Originally published on Intel IQ
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, they say. Although this old adage comes from the world of business and management, it’s equally true of behavior modification. Keeping a log of something (such as food intake, exercise, spending, or alcohol consumption) can be a surprisingly effective way to change habits. The very act of keeping track—even without consciously trying to change anything—often nudges you toward better choices.
When we estimate our habits, we tend to paint a rosy picture. We think we’re more active than we actually are, we underestimate how many snacks or drinks we typically consume, and we spend more than we realize on meaningless incidentals. What’s worse, our worst or most excessive habits are the ones we tend to be the least accurate about. The more people overeat, for example, the bigger the discrepancy between their estimated intake and their actual intake.
When you start to keep track, the reality often comes as a surprise—and the desire to bring the reality into line with our picture of ourselves can be powerfully motivating. Even if you’re not ready to commit to behavior change, you can simply commit to keeping track. Don’t be surprised if it subtly starts affecting your choices.
When I commit to tracking my food intake, for example, my decisions about what to eat take on an entirely different character. I can’t tell you how often I’ve decided to skip a snack because I just didn’t want to take the time to record it—or because I didn’t want to see it on my log. My aversion to logging isn’t strong enough to keep me from eating when I’m actually hungry, or indulging in something that’s really special. But it is strong enough to keep me from mindlessly popping stray bites of this or that into my mouth simply because I walk by them in the kitchen.
Nothing I’ve just described is particularly new: Folks have been using tracking for decades to help them manage behaviors. What’s new is the technology. Carrying around a notebook and pen to enter every expenditure or morsel was a hassle but mobile apps make tracking easy and fun.
If you own a smart phone, chances are good that you’ve already got an app or two to track your food or exercise. Here are a few other interesting information managers to check out:
AlcoDroid (Android) and iDrinkulator (iOS)
Get a handle on your drinking patterns by logging your alcohol consumption, get an estimate of your current blood alcohol level, and keep track of how much you’re spending on alcohol. iDrinkulator also shows you how many minutes of physical activity it will take to burn off the calories from alcohol.
Food Allergy Detective (iOS)
Food sensitivities are notoriously difficult to diagnose because symptoms may occur up to 36 hours after you eat an offending food. This “smart food journal” tracks your foods along with a wide range of symptoms in order to reveal hidden patterns that may point to food sensitivities.
Easy Money (Android) and iSpending (iOS)
Simple interfaces make it easy to track your daily expenditures—from the bills you pay to those daily lattes. Finding out where your money is going is the first step to deciding where you want it to go.
Keep track of and schedule your blood donations at the allowed intervals. Also allows you to chart your blood pressure, pulse, and iron levels.