Writing It Powers It

This Piece of Paper Will Accelerate Your Success

Joe, my 95-year-old father-in-law, was having none of it. He was not going to drink “tons and tons” of water, no matter what his doctor said. (Actually, it was six small glasses worth, a little over a quart a day.)

When I would give him another small glass of water, he always had an answer. “I just drank one” — (he hadn’t) — “so I’m done for today.” Or: “You’re never going to stop giving them to me” (well, not until he had done his six). Or: “I’ve already had six” (no, he’d had four).

So I tried something that always gets good results. (You can thank Jerry Seinfeld for this (no, really). He calls it “Don’t Break the Chain”.) On a sheet of paper, I drew a calendar page, with one box for each day. I divided each box into six smaller boxes. I taped the page on the refrigerator, where everybody could see it. Then when he finished a glass of water, I checked one box. So every time Joe saw the paper, he knew how well he was doing and how what he needed to do to be finished. (And BTW, people do better when they know what to expect.)

Meet your new coach

Using a calendar page to track your progress— I’ll call it a day-tracker— is a simple but invaluable tool when you want to:

  • make sure you do some daily chore
  • avoid procrastinating on a big task
  • track your progress while you’re creating a new habit

Here’s what a day-tracker does for you:

  • You get a little burst of endorphins every time you make a check mark
  • You never lose track of what you’ve already done (was it four or five glasses of water?)
  • Every time you see it, it tells you — in no uncertain terms —how much progress you have (or haven’t) made
  • Seeing your daily progress motivates you to keep going (and never “break the chain”)
  • It provides raw data you can analyze to find hidden weaknesses (“I tend to skip my work on Thursdays”) — and then eliminate them

You can go here to print out various kinds of blank calendars, or you can download a one-page, one-month day-tracker (shown below) that you can use.

How to use your day-tracker

In the day-tracker above, each row represents a week. For once-a-day situations, you simply check that day’s box when you’re done. If you need to track something that’s done more than once a day, simply subdivide each box as needed.

A day-tracker is especially helpful in creating a new habit or ensuring daily progress toward a goal. For example, if you want to develop the habit of taking a walk every day, put the day-tracker where you’ll see it often (e.g., wall, refrigerator, bathroom door) and check the box after you’ve taken a walk.

You use a day-tracker differently when you’re trying to replace an existing behavior with a new, healthier one. For example, in “How to Stop Saying Bad Things About Yourself”, one technique to use when you say something like “I’m so stupid” is to ask yourself, “What’s the evidence that I’m a stupid person?” Mentally keep track of how many times you do this, and when you can, put that many check marks in today’s box.

Keeping track of how many times you call yourself names makes you aware that you are doing it, and looking at the check marks on your day-tracker challenges you to do less of what you are now aware of. I guarantee that over time you’ll find yourself calling yourself names less and less. (I, for example, have eliminated doing this from my life — completely eliminated it. And you can too.)

Why you should use day-trackers

The day-tracker is simple and almost effortless to use, but it tremendously accelerates your progress at improving your life and becoming a happier you.

It’s true that we often say, “Yeah, I should try this out” — and never do it. But it’s also true that what got you here won’t get you to where you want to go. If you want to be happier, you have to do something different. Why not print out a day-tracker right now and use the “What’s the evidence?” technique to decrease your negative inner voice? You won’t be sorry you tried this.

I’ll close with a powerful idea that will encourage you to take that first step:

Never believe that small actions are useless; the bountiful harvest cannot happen unless the farmer plants the first seed

Dear Reader, Medium’s decision to allow 1 to 50 👏🏽s is crazy. So I think of clapping as a 1-to-5-stars rating, with 10 claps = 1 star.

I clap 10 times — or 20 — for the articles I read. Not clapping at all feels bad.

Please help me out. This helps me reach more people. Thank you!

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Gregg Williams, MFT

Gregg Williams, MFT

Retired therapist. Married 26 years. Loves board games, deep movies. Boundless curiosity about everything. Over 13,600 people are following my articles.