Video: For Habits, Try the Strategy of Monitoring

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This week’s video: I’m starting a series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My book describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits.

Last week was the Strategy of Self-Knowledge. This is the first, crucial strategy.

This week — the Strategy of Monitoring. (Which is one of the four “Pillars of Habits, ” along with the Strategies of Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.)

Please excuse the typo in the video. I see it, but I can’t easily fix it. (Secret of Adulthood: Flawed can be more perfect than perfection. Right?)

Monitoring is an observational strategy. It doesn’t require that I change what I’m doing, only that I know what I’m doing. This is crucial to habit formation, because once I recognize what I’m doing, I may choose to behave differently.

Monitoring has an almost uncanny power. It doesn’t require change, but it often leads to change, because people who keep close track of just about anything tend to do a better job of managing it. Tracking boosts self-control in key categories such as eating, drinking, exercising, working, TV- and internet-use, spending—and just about anything else.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood for habits: “We manage what we monitor.” Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens our self-control. And on the flip side, anything that makes us lose self-awareness weakens our self-mastery. Alcohol makes it all too easy to place giant bets at a casino; a long, stressful day can lead to a night of online binge-shopping; vacationing with a group of friends can make it easy to blow through a personal budget.

Actual measurement is crucial, because when we guess what we’re doing, we’re often wildly inaccurate. Unsurprisingly, we tend to under-estimate how much we eat and over-estimate how much we exercise.

Have you found ways to monitor yourself — and did you find that it changed your habits?

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