X on the calendar every day to show it was done. Then the goal was to never break that chain. Over time and through repetition, we can train ourselves to do the things that'll make us better people. Jerry's Xs on the calendar serve as a visual representation of our progress and commitment.
Enter the habit tracker. Historically, I've used my habit tracker to see how often I do the things that make my life better. It’s great to have a way to track multiple habits, but the next questions we should ask ourselves are, “How many habits should I be tracking, and why am I tracking them?” Exercise, sleep, and meditation are good for everyone. But having ADHD means that, for me, it's been shown these are some of the best things I can do to naturally regulate my attention and executive function. I made creativity my fourth daily habit because it just makes me so darn happy.
There are many habit tracker spreads online, but I like to have mine in my monthly spread so it’s always in view and I’m more likely to use it. Take Frankenlog (above) or Frankenlite (below) as examples. The gray boxes are where I use my “Star Days” method to track my habits. Using simple lines within a single gray square each day, I can track up to four (five if I get nutty) daily habits. A key at the bottom of the calendar reminds me of what each line represents. If I finish all my habits for the day, the lines make a little star and POOF! I’ve earned a Star Day! Yay! You’ll see I used one of the lovely lightning bolt stickers included in the new Bullet Journal Edition 2 in order to mark a Star Day. :-)
Now, see those gray habit tracker boxes off to the side a bit? Those are for tracking weekly habits that don't need to happen on any given day. On my tracker, I’ve used “M” and “P” to represent “meeting” and “planning,” the two weekly things I want to track. For those, a simple “X” or a check mark can be used to indicate they are completed. (Frankenlog does a few other things you might find handy, but Jessica said I have to stay on topic. You can find out more about it at www.frankenlog.com)
With my habits decided, I started my tracking endeavor. I started out being highly motivated by my desire to earn Star Days. Over time, I liked to look back and see the patterns of how often I did these four “habits.” It let me see how doing them (or not) affected my days. Heck, I still like to use it for that purpose. And if that’s all I ever wanted out of my habit tracker, that would be fine. But I wanted more than that. I wanted to create new habits.
My habit tracker was a source of information, but it wasn’t a source of change. It wasn’t actually helping me form new habits. Since I gave myself permission to skip days, skipping days became the norm. I wasn’t creating any Seinfeldian chains to link me to a new habit. No motivation urging me towards daily habit grandeur. No real change! Since I wasn’t getting anything out of the habit tracker, I slowly stopped using it (sound familiar?). I was skipping the “habits,” and the tracking of them. And then I started giving myself grief for not using a part of my bullet journal. Good grief – I mean, no! Bad! Bad grief!
Pssst! PSSSST! Let’s sidebar for a sec (pretend I'm Antonio and you're Eddie). Between you and me, I never want to feel like I have to use my BuJo. Ever. It goes against Ryder’s guidance for whether we are bullet journaling the “right” way. Quoting the BuJo Prophet himself: “If you look forward to coming back to your book and feel like it’s your ally, then you’re doing it right… The longer you use it, the more helpful it should become. If that’s not the case, then it’s time to ask yourself why.” Preach, Prophet. I bring up this little side note because “BuJo guilt” is a real issue in our community and we all need to give ourselves a break. So quit it. Anyhoo...
What was I saying? Oh right! Where was my disconnect between habits and tracking? I had to get honest: I wasn’t really tracking habits. Let's face it - We don't usually use habit trackers to track habits; we use them to track behaviors that we’d like to become habits. For example, every morning I fall out of bed and immediately do my back stretches because I have a couple of bad discs. (Discs? Disks? Discuss.) But I never included this in my habit tracker because it's already ingrained. It always happens. Because habits require no effort or willpower on my part whatsoever. Good or bad, habits happen without us trying.
So, what can we do to change those behaviors we’ve been tracking into actual habits? Look no further than the habit guru, James Clear. In his book Atomic Habits, James notes that the best way to create new habits is through small, incremental changes and through something he calls habit stacking. That's why so many of us fail at our New Year's resolutions! We aim too high and get burned out quickly when we fail to implement sweeping changes right from the start.
That’s exactly what I did. Exercising, creating, meditating, and getting enough sleep every day were great goals – but they’re all kind of challenging for me. Taking on all four of them at once has proven to be too much.
“Charlatan!” I hear you denounce. “You’re speaking in present tense! You’ve haven’t successfully done this yet! What do you know about putting habits into place!?”
It’s weird that you’re still calling people charlatans, but I hear you. The fact that I've had the same few behaviors on my tracker for so long means that I haven't done a very good job of making them into habits. Fair enough.
Thankfully Atomic Habits and my Star Days did end up helping me create a new habit. James said that we can develop new habits by taking an existing habit and connecting it to something new that we want to implement (there's that habit stacking). I started my Star Day tracker years ago, and my desire to update it every morning and earn Star Days created my daily BuJo-at-the-breakfast-table routine. It was only natural to take advantage of this habit and stack it with a new one that I really wanted in my life - mindfulness.
The BuJo Prophet is always going on about the mindfulness regular reflection can bring to our lives, and I wanted a piece of that action. I was already at the table. I already had my BuJo out. It was easy to reap the benefit of habit stacking. I made a mental connection between updating my BuJo and actually reviewing the last few days of my life every morning. And I’ll be damned if it hasn’t brought some new awareness to my world. I’m pleased to report that I no longer have to “remember” to reflect every morning. It just happens. Yesssssss.
But wait! There’s more! I don’t want you thinking that my habit tracker has been a failure. Nay! (“Habit” may be a misnomer for the behaviors that we track, but that’s what we’ve settled on and that's fine. Remember when the dictionary people gave up and decided that “irregardless” was a real word? Same thing here. “Habit tracker” it is!) My Star Day system may not be my key to solidifying new habits, but it continues to be a useful part of my morning reflections. Filling out my tracker makes me pause and think about the day before. Did I do something creative? Why not? Was something going on? Was I consuming instead of producing? Even when my tracker “snitches” on me and reveals that I didn’t exercise, meditate, create, or sleep enough, it helps me to look back on the day as a whole and reflect on why I didn't do those things. Whoa.
So, dear reader, if you’re happy tracking behaviors and reflecting on them, great! You do you. But if you’re really interested in developing a new habit, take it from James Clear and Jerry Seinfeld.
Pick one thing you wanna change.
Schedule it to happen immediately before or after something you’re already good at doing habitually (habit stacking).
Then go ahead and make yourself a nice tracker in your bullet journal so you can start tracking your successful chains! Just don’t go nuts with all those colors (#oneblackpen!).
That's it my fellow BuJo Bandits. Feel free to click above to watch me throwing things and gushing further on the topic. And here’s to successful habits and many Star Days to come!
About the Author
Hi, I'm Brian Hazard! I'm a left-handed gamer BuJo nerd with ADHD and a bunch of other quirks. I'm also a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and the creator of Frankenlog. You can find me on Youtube, at www.frankenlog.com, on Instagram at @bhazabujo, and right here in BuJo U. 👍