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Top Tools for Habit Change

In my study of habits, I’ve learned that no tool fits every hand. Alas, there’s no magic, one-size-fits all solution for making or breaking a habit.

It’s very helpful to create good habits, because habits are the invisible architecture of daily life; research shows that about 40% of every day’s activities are shaped by habits.

We all use habits, but we vary dramatically in how we most effectively shape those habits.

Nevertheless, I’ve found that some tools do work especially well, and for many people.

So, if you’re trying to master a habit, it’s worth considering these top tools, because they’re so widely effective.

You can find all these tools in the Happier™ app, or, if you prefer tangible tools, many also exist in physical form.

As you consider the top tools, it’s a big help to know whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. The “Four Tendencies” personality framework reveals a lot about how you can most effectively tackle a habit. Don’t know your Tendency? Take the free, quick quiz here. (More than 3.2 million people have taken it.)

These top tools work for all four Tendencies, but different Tendencies might use or frame the tools differently, to appeal to their perspective.

Don’t Break the Chain — Perfect if you love a streak. You can find this tool in the Happier app — it’s one of the most popular tools there — or you can use the physical Don’t Break the Chain Journal.

Remember: What we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while.

While Rebels don’t like to be chained to a behavior, they do love a challenge. Rebels often use this tool as a way to challenge themselves, and to say to others, “You thought I couldn’t do XYZ? Look at this!”

Numbers Tracker — This is also an extremely popular tool in the Happier app. People like to log their steps, words, minutes, and more. It’s a way to give ourselves “credit.”

We manage what we monitor.

Questioners, especially, tend to like to track.

One-Sentence Journal — Sometimes, when we’re keeping a habit, we want to record details along the way. How easy or hard you found that day’s experience, whether you enjoyed it, what you accomplished, creative challenges you faced, etc.

You can keep a one-sentence journal in the Happier app, or you can use the physical One-Sentence Journal. One nice thing about the actual journal is that it can be a great keepsake — of the books you read to your kids, the recipes you tried, the steps you went through to start your side hustle, etc. 

Either way, writing in your One-Sentence Journal gives you a moment for mindful reflection on your habit.

Photo Log — Create a visual record over time. Easy! Creative! So fun. 

Like the Don’t Break the Chain or the One-Sentence Journal, it’s a way to keep a streak or a record — but in photo form. For instance, you might take a photo of something interesting every time you “Go Outside 23 in 2023.” A quest is more fun than a jaunt.

I visit the Metropolitan Museum, and I take a photo every time.

Accountability Partners — This is a great tool if you benefit from notifying a friend, family member, coach, or group about your activities, or if you post on social media. This kind of outer accountability is key for Obligers!

For many Obligers, the Happier app or a notebook can itself act as a form of outer accountability. My sister Elizabeth is this way. But for some Obligers, outer accountability must be provided by an actual person. For that kind of person, the Accountability Partners tool works best.

Track Your Total — This tool is terrific if you like to measure numbers that add up over time, such as miles, minutes, or words. You can figure out satisfying milestones such as, “I’ve walked from New York City to Boston.”

Notifications — Sometimes, we just need to be reminded to follow a habit. You can use notifications to remind yourself to work toward your aim and to keep a habit uppermost in your mind.

One added advantage of several of these tools — in the Happier app, in physical form, or otherwise — is that they remind us of all we’ve already accomplished. We can get so focused on our “to-do” lists that we forget to remember our “ta-da” lists of everything we’ve done! Realizing all we’ve accomplished can keep us feeling encouraged and energized to keep going.

Are you joining the “Go Outside 23 in 23” challenge, to go outside for 23 minutes each day in 2023? #Outside23in23. Consider how you might use the Top Tools:

  • Don’t Break The Chain 
  • Numbers Trackers 
  • One-Sentence Journal 
  • The Photo Log — Elizabeth will use this, me too 
  • Accountability Partners 
  • Track Your Total 
  • Notification
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