Habit Tracker Ideas: How To Track Old and New Habits

habit tracker ideas

There comes a point in our lives where we hope to change a particular pattern or behavior about ourselves so that we become more productive, successful, or healthy. We can do this by recognizing our current behaviors or habits that are less ideal, by replacing them with ones that are better suited to our overall health. Who we are today is based on the habits we have developed over time. We can monitor ourselves by coming up with habit tracker ideas, such as tracking how much we smoke and when, or how much we eat and why. Self-tracking apps have the ability to support individuals in the process of adapting and sustaining a new healthy behavior. (R)

What are habits?

Habits are the responses we have to a contextual cue that we have learned early on in our lives. It is a way we respond to a situation with little conscious effort. A habit is considered to be a construct that provides a unique insight into explaining, predicting, and controlling repeated actions. For example, if you are a smoker and you always smoke while you drink coffee, without any conscious effort you always go to light a cigarette with your coffee. Another example is when you wash laundry, you put your clothes in the machine add the detergent, and turn the machine on, it takes little to no conscious effort.  

 To recognize and understand these repeated actions, one might start self-tracking using an app, such as the CareClinic app. As people, we have good habits and we also have those pesky habits we wish we could shake. To help us get started, we can use trackers such as CareClinic, to monitor our current habits to prepare for behavior change or habit formation. 

It is important to note that our habits or our wish to change our behaviors are different from goals and attitudes. (R) When we have goals that we want to attain, we are driven by our determination to reach that “object or aim”. (R)

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Habit Tracker Ideas

How do we form habits?

From a young age we develop our habits based on context. When we are in a situation, it prompts an automatic action that activates a “mental context or an action association” that we have previously learned through behaviors. (R) Our habits gain more power based on how many times in the past we have carried out the habitual behavior in a similar context. (R)

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To put simply, individuals develop a new habit through a combination of repetition and reward. When we continuously repeat an action that yields a reward, we are cognitively developing a new habit. When acting out of habit, an individual automatically responds to relevant context cues. To develop these cue-behavior or context-behavior associations, you must repeat the behavior multiple times in the presence of these cues or contexts.

If people are in the same environment, they will perform automated behaviors the same way every single time, for example, brushing their teeth. However, some studies have shown that, if we take a vacation, and the environment changes, it is likely that the behavior will change. This is one of the reasons why taking a vacation can be relaxing, it can help with breaking certain habits.  While on vacation, all of a person’s regular cues and rewards are not there; this may be a good time to try and change a habit and may be successful at it too.  People have the opportunity to form a new pattern and hopefully, they will be able to continue it in their life.

Can we change our habits?

Habit formation and health 

Developing new habits is part of the behavior change process. When a habit is triggered and we act out a response without using much conscious thought, it is like being on automatic pilot. Operating on autopilot is not ideal as it is not effective when we want to change a behavior. (R)

When a person decides to change their behavior and acts on it, the action needs to be regularly repeated. The new behavior needs to turn into a habit. The repetition of the action needs to be maintained until the task becomes automatic to make sure the change becomes permanent. 

Habits are formed as behaviors are repeated consistently, whereby the repetition helps create associations between the tasks and the cues. behaviors on the other hand, can be considered automatic when they reach a period of being automatic such as being “second nature” whereby developing the asymptote (the connection that represents the relationship between the repetition and habit). 

The number of repetitions required to reach the asymptote depends on the complexity of the tasks and can vary from the length of 18 days for easy tasks (e.g. drinking more water) to an estimated 254 days for more complex tasks (e.g. building the habit of going to the gym). However, repetition alone is not enough to form a habit.

Cues along with trigger events support the habit formation process, they are the basis in advancing the behavior. Our existing routines can be used as prompts to drive action. Tasks that are linked to routine events (event-based tasks such as taking medication after breakfast) are generally easier to remember than tasks that need to be completed at a specified time (time-based tasks, like meditating at 10 PM every day).

Building new habits

The Habit Loop

Forming a new habit is a three-part process

It turns out that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop,” which is a 3-part process.

  • Cue
    • A cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.
    • When trying to build a new habit, start by thinking about what could cue that habit (for example If you want to exercise more, maybe your cue could be an alarm on your phone). Once you know your desired habit’s cue, you should think about the final part of the “habit loop,” the reward.
  • Routine (behavior)
    • The routine, which is the behavior itself, “That’s what we think about when we think about habits.” 
  • Reward (satisfaction)
    • The third step is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the “habit loop” in the future.
    • Forming habits is hard, so be sure to build in rewards to incentivize yourself (give yourself a yummy snack after a run or spend the evening watching TV if you’ve done your habit all week). You could even reward yourself while you are performing your habit. 

The Process

Understanding Your Habits 

It’s not always simple to isolate the cues and rewards that we are used to and put them into a graph. The only way to know for sure is through slow experimentation.

