Habit Tracking Today
What does it mean to track your habits during a period of isolation, confinement and sheltering?
This was meant to be a detailed article about habit tracking in 2020. I wanted to update the article I wrote about habit tracking in 2018. I had changed some of the habits I tracked and switched from an app to using paper and pen. Given the number of questions that post still attracts, it made sense to write about daily habits again.
But now, everything about tracking daily habits has changed.
For example, I haven’t hit my 10,000 steps a day goal in a long time. Here in London, we’ve been in lockdown for a month and we’re allowed to take only one hour of outdoor exercise each day. So, I barely make 60–70% of my normal goal in that one walk through my local park. Some days, it’s hardly even exercise, since I’m walking fairly slowly, just soaking in the sun, as I grasp the opportunity to be outside my house, as I feel the grass under my feet and notice the subtle changes as the trees blossom and bud their way through spring.
In so many ways, the logic behind habit tracking has given way to the quotidian poetry of life in quarantine.
Habit tracking is mostly about trying to live by design. First, you paint a picture of the life you want to live and you identify the habits you need to build and sustain that life, then you track those habits as a way to get you from where you are to where you want to be.
But now, few if any of us are living the life we had designed for ourselves.
Even for me, as someone who normally works from home, with a life built around domestic routines, there’s a lot about my days and weeks that isn’t going according to plan.
For example, as much as I love cooking, with a kid home from university and none of us eating out, cooking now means three portions, thrice daily, seven days a week. That’s an extra 35–40 portions of food a week. This hasn’t just changed my cooking habits or how much time it takes. Rather, it’s changed the way I think about being in the kitchen, especially now that it receives and processes a lot more ingredients every week.
While I’m working about the same number of hours a week, having everyone home all the time has shaken up my routine, built as it was on long periods of solitude. So, while I used to track reading as a daily habit, I’m now snatching moments here and there to read, rather than getting solid longer chunks of uninterrupted time.
For all of us, the texture of our habits has changed. We might still be exercising, but online workouts, via Zoom or Instagram Live, have such a different feel. Just like meetings across a computer camera aren’t the same as a meeting across a desk or coffee table.
It still makes sense to keep on with these habits and track them to make sure we do them.
What might make more sense right now though is to reflect on how this current situation is changing our priorities and changing our sense of which habits are important and which aren’t.
And also, we need to think about the deeper aspects of life hidden within the habit.
As much as I miss those extra few thousand steps every day and the way they worked my muscles and burned some calories, I miss them far more for the places they took me to, for the time outside my home they gave me and for the inspiration they allowed me to bring back to my work. I hadn’t fully appreciated that within each day’s minimum of 10,000 steps, there were also moments of people-watching, conversations with baristas and shopkeepers, and a general sense of being connected to the outside world.