Manage what you monitor

We Manage What We Monitor

Monitoring means to watch closely for purposes of control; to keep track of; to check continually. It is an essential tool for habit change. When we don’t monitor our activities we are often wildly inaccurate about how well we are doing. We most always overestimate how much we exercise and underestimate how much we eat. When we take the time to measure our progress, we can’t fool ourselves.

Where to start

Monitoring can be time consuming so it’s important to focus on the habits that matter most to us. From my research, I have compiled a list of six areas where little improvements in our habits and routines can help us live healthier and happier overall. It’s not all-inclusive, but it’s a good start:

Energy (sleep)
Routine tasks (daily/weekly chores)

There is some hierarchy in the order:

when you are well rested you are more inclined

to exercise which leads

to eating a healthier diet

which provides more energy to get things done and

when the things are done we have more time for fun!

But the truth is you can start anywhere. The catch is you must start somewhere. Monitoring is powerful. While simply tracking what we eat every day doesn’t actually require us to change what we eat, the act of self-measurement leads to a higher self-awareness which strengthens our self-control and we naturally do better overall. Monitoring is an easy tool to make small improvements that can have big results.

Make it measurable

In order for something to be monitored it must be measurable. Identifying precisely what action you will monitor is key. For instance, having a goal of eating more fruits and vegetables every day is not measurable, but eating 2 cups of fruits and 4 cups of vegetables every day totally is. Being more active is not measurable, but walking 10,000 steps is. Getting more sleep is not measurable, but going to bed by 10:00pm is. Keeping a tidier house? Not measurable! Making your bed every day? MEASURABLE!

Keep it simple

Let me say it again, monitoring can be time consuming so it’s important to focus on the habits that matter most to us. Don’t try to monitor everything all at once. Pick your one most important thing and define how you will measure it. Keep it simple; keep it easy; keep it quick. If your monitoring strategy gets too complicated or time consuming, you are less likely to keep it up long enough to make lasting improvements in the behavior.

Here are a few simple ways to monitor progress in the six key areas:


  • Set an alarm to ring 30-45 minutes before your desired bedtime and start your bedtime routine when it rings.


  • Make a celebratory mark on the calendar every day that you complete your exercise routine.
  • Wear a fitness tracking device to count your steps.


  • If you’re just wanting to eat better, you can keep a simple food journal where you write down what you ate throughout the day.
  • If you’re wanting to reduce calories, you can use a food journal app that allows you to enter portions and calories.
  • Rather than refilling your water bottle from the tap, refill from a two-liter (or more) bottle.

Routine tasks

  • Set an alarm to remind you to do a specific task or set of tasks on a daily or weekly basis. There are several apps you can download if you’d like something besides just an alarm.


  • Within your calendar, schedule time to work on specific tasks – especially include Tiger Time to work on your most important project. Check the items off the list as you complete them.


  • Make a plan for the weekend and share it with the family. If it’s truly family fun, they will monitor for you!

Progress not perfection

Sometimes we are prone to selective monitoring – we only want to record our results when we are successful. It’s important to record it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we have to record a “bad” day, it opens up a time for root cause analysis and corrective action. “Why didn’t I eat my 4 cups of vegetables today? Because I didn’t have 4 cups left in the fridge. I need to run by the store and restock so I can do better tomorrow.” Recording our good days reminds us of what we have accomplished. “Look at that! I’ve eaten 36 cups of fruits and vegetables this week! I rock!!

In summary

One of the easiest ways for us to improve (or implement) a behavior is to monitor it.

  • Choose your most important behavior to improve or implement.
  • Define precisely how you will measure it.
  • Record your progress daily.
  • Review your progress regularly.
  • Celebrate your victories.
  • Determine the root cause when you slip up and how you will prevent the slip up from happening in the future.

You can read even more about monitoring in Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before. She’s my inspiration. In the coming weeks we’ll explore more of her strategies for implementing and sticking with our healthier and happier habits.

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