It’s a new year. Everyone is either talking about their new goals or about the pressure to achieve said goals. What’s worse, two years of pandemic have wreaked havoc with our old habits and impacted the ways we can make new ones. There is a booming range of literature on self-improvement. There’s even a strange amount of pressure to foster personal development on Instagram and TikTok, the very same apps that are designed to keep you unproductively scrolling for hours. It is a fine art trying to incorporate new, healthy habits into our lives without overburdening ourselves with an unrealistic new lifestyle and setting ourselves up for failure. We’re just one month in, but I wanted to share what I’ve learnt about adopting positive habits in 2022.
Habit trackers provide a visual reminder of our aspirations whilst creating a regular sense of achievement when ticking off tasks. They force us to be specific about the steps we must take to achieve a goal; ‘exercise more’ is a vague main objective, but aiming to take a daily walk at lunchtime breaks the goal down into simple, actionable tasks.
Some people prefer a physical record of their accomplishments – tallying up completed missions on a poster or in a journal. This method slightly reminds me of primary school, and there’s nothing wrong with that! A record placed on your bedroom wall or door provides a colourful, visual reminder of your goals, but also the satisfaction of physically ticking off your achievements. Not to mention, the design and content are entirely up to you.
If you prefer a digital interface, it may be worth trying a habit-tracking app. Most of us are never too far from our phones, and apps can range from simple checklists to sophisticated designs that provide useful analytics.
Habitica’s USP is that it turns your daily to-do lists into a game. Customise your avatar, gain experience and gold, collect pets and items, and join challenges with other players. Habitica marries RPG mechanics with your real-life goals, which fall under three categories:
- Habits: These are long-term goals to help users establish changes to their behaviour. You could set ‘drink water’ as a habit, and every time you drank water that day and told the app, your character receives gold and XP. Habits also have a negative setting: if your goal is to always take the stairs, you take damage to your avatar’s health when you tell the app that you didn’t. Because, apparently, our own health is never enough motivation.
- Dailies: Differing from Habits, Dailies refer to scheduled tasks to be completed once a day, such as an evening skincare routine or a workout. Users receive gold and XP for completing dailies and lose health for failing to do so. My only qualm is that it seems tricky to set tasks to only appear on certain days (for instance, I want to do weight-training four days a week), but Habitica has a large online community that will help you with any troubleshooting.
- To-dos: These are one-off tasks that can be completed to gain experience. You won’t lose health for not completing these, and are a convenient place to list what you’ve been putting off, i.e. return those shoes or de-scale the kettle.
The amount of gold a player earns is dependent on the task’s difficulty, which is set by the user. Gold can be used for in-game purchases or real-life treats, as set by the user themselves, such as time set aside to play a video game, or buying yourself something new.
I appreciate that users can tailor the game depending on what encourages them most.
I didn’t find the game mechanics particularly motivational, but can certainly appreciate the cute graphics and the level of detail that has gone into Habitica. There is also a desktop version, which drives home the fact that Habitica is not just a gimmick. Whenever I’ve wanted to limit my screen time, I found the Forest app’s method of displaying a digital tree that will die if I used my phone oddly compelling, so it is interesting to see what motivates us differently.
I downloaded Dreamfora after seeing several aesthetically-pleasing Instagram ads. In contrast to Habitica, it takes a more simplistic approach. You can create your own ‘dreams’ with reoccurring tasks to complete in order to achieve this dream. Unlike Habitica, it is easier to set habits to appear only on specific days. For instance, I could set it up so that I would attend the gym four times a week, while my other habits (eight hours of sleep, hitting a certain protein intake) were objectives for every day. Aside from habits, users can add one-off tasks as either significant milestones due on a certain date, or general goals to bear in mind.
Dreamfora also allows users to select ready-made, in-app goals if you’re in need of inspiration. I chose the ‘stay hydrated’ dream, with simple cues like ‘drink a cup of water after waking up’ as habits, and more general advice like ‘keep a reusable bottle on me’ or ‘check for signs of dehydration’ as tasks. Two of the dreams, however, seemed a bit odd, for instance, the ‘eye exercises’ goal that promoted doing so to ‘restore vision’, or the ‘flat abs in two weeks’ goal, which is wildly unrealistic and promoted not eating after 7 pm. It is not entirely clear who creates these premade goals. The rest of the goals appear to be gentle, achievable missions. There appears to be some community element where users can see and congratulate you upon starting a new role – they are unable to see your everyday activity, though.
I felt as though the simple setup of Dreamfora suited me best, but I believe this is also because I became more realistic about my intentions. Though the pressure to be constantly-evolving beings is immense, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Dreamfora worked because I whittled down my objectives to those that were most important to me. Staying hydrated is not hard, it just helps to have cues of when to drink that extra bit of water. Categorising my exercise and nutrition-related goals under one dream of ‘building more muscle’ reinforces why I’m doing these tasks and how they all interrelate. So, they stop feeling like mindless chores and instead like something I really want to do.
Admittedly, halfway through the month, I began a new gym program that utilises a coach-to-client app, which I check and stick to every day. There is a much greater level of accountability when someone else is monitoring your progress, but I’ve come to realise that prioritising your goals is essential. Not only do I enjoy going to the gym, but I know, realistically, that having a regular exercise schedule is more important to me than giving myself a facial massage every day (no matter how much Instagram tells me I should be doing the latter). I can always incorporate those later.
Aside from the apps themselves, there are a few tips I’ve picked up on in my quest for self-improvement:
- Try habit stacking: If there’s something you’d like to incorporate into your routine, do them immediately before/after an existing habit. Keeping your SPF by your toothbrush reminds you to put it on every morning.
- Get someone else to motivate you: Even better, if you both attempt to form the same habit, you can remind each other to stay on track. For instance, my friend and I have agreed to write what we’re grateful for every Sunday in 2022.
- Start small and prioritise: My main takeaway has been that a few simple habits are easier to form than to force some entirely new routine upon yourself. It makes it much easier to achieve a level of consistency, which is the real goal. Decide what’s important to you and add the extra habits later.
- Try, try, try again: Habits, by their very definition, are routine, boring even. We all want instant gratification and to become ‘better’ people overnight. The truth is that we won’t notice the benefits of healthy eating immediately, or we will often want to throw the towel in if we broke our habits for a few days. We’re so reluctant to give ourselves credit for everything we have accomplished. It may be disheartening to hear that self-improvement is a lifelong journey, but take comfort in that fact. Nobody’s perfect, and there is always room to learn and grow. Take some pressure off yourself and enjoy the journey.