This is an updated version of my popular 2009 post. When I Googled the title of this post just now, my 2009 edition came up seventh. It was right before Dr. Oz’s piece in People magazine. I’m going to fantasize that this means Diamond-Cut Life is winning its soft-spoken war against mindless mainstream culture
I’m not just a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I’m a cheerleader for positive change in our lives in general. As a former counselor who’s worked with a full spectrum of folks — from the ‘worried well’ to late-stage alcoholics and drug addicts – I’m realistic about what it takes for us to change our habits. We need steady accountability. What gets measured gets managed. If we’re not measuring or tracking what we’re doing, we generally don’t change.
I’m sharing here a simple tool — a chart — that’s helped me follow through on New Year’s resolutions about 5-10 times better than I’ve done without the tool. I’m sure there are some mobile apps out there I could use to track my habits. But here’s the thing: being online, or even close to online, would sabotage my tracking of my habits. Too many distractions. For example, it’s a little uncomfortable to record that I got totally distracted at work that afternoon, and didn’t put first things first. Checking email or my blog stats are reeeeally easy ways to evade that discomfort. So, online is the wrong place for me to be for this. I just made 52 photocopies of my weekly charts. Sometimes hard copy rules.
Here is an example of one of my week’s charts, filled out at the end of the week.
|Wk of Jan. 4-10||Pray||Run or dance||Did ‘first things first’ at work?||Climate activism|
|Wed||Yes||Danced||B||wrote back to Dr. Nathan Hatch|
|Thur||Yes||–||C- [got totally distracted]||posted on climate change|
|Sun||yes, in church||Danced||(n/a)||–|
|Plan||7||5||A||1 post, 2 letters|
|Actual||6||5||B+||1 post, 1 letter|
Here are the advantages to the chart system:
- The chart clears our mind by being our memory. We walk around with way too much chatter in our heads: big meeting at work today, where did my phone go, oh geez more extreme weather, . The chart downloads from our overloaded brains what we’ve already done, and reminds us of what we still need to do.
- This tool counts even partial and incremental success. We humans change and succeed in small steps. Some backward and sideways motion is permitted. Exercising or praying every other day still counts, even if the goal is daily.
- This gives us a steady feedback loop. A large body of research shows that when we get immediate feedback on our behavior, we perform better. This series of weekly charts provides steady feedback loops. We have visual reassurance we are succeeding in our resolutions, at least partially.
Be sure to write your ‘Plan’ numbers in at the beginning of the week, and your ‘Actual’ numbers at the end of the week. Be realistic about your Plan numbers. For example, in the rainy winter months I’m not going to exercise as much as in the glorious summer weather. Try to record your Yesses or dashes (less judgmental than no’s) daily.
The main thing is to keep your chart and your tracking simple enough to be doable. Remember that what gets measured gets managed, and accountability leads to action and change. My experience is that this tracking system has led me to live out my values much more consistently and with more discipline than I ever did without charting my habits. That’s a great feeling, one I don’t mind being a little bit addicted to.
Sunday’s post will include the winner of the drawing for the $50 Amazon gift card. Even if you’ve already taken the fun, five-minute survey, you can get entered in the drawing a second time if you subscribe to Diamond-Cut Life (upper right, takes about 40 seconds).