Eyes on the Prize? Not so Fast

Noelle Ihli

Author James Clear Reveals that Effective Habit-Building Is All About Tracking Your Progress 

Trying to reach a goal can feel like a hike through the wilderness: After a few miles, all the trees start to look alike. Are you walking in circles? Are you lost? How far have you really gone (it feels like forever!)? Is your destination just over that ridge or half a day’s hike away?

Daydreaming about your destination won’t help you reach it—especially when the going gets tough. What will? Tracking your progress. 

A Journey-Centric Approach Reveals the Forest through the Trees

Let’s say your ultimate goal is to write the next great American novel. Unfortunately, the time you spend drafting, developing characters, and rewriting can feel like an endless, unappealing slog. Will the storyline ever come together? Are you any closer to reaching your prize—a published book in your hands? 

Instead of daydreaming about your destination and despairing about the slog, shift your focus to the progress you’ve made (and the progress you still need to make). For example, set reasonable daily or weekly word count goals based on your target novel length. Or break the editing process into smaller, quantifiable steps (developmental, copy editing, proofreading). 

To Reach Your Destination, Track Your Progress

Each time you take another step in your journey, record it! Tracking tools help you gauge your progress through the forest, preventing you from walking in circles or miscalculating how much headway you’ve made toward your destination. Little by little, you’ll see a quantifiable record of what you’ve accomplished and how far you have left to go.

This journey-centric focus on measurable progress and results will help you reach your destination more effectively than a destination-centric “eyes on the prize” focus. Several studies reveal that tracking and monitoring progress increases the likelihood of goal achievement. And recording that progress increases the odds of success even more dramatically. 

Recommendations for Easy, Intuitive Tracking Tools

Tracking tools can be as simple as a paper calendar or as sophisticated as an app. 

In Atomic Habits, Clear details the benefits of technological tracking tools: automation, the ability to easily sync months of data, and push notifications and reminders that act as visual cues to track your progress. Plus, cloud-based access allows you to see your progress from multiple devices. 

That said, the specific tracking tool is less important than your willingness to use it consistently. So choose a tool you can commit to using above all else.  

The following are a few specific tracking tools that are easy to use and effective for many goals. No matter which device you choose, creating a two-minute daily routine of updating your progress at a particular time can be helpful. Consistency in tracking is key to giving yourself an accurate, complete view of your progress. 

Three Top-Rated Goal Tracking Tools

  1. Streaks ($4.99: iOS)

This iPhone app integrates with Apple Watch and the Apple Health Kit to help you set and track daily habits. It’s simple to use, intuitive and includes many options for diverse habit types. As the name implies, the app encourages fostering “streaks” of consistent progress.  

  1. HabitNow (Free basic use, $9.99 premium account: Android) 

HabitNow is a sleek, Android-compatible tracking app. Like Streaks, it’s user-friendly, intuitive, and easy to use. Simply choose your habits, decide when you’d like reminders, and see your progress over time!

  1. Way of Life (Free basic use, $6 premium account: iOS, Android)

Unlike Streaks, Way of Life is slightly more flexible in its habit-tracking approach. The app won’t penalize you for skipped days but shows an evolving view of “Trends” over time. This functionality makes Ways of Life an excellent choice for anyone who might feel discouraged by a broken streak.

Give habit-tracking a try! Identify a big goal you’d like to accomplish, then spend a few minutes breaking that goal down into a roadmap of smaller, doable steps or behaviors. Tell us one behavior or step you’ll be tracking on Twitter using #AtomicHabits

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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