How to Use Habit Tracking to Support Your Mental Health

As a therapist, a common topic I discuss is how to build a consistent routine with intentional habits.

This topic has become more common to discuss as many of us are rebuilding our habits to fit the changes we’ve experienced throughout the pandemic. We’re assessing our relationships with movement, reading, sleep, food, socializing, and all the other bricks that build the foundation of our lives.

Assessing our engagement in habits — whether we consider them healthy or not — can be overwhelming. Keeping track of how much water we drink, how often we exercise, and if we’ve slept enough can feel like a huge undertaking in relation to our other responsibilities.

That said, learning how to track habits in an intentional way can actually support our mental health. Why is that?

person using habit tracker journal

Why habit tracking is beneficial to your mental health

Humans are habitual beings. In relation to other animals, humans take a significant period of time to develop our adult personalities.

However, once our personalities are developed, they come with habits that are hardwired into us. Because we’re habitual, changing an old habit or forming a new one can be difficult.

Cue: habit tracking. Utilizing a habit tracker can be supportive of your goal of building or changing a habit.

Below are a few reasons why:

1. Habit trackers are a daily reminder to engage in your habit.

Because humans are habitual, it’s easy to forget to engage in a new habit if we don’t have reminders. Seeing a reminder will provide the push that’s often needed to get started.

2. Habit trackers can provide a visual representation of progress.

Sometimes it can be challenging to know if our new habit is leading to actual change. Also, using a habit tracker can help identify barriers to change.

For example, maybe you’re working on making your bed in the morning — but your tracker reveals that on Mondays and Wednesdays, you’re not able to consistently make that change.

This helps you recognize there may be some barrier that needs to be addressed to fully adopt the habit of making your bed.

3. Checking off a habit on a tracker can feel satisfying.

If you’re like me, then checking something off on a list can feel incredibly satisfying. Watching your changes occur in the moment feels good and encourages continued engagement.

How to become a habit tracking pro

Now that I’ve convinced you to use a habit tracker, you may be wondering: “How do I track my habits?” Below are some dos and don’ts of building your best habit tracker:

Do focus on habits that are relevant to your own life.

When I first began habit tracking, I had a long list of habits to track that took up a significant portion of my day. But I realized that many habits I was tracking weren’t that important to me.

I was able to stop tracking habits that were of minimal interest to me and dedicate more energy to habits that were contributing to my long-term goals.

Don’t overwhelm yourself by tracking too many habits.

Similarly to the above tip, tracking too many habits can be incredibly overwhelming. I recommend starting with up to five habits to track and then adding more on when you feel comfortable.

Do review your progress with habit tracking on a weekly and/or monthly basis.

Part of tracking habits is paying attention to what’s working and what isn’t. If a habit is working well, you may want to build on that habit further. If it isn’t, you may need to evaluate if and how you want to engage in further habit formation.

Don’t hyper-fixate on minor setbacks or lapses in habit engagement.

We’re all humans, which means that none of us is perfect. This applies to many areas of life but particularly in habit building.

It’s okay if you’re not able to engage in each of your habits every day. If non-engagement becomes a pattern, that’s the time to reassess.

Do focus on habits to build and habits to break.

Much of this piece has been focused on how to build habits, but many of us are also working on breaking habits as well.

You can track those habits simply by reflecting that in the wording on your habit tracker. For example, if you’re working on not consuming alcohol, you may track “sober days.”

Don’t compare your progress to the progress of others.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Each of us is on our own journey when it comes to making life changes — and comparison to others doesn’t allow us to consider each person’s context.

How to start habit tracking

Once you’ve decided to engage in habit tracking, you’re probably going to be excited about getting started. I don’t blame you!

There are many ways to habit track, but below I’ve provided a few popular options I’ve tried myself and found useful:

  • Bullet Journaling: Bullet journaling is a popular form of journaling that allows a writer to create their own planner and journal in a way that suits them. Many people include a habit tracker in their journal that encompasses their own goals.
  • Logging habits in a daily planner: If creating your own journal and planner feels like too large a task for you (trust me — I get it), you can get a planner which includes spaces for habit tracking here.
  • Printable tracker: If you’d rather have a habit tracker option that’s printable, many options are available to edit and create yourself.
  • Phone application: If you’re fonder of the digital age, many phone applications have been designed to support users in tracking habits. Some popular options include Habitica, Habitify, and Strides.

The bottom line: Whether you’re excited to get a jumpstart on New Year’s resolutions or are simply wanting to change some old habits, using a habit tracker may be just the tool you need to find success.

Mental Health Think & Feel

About Sarah Beerman

Sarah Beerman is a licensed social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor. Sarah received her MSW from Loyola University and Chicago and currently works as an individual and group therapist for Clarity Clinic Chicago with an emphasis in addiction and trauma work. While Sarah believes that therapy is a significant and often necessary tool to foster personal and community wellness, Sarah believes in caring for the whole person and whole community. Sarah works towards this value by engaging in Chicago’s running and yoga communities, tapping into several book clubs and indulging in the bachelor. Sarah hopes to support you in the process in discovering what brings you value in yourself and your community.