How to Jump Start New Habits with a Dedicated App

It’s like training wheels for your basal ganglia.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

According to Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, it takes at least 66 days to develop a new habit. That’s a lot of time and repetition before your basal ganglia takes over and knows what to do on cue.

Task manager apps are designed for handling tasks. You perform an action, mark it as done, and move on. They’re designed to help you make progress, not do the same thing over and over.

A habit has three basic components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. If you’re going to use an app to help you develop a habit, you’ll want one that specializes in habits that can help you through each component.

  • The Cue. For a habit to really take hold, it needs to be integrated into your life. Want to go jogging in the mornings? Set out your running clothes before you go to bed and get a dog. Until then, a habit tracker can prompt you at the right time(s) to help you get started.
  • The Routine. Most habits are not a one-and-done daily task. Taking a certain number of steps, proper hydration, and even mindful minutes are ongoing activities. Traditional task managers can only track whether or not you successfully met the goal that day, but a habit tracker can track your progress throughout the day. It’s inspiring, motivating, and shows you both the gap and the gain.
  • The Reward. Whatever external reward you may give yourself when you’ve developed the habit, the satisfaction (and accompanying dopamine burst) of daily accomplishment is a powerful motivator. A good habit tracker will let you see how successful you are at developing the habit over time.

I’ve been using HabitMinder. There are three things I like about HabitMinder:

  1. HealthKit integration. If you’re developing a habit in an area that HealthKit can track, HabitMinder will update HealthKit with your activity and use data that other apps have recorded. For example, you can enter your water intake using HabitMinder, Workflow, or a dedicated hydration-tracking app and it just works. It’s wonderfully seamless.
  2. Session timers. One of my goals this year is to read for a certain number of minutes each day. Most habit trackers have just a did-you-do-it checkbox. HabitMinder has a stopwatch. I tell it when I’m sitting down to read and it will tell me how long I’ve been at it.
  3. Excellent progress tracking. Most habit trackers waste a lot of screen space showing you how many times you’ve performed a habit over the last month. HabitMinder gives you two crisp and concise numbers: your current streak (don’t break the chain) and your completion rate. You’re not going to be 100% on most habits—life happens. You miss a day at the gym because you got sick, you only got 9,912 steps in, whatever. As long as you’re scoring 90%, you’ve got it down.

If you’re trying to form a new habit, live better, or develop a new morning ritual, check out HabitMinder. The app has many common habits built-in, like walking, reading, hydration, and push-ups. It takes just a few taps to set them up. It also supports custom habits in case you’re working on something the developers didn’t think of. The free version of HabitMinder lets you track three habits. You can do a lot with three habits. If you want to track more habits than that, it only costs a couple bucks.

New behaviors can be hard to form because we’re doing something we’re not used to doing. Setting up a habit tracking app is like having a personal coach with you throughout the day to help keep you pointed in the right direction. Sooner or later, your basal ganglia will pick up on what’s happening and this new, improved you will be second nature.

Question: What habits are you forming? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.