Whether you’re trying to start a new workout regimen, or attempting to kick something to the curb that no longer serves you, the process can feel like a constant struggle. That’s why it’s no surprise that many folks turn to habit trackers to help them navigate making changes in their life (whether those changes are big or small). The question is: Do they work for you?
Starting new habits comes with a myriad of benefits. Research shows that developing new forms of behaviour may boost self-confidence, and lead to better overall wellbeing. Plus, you’re also reaping the rewards of whatever habit you’ve developed. It’s a win, win, win. Ahead, dive into how these habit tracker apps work, how to know whether or not they’re right for you, and, finally, how to choose one. Ready?
How it Works
First thing’s first — a word on how habit tracking works. Forming a habit famously calls for the “three Rs”: reminder, routine, and reward. For example, if you’re trying to get out for a walk at lunchtime to refocus and clock a few thousand steps, your reminder might be a ping on your phone that reads “Get out there!” After that, you have the routine itself (your stroll), and the reward of your choice (let’s say, a cup of warm chai tea or hot cocoa).
In general, habit trackers — whether analogue or digital — help you track your “three Rs,” playing up the “reward” aspect of the routine. For example, one top-rated habit tracker app called “Streaks” helps you create consistent habits that are designed to help you feel like you’re building momentum. While many habit tracker apps operate on a binary (you either did your workout for the day or you didn’t), some — including Way of Life — leave room for that grey area where you should still get some credit, but may ask you to journal about why you didn’t accomplish a certain action item. This self-reflection may help you get to the root of why you skipped your habit, so you can get ahead of that mentality the next time.
In short: There’s a lot of variation in how habit trackers can work, but most operate on the researched-backed “three Rs.”
How to Know If a Habit Tracker Is Right for You
For some, habit tracker apps will offer a sense of freedom and accomplishment and offer a means to help you notice the benefits of your good choices. For example, if you’ve pledged to practice yoga every day, perhaps you’re feeling more relaxed, flexible, and at home in your body.
However, psychologist Sherry Benton, PhD, chief science officer of Tao, an online therapy resource, warns that habit trackers run the risk of causing more harm than good for some people’s mental health. Take stock of your feelings: Monitor your emotions during the habit tracker for the first week or two, she suggests. “Check in with yourself. Is habit tracking helping you feel better, or is it making you feel guilty, ashamed, inadequate?” says Benton.
If you find that you’re obsessively checking your habit tracker, or feeling stressed every time you’re on the app, this technique might not be best for you. “This is very individual,” says Benton. “Most people do best with social support and encouragement. For example, some people find the three rings on the Apple Watch for standing, moving, and exercising really motivating. Others feel as if they are being nagged by their watch,” she explains.
How to Use a Habit Tracker Appropriately
While every habit tracker or app comes pre-loaded with different instructions and features, a good rule of thumb for healthy habit tracking is to record your habit and move on with your day, says Dr Benton. “The key to using it in moderation,” she says. “If it becomes too rigid and leads to feeling guilty when you don’t follow it perfectly, then it has gone too far.”
One way to set yourself up for success before downloading a habit tracker app is to think about what features you’re looking for. Ask yourself:
- Do you want something simple that allows you to simply check in daily?
- Do you want something that allows you to share progress with friends?
- Do you want to track habits you’re trying to break and habits you want to foster?
- Do you want a habit tracker that focuses on creating a morning (or nighttime) routine?
- Do you want tangible advice on habit formation as well as the ability to track behaviours?
- Do you want a habit tracker that will encourage daily self-reflection as well?
The 5 Best Habit Trackers, According to Your Needs
Best Simple Habit Tracker: Habit
This habit tracker is basic in the best way. You can start using this baby for free (although, you will have to pay to track multiple habits at once). With Habit, you can set push notification reminders to tick off your new behaviour, and even add inspirational quotes to your reminders if you’re into that kind of thing. Available on iOS.
Best Community-Based Habit Tracker: HabitShare
Looking for an accountability buddy? HabitShare allows you to tell your community about your wins, and lets you track up to three habits for free. You can also look at your habit streaks and charts to track your progress over time. Available on iOS and Android.
Best Habit Tracker for Breaking Habits: Done
If you’re hoping to start something new and let go of something old, let Done be your guide. Set goals, check in with the app, and watch your behaviours change over time with graphs and tables. Done also comes with a great, eye-catching colour palette—so you’ll look forward to popping on the app every day. Available on iOS.
Best Morning Routine Habit Tracker: Morning Routine Habit Tracker
Morning Routines have been a huge topic of conversation over the last few years—and for good reason. There’s something special about starting the am off your way—and the folks at Morning Routine Habit Tracker know that. This app asks you to select the morning habits you want to cultivate, then runs you through what you have to do when you wake up. Simple as that. Available on iOS.
Best Habit Tracker for Self-Reflection: Way of Life
Way of Life encourages you to write down how your habit formation is going. So not only will you get to see the progress you’re making, but you’ll also get to reflect as you go along. You can also see pie charts of your progress, set reminders, and set different colour themes depending on your tastes. Available on iOS and Android.
This story first appeared on www.shape.com
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