Tracking Habits? Streaks are Fine, but Weekly Goals are Better

If you’re looking to build better habits in the new year and have had a look at habit tracking apps, there’s one thing you might assume is just an essential part of habit tracking.

Streaks.

Nearly every app has a screenshot of days on a calendar with a pretty little line connecting them for a habit’s streak. “Don’t break the streak!” they say.

I say don’t worry about it. Daily streaks are fine for added motivation, but they shouldn’t be your primary measure of success. The key to long-term success with habits is setting weekly goals and sticking to them. Here’s why:

Achievable goals are paramount

Pretty much every authority on habit building talks about the importance of setting achievable goals. At the micro level, this might mean starting with a goal of training for only five minutes each workout instead of an hour. Or setting out to write just a few sentences on your first book each session, not a whole page. 

At the macro level, this means setting realistic, achievable goals for how often you’ll do habits as well. And for most people, doing every habit every day for weeks on end isn’t in line with reality. Which brings us to point 2…

Life gets in the way

There are days when despite your best intentions it simply isn’t practical to do a habit, especially if you’re maintaining several habits at once. Maybe you come down with a bad cold and it’s just not a good idea to do that workout. Maybe you’ve been out since 6 a.m. on an all-day hiking trip and don’t have time that day to write for your book. A day missed here or there shouldn’t feel like failure from breaking your streak when you’re otherwise doing a great job maintaining a habit.

Not every habit needs to be done every day

The vast majority of habits don’t have to be done every day to reap benefits from them. If you’re meditating five or six days a week, the added mindfulness and clarity will carry over into the other day or two. Or if you’re doing heavy weight training, unless your program, diet and rest are super dialed in you risk actually losing gains by doing it every day – for most people three to five days a week is a much better target.

Occasional breaks are a good thing

Following a habit routine obsessively every day may be great to start with but in the long-term it’s an invitation for burnout. That’s why for people tracking multiple habits in particular, I recommend taking a break from the habit tracker and to do list for at least one day every week or two. Just take the day to rest and relax, and if you feel naturally compelled to do certain habits that’s fine, but don’t do them primarily to check them off a list.

If not streaks then what?

Even if daily streaks shouldn’t be the primary measurement of success, most people absolutely do stick to habits better using some form of measurement. (That’s the whole point of habit tracking.) So instead of streaks, for your primary measurements set realistic, achievable daily and weekly goals.

  • Daily goal: Your goal for doing a habit each session or day. For intellectual pursuits and even many physical habits I recommend deciding the minimum amount of time you’ll dedicate to that habit each time you do it, whether it be writing, coding, or training.
  • Weekly goal: The number of days per week you’ll aim to do it. You want to choose a high enough number for the habit to be beneficial and become habitual over time, but with enough leeway that you can reasonably achieve it most weeks. Four to six days per week is a good target for most habits.

But I like streaks!

I get that streaks provide motivation for a lot of people, even if daily streaks aren’t ideal for the reasons above. That’s why in Motidayt there’s a feature I call “weekly success streaks”. Set a weekly goal of days per week to do a habit, and for every consecutive week you reach that goal you’ll see your weekly streak increase. This provides the motivational power of streaks without the potential downsides of expecting to do every habit every day.

(For fans of pen and paper trackers, depending on the design you could track weekly streaks in these as well. Simply decide your weekly goal, and for every week you achieve it write the number your streak has increased to beside it.)

That’s a look at habit tracking focused on weekly goals instead of streaks. Whether you’re using a paper tracker or a habit tracker app, I encourage you to set weekly goals that you can make progress with while also allowing room for the demands of everyday life. And more importantly, if you’ve yet to get started habit tracking just get started! It’s a simple habit that paves the way for many more behind it. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add Comment *

Name *

Email *

Website