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Is it time to track your way back to good habits?

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by Paul Kindzia in Happiness, Health, Longevity, Personal Finance
August 26, 2022

A key to success in any endeavor is spending time and focus on that endeavor.  It doesn’t matter if you are trying to improve in a sport, get out of debt, learn to play the piano, lose weight, get smarter, or build wealth.  Improvement takes time and energy.

The divergences and personal conflicts occur when we tell ourselves that we want to accomplish something but our actions and behaviors don’t align with the necessary inputs to achieve that objective.  If you want to change your situation, start tracking the inputs of success related to that item.  If you want to lose weight and are struggling, start tracking the inputs like keeping a food and exercise journal.  If you want to change your spending and get out of debt, track your spending.  The quickest way to progress when implementing personal change is to track the inputs directly tied to your ultimate goal.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

What we learn when we track something is how our estimates diverge from reality.  We may think that we are dieting and exercising (because we felt a wee bit of hunger last Tuesday) but we know for sure when we look at a food and exercise journal over multiple weeks.  When we actually track the calories in and calories burned, it’s not hard to imagine why we aren’t moving in the desired direction.

We want to arrive at a point where habit is the dominant action.  Success is built on a foundation of habits.  It’s not uncommon for many people to start out tracking their monthly expenditures but then after a while they are so in tune with their spending that they can achieve the desired results by just “saving consistently and paying themselves first.”  Paying themselves a set amount each month is the habit.  If the habits have been formed, then there usually isn’t the same need to micro-manage the tracking mechanism (other than being curious or holding ourselves accountable.)

I’ve known many runners who have kept running journals that have lasted for years.  They actually enjoy going back and adding up all of their miles, locations, races, and training paces.  Likewise, plenty of wealth builders enjoy going back and reviewing their monthly savings amounts over years and years.  It’s fun to see that progress during a review.

If we are in need of or desire personal change, tracking gives us a benchmark to improve upon (usually a very low bar to exceed).  It’s not uncommon for many of us to struggle early in our adult years just to save any money at all since we aren’t used to being self-sufficient or requiring fiscal restraint.  Mom and Dad were often there for us to make sure we had food, clothing, shelter and money to go to the movies with our friends.

When we start to become enlightened and say, “I think I ought to be saving money” that’s the first step.  But it’s usually at a time when saving money is hard to do because spending is non-disciplined or organized.  You may have to start tracking spending for a day, then a week, then a month and hopefully for an entire year.  Eventually you’ll learn that even annual tracking of spending can be misleading if you own assets like homes and cars because repairs and maintenance items are not scheduled on a calendar basis.

But over time, one should evolve to a state where habits trump tracking.  If you have a habit of eating healthy, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, reading, saving money, investing prudently, communicating with loved ones and friends, things tend to go very well over time.  The benefits of good habits is that they compound over long stretches of time (like years).  Show me somebody with bad habits and I’ll show you somebody who eventually runs into major problems at some point (health, wealth or relationships).

“Good habits are as addictive as bad habits, and a lot more rewarding.”

Harvey MacKay

So BEGIN, pick your goals and start tracking your inputs.  The numbers won’t lie.  They will be very revealing as to why you are or are not making progress towards your desired goal.  You can make personal changes and accomplish more than you ever imagined if you get the right habits in place.  Then tracking the changes becomes very enjoyable and life changing over time.

Good habits lead to good behaviors.  Good behaviors lead to good decisions.  Good decisions lead to a good life.  Live by principles and choose wisely.

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