I have been an advocate of habit persecution for decades. Habit tracking sounds and feels nerdy to a lot of people, so many people avoid it. That’s too bad. Habit tracking is a powerful tool that can help you make better decisions about your life.
Let me give you an example.
Over at Reaktor, Olof Hoverfalt recently published a long piece about why he follows every single piece of clothing he’s been wearing for three years.
That’s right: For over 1000 days, hoverfolds documented every item of clothing he wore. (In fact, he continues to publicly document his wardrobe.) With the information gathered, he can now make better decisions about which clothes to keep and which to buy. I love it!
According to Hoverfert, people worry about how much time it would take to do something like this, but they shouldn’t. Most of the time is invested in the initial setup, that first batch of data entry. The actual use and maintenance of the system takes about a minute every day. And the rewards are far higher than the time costs.
The Hoverlover project is a perfect example of the power of habit tracking.
The power of habit persecution
I have long preached the importance of keeping track of your expenses. But I think it’s wise to keep a record of everything you are curious about or what you want to change: your fitness habits, your time habits, your work habits. Documentation is the first step towards permanent change.
I recently reached my goal of losing 30 pounds in six months, for example. To be successful, I logged my fitness stats every morning. (And I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.) Kim is starting her own weight loss journey, so she keeps a log of every calorie she burns or consumes.
And what about keeping track of your time? I’ve been using an app called ATracker all month to keep track of what I’m doing. Using the app requires very little effort. The results are interesting. They provide information about how I actually use my time and how I think I use it.
That’s the real value for projects like this one. Habit tracking enables us to distinguish perception from reality. (In his article, Hovermal covers this in the “actual versus imaginary use” section.)
I’ve learned that what people think they are doing (or what they say they are doing) is often different from their actual behavior. “I don’t spend a lot on clothes,” someone will say, but when you actually crack the numbers you will see that your clothes spend is much higher than average. “I don’t eat too much,” another person will say, but when they log their calories they see that their ginger ale addiction is adding an additional 500 calories a day to their diet.
Faithful, honest pursuit of habits is the only way you can truly learn what to do with your time and life.
Here’s another (silly) example of how tracking can help you differentiate perception from reality. A few years ago, Kim and I disagreed on who cleaned the litter box the most. She felt like she always did. I felt like I always did. We have started following the behavior. We put a sticky note next to the litter box, and when one of us changed the litter box, we made a note. It turned out we both cleaned the litter box equally. Disagreements over! The solution to our litter box problem is having fewer cats haha.
Don’t combine tracking with judgment
It’s important to separate decisions from follow-up. If you are following a habit – your expenses, your alcohol consumption, your closet use – you want to be tracking the actual behavior. Your job at this moment is the recorder, not the judge.
This is something I want to emphasize to Kim as she begins to log her food intake. “Don’t get into a fight over all of this,” I told her. “If you have a cookie, that’s fine. Just write it down. “
When you combine assessment with data collection, it is a recipe for failure. You feel guilty every time you make bad choices. This means that you do not want to document your behavior. You want to give up You wanna hide
Customs chasing is just customs chasing. Data collection is just data collection. You are like an impartial third party observer who determines what you are actually doing and who has no interest in whether or not those actions support your goals. In data acquisition mode, you are looking for information – and only information.
Once you have enough information, you can act.
After a few weeks of documenting her diet, Kim can sit down and look for patterns. Based on these patterns, she can experiment to develop different habits.
You can see this in my own annual financial updates. I keep track of my expenses year round, but for information only. I don’t usually try to make course corrections in June or July. But in early January, after I had the chance to crack the numbers, I compare how my current habits have deviated from my goals. I use this information to make decisions like “I want to spend less in restaurants this year” or “I want to experiment with a spending moratorium”.
I’ve found that separating documentation and assessment makes me more likely to make changes. Besides, I don’t beat myself up so much. When it comes to analyzing the data, I can do it more rationally because I’m not in the heat of the moment and looking at a large collection of data rather than making individual decisions.
The bottom line
Okay you get what this is about. Habit tracking is a great way to learn what to do with your time, money, and energy. However, you need to make sure that the persecution is kept separate from the judgment. I have it. But what about Hoverfalt’s cloakroom project? What lessons did he learn?
If you don’t want to read the entire article (although I think you should), here are some quick tips:
- “In some cases, a cheaper purchase is proven to be more expensive.” This is the boot theory of socio-economic injustice. More expensive items are often (not always) of better quality. As a result, they cost less in the long run than repeatedly buying them cheaply. However, this only applies if the additional cost means additional quality. If the added cost is from buying a brand or style, it doesn’t necessarily mean savings.
- “Frequency of use is the underlying performance driver.” This is obvious, but easy to miss. The more you carry something, the lower the long-term costs. The $ 100 shoes you wear twice a week for a year are actually cheaper than the $ 50 shoes you wear once a month.
- “A wardrobe with nothing but favorite clothes sounds good. It can also be the best in terms of cost performance. “Since the value of your garments depends on the“ cost per wear ”, the more you wear a particular item, the more value you get. Of course, this means that your favorite pieces are the most affordable. The final result? Not only do you like to wear your favorites more than your other clothes, these favorites also save you money.
Based on three years of data, hoverfold has some advice for others.
Find what you need and love and then buy only that. Focus on the cost-per-use, not the price. Only buy favorites. (Or, using Marie Kondo’s terminology, buy only those items that “bring joy”.) Try to buy only clothing that can be worn in a variety of situations. Buy long term. Take good care of your clothes. Know when to get rid of an item.
I think one reason I love this article (and this project) so much is because it confirms some of the conclusions that I have already come to.
Now that I’ve lost thirty pounds, I can fit into my old clothes again. And now my closet is filled to the gills because it contains both thin and thick clothing. It’s a mess. I’ve been thinking about how to rate what to keep and what to discard, and Hoverlover’s article helped clarify the situation.
This weekend, I’m going through my closet and drawers to get rid of (and / or store) the things I know I won’t be carrying. And who knows? When I’m done, I might take the time to create my own cloakroom table. That sounds fun!