Start Small

The exact science of behavioral change is complicated, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to affect beneficial change in your life. The problem is that most of us start too big when we want to build good habits into our lives. We can end up wanting to pursue a new goal if we get caught up in the moment. We forget that any lasting change takes a lot of time to build.

Keystone Habits

The power of a keystone habit draws from its ability to change your self-image. Basically, anything can become a keystone habit if it has the power to make you see yourself in a different way. If you’re just starting out, don’t go chasing after every bit of positive change at once. Rather, start with a habit that makes you see yourself as the kind of person you want to be.

You’re in Control

You’re still in control. You determine whether a small habit compounds into achievement years later or a bad one leads to a downward spiral. Realization of this simple fact is the first step to changing your behavior.

Breaking Habits

What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure — that once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behavior, it becomes much, much easier to change. Studies have shown that people will perform automated behaviors — like pulling out of a driveway or brushing teeth — the same way every single time, if they’re in the same environment. But if they take a vacation, it’s likely that the behavior will change. That’s one of the reasons why taking a vacation is so relaxing: It helps break certain habits.

“It’s also a great reason why changing a habit on a vacation is one of the proven most successful ways to do it,” he says. “If you want to quit smoking, you should stop smoking while you’re on a vacation — because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren’t there anymore. So you have this ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over into your life.”

Habit Tracker Ideas

If you want to make a change to develop new and healthy habits, a great way is to use the CareClinic app. You can start by tracking your current behaviors and see where you want to make a change and what behaviors you wish to attain. There are many features to the CareClinic app to help you achieve success on your journey to a healthy lifestyle. In addition, within the CareClinic app, you can also use a health diary app  or a wellness tracker to monitor your health quickly and to keep up with the changes you would like to make to your health.

Why you should track your habits?

Habits form from repeated, automatic behaviors that you often perform with little conscious thought. To gain insight into these actions, tracking habits becomes crucial. Using the CareClinic app, you can log when you perform a particular habit, note environmental cues, and engage in self-check-ins, among other features. This tracking can reveal patterns or correlations in your behavior.

For instance, when you record the times you engage in a specific habit, like smoking a cigarette while drinking coffee, and journal your feelings and surrounding context, you could identify the triggers that make you reach for that cigarette. The same approach works for understanding why you opt for unhealthy snacks like chocolate bars or cake.

The difficulty of breaking undesirable habits is that the person may still feel satisfaction or pleasure from the habit. This may mean that they are still experiencing the reward part of the habit loop. This is when a person could use a pre-existing cue to develop a healthier habit; perhaps replace the action (i.e. reach for an apple instead of a chocolate bar).

What to track?

We can use the CareClinic app to track our current behaviors and to track our progress in developing new habits. With the CareClinic app, you can create your own care plan and you can create multiple care plans if you want to monitor other areas of your health. You can use the various features in the app to suit your needs. Within each care plan you can also create your own care team.

Your care team can include a healthcare practitioner of your choice, such as a doctor or nurse. You can even include a family member or friend. You can share progress with your team and they can give you feedback, provide support, and keep you accountable. Depending on the habit you are trying to develop or break you can create your own plan to suit you. There are also many plans readily available for you to select from.

Diary Entry: Capturing Daily Moments for Enhanced Self-Awareness

With the diary entry feature, you can make entries throughout the day about how you are feeling. You can note how your day is going, any noticeable cues or what your surroundings are. This is especially useful if you are aware of your habit as well. The diary feature also allows you to add pictures to your entry. This is a great feature if you are making dietary changes for weight management. 

Symptom Tracker: Monitor Physical Responses to Treatments or Habit Changes

The symptom tracker allows you to input any symptoms you are experiencing. You can use this to track the symptoms before, during, and after any treatments, you are seeking. Or you can track symptoms according to the habit you are trying to develop or break. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you might track any side effects while you smoke. You can then compare it to how you feel as you reduce your number of cigarettes and after you have quit. The positive changes you feel could be your reward when reflecting on the habit loop. 

Nutrition: Logging Daily Meals for Dietary Changes

Use the built-in Nutrition Tracker to log meals and snacks. This feature is beneficial if you’re aiming to change your diet, such as incorporating more fruits or managing your weight.

Reports: Gaining Insights into Behavior Correlations

The Reports feature collates your logged data across different aspects like Diary Entry, Nutrition, and Symptom Tracker. It generates reports to highlight correlations between your actions and experiences, offering deeper insight into your habit changes.

Reminders: Scheduling Repetitive Alerts for Habit Formation

Leverage the Reminders feature for frequent, repetitive alerts that can reinforce your new behavior change, assuming the right cues are present. The CareClinic app stands as a comprehensive solution for habit management, making it easier for you to change your life.

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Dr. Suleiman Furmli