If you want to start a new positive habit, like writing every day or exercising four times a week, one of the best ways to encourage that new behavior is to track your success. Each time you record your successful behavior, you’re reinforcing both your intention to create a new habit and your new successful action.
There are lots of ways to track your new habit, many of which we’ve written about on ProfHacker:
- move a post-it note or magnet from one side of your desk, mirror, filing cabinet, etc to the other
- put a clearly visible check mark, star, or sticker each day on a wall calendar
- put a note each day in your journal or on your digital calendar
- set up your own spreadsheet, perhaps putting it on Google Drive to make it easily accessible
- use a web-based habit tracker like Joe’s Goals or GoalHappy
- use a habit-tracking app
- use the email tool iDoneThis
Analog methods like check marks on a post-it note or stickers on a wall calendar reinforce your behavior both visually and kinetically. If you’re interested in quantifying your behavior, then using a spreadsheet or habit-tracking software can give you statistics to analyze. Many people find that visual cues are very effective in reinforcing your desire to continue practicing your new habit.
Chains.cc is a simple and visually appealing free web-based habit tracking tool and iOS app that is named after Jerry Seinfeld’s explanation of his own method of marking days on the calendar to track his writing. Seinfeld reportedly told a younger comic:
After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.
What really distinguishes Chains from many other habit-tracking apps is its visual design. Rather than appearing on a calendar grid, the chains appear as vertical strings with the most recent day at the top of the screen. When you create a new chain, you can select from a variety of icons to mark each day with: the default colored dot, a pair of running shoes, a flower, a computer keyboard, or many others. As you can see from the screenshots below, when you log consecutive days, these icons change too: the dots become a bar and change color, the running shoes become a racetrack, the flower grows, the weight plates or books stack up.
There are some social accountability features built in to Chains as well. You can create a private group of Chains users who can see each other’s chains, or you can add one of yours to a public group, which exist for a wide range of topics including exercise, learning programming, meditation, etc. You can also create a new public group.
Of course, not every habit is something you want to do every day. So you can set a chain to only record specific days. When you fill those in, the visual automatically completes the skipped days to create the chain effect. You can also set chains simply as reminders to let you know when you last did a task. Reminder chains don’t feed statistics to your overview page, which provides some simple summaries of your success.
I have only used the web version of Chains, as there is no Android app. But the default mobile web view when I use my Android phone or tablet gives me a simplified view that looks similar to the screenshots of the iOS app. From this mobile interface you just see a list of your chains for the day and can quickly click your completion. You can optionally switch to the desktop view to see the whole chain and other features.
If you respond well to visual cues, then Chains is a well designed and easy to use habit tracker that’s well worth a try.
Do you use a habit tracker? Let us know in the comments!
[image credit: chains.cc logo]