When we set our intentions, resolutions, and goals — whether that’s at the start of the year or anywhere along the way — sometimes we can assume that there’s simply a point A (setting the goal) and a point B (achieving said goal).
Obviously, when we break that down, we realize there’s so much more that gets us from point A to point B; the twists, turns, ups, downs (clichéd but accurate!), and bumps in the road alongside tiny triumphs.
This is why, when you’re making these resolutions, tracking your progress toward your goals is so unbelievably important. This is one of the key tools that helps you get to the summit of the mountain that is your dream life.
Keeping Track of Your Progress is Essential to Your Success
Tracking progress is multifold. “When we track things, it actually helps give us insight into what we’re trying to change,” says Dallas-based clinical psychologist Dr. Kevin Gilliland, PsyD. “It can both motivate us as well as help us change course.”
If you’re feeling resistant to the idea of tracking … whether that’s with a scale, a journal, a habit tracker, photos, a food log, or some other form of measurement, Dr. Gilliland wants you to keep something in mind. It’s important to have something we can physically see and monitor, he explains — especially if you’re not working with a coach, therapist, etc. “When we write our goal progress down, we force ourselves to have the kind of accountability that we typically only get with other people.” Accountability like this can be intimidating, “And that’s probably why we don’t write that stuff down as much,” he says (relatable), “But, it can be wonderfully disrupting.” Meaning, even though it’s a little scary, this is where the real transformational power lies.
TL;DR — tracking = transformation. Think of habit tracking or progress tracking as the jet fuel that’ll get you where you want to go.
If you’re still hesitant, remember there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ entries to your tracking log. “It’s just information,” says Dr. Gilliland. “And the more information we have, the better we’re able to change.” Coming at this from a neutral perspective can help soften the harshness of numbers and data (and perhaps mitigate any emotional blows that might come from numbers we weren’t expecting.
It’s also information that’ll help you tailor and customize your plan along the way. Sometimes we’re surprised when our strategy isn’t working out, but that’s where your data comes in. “We might start to see patterns of when we do well and when we struggle, and that’s always helpful,” says Dr. Gilliland. “It may be hard, but it’s helpful.”
Important: The Scale Isn’t the End All Be All
Most people default to weekly or even daily weigh-ins on a scale. And sure, sometimes you lose weight when you set a health goal — whether or not weight loss had anything to do with that goal. But this isn’t always measured on a scale, and scales can be an unreliable way to take inventory in general. There are so many other ways to check in on your health, so many other metrics, versus simply weighing yourself.
If a weight change is still your goal, consider this alternative: “I like taking a look at how clothes fit instead of relying on a scale,” says licensed acupuncturist, face reader, and herbalist Sara Sas, M.S. L.Ac., RYT, founder of Beauty Point by Point. “I always suggest this to my clients — a clothing check over use of the scales — because you could be gaining muscle mass if you’ve made healthy changes. And muscle mass weighs more than fat per square inch.” This means while you may be making a change to your physique and composition (in the desired direction), the scale could read as a ‘failure.’
Also, keep in mind, “Water weight changes occur with hormone fluctuations and sodium intake,” says Sas. “This can be as much as three to five pounds.”
5 Simple Ways to Track — and Know If You’re Pacing Toward Your Goals
Now let’s get into other types of metrics for all of your health and wellness goals. What’s the best way to track? It’s entirely dependent on the goal itself and which medium works best for you.
#1 Habit Track
One of the simplest, most straightforward ways to look at your health progress — customized to your goals — is through the use of a habit tracker. Something as simple as “Did I walk one more day this week versus last week,” says Sas, can be an indicator that you’re heading in the right direction. This is especially true if you have general goals like ‘eat better and move more,’ which is tougher to measure. Think of three to five habits that get you closer to your goal — go on a walk, drink 100 ounces of water, eat at least one green food — and keep a journal (digital or on paper) to log each day’s habits. Looking back over weeks and months can help you take inventory and see how you’re doing.
#2 Use a Sleep Tracker
Whether you have a wearable, an under-the-mattress device, or just use an app, tracking your sleep is one of the best windows into the state of your health. Duration, quality, and consistency will all help you know if you’re on track toward a healthier body and mind. Sleep improves when you’re more consistent with exercise, when you have a well-balanced diet, when you’re less stressed, etc. — so sleep is one of the many markers beyond the scale to help you keep track.
RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Sleep
#3 Take a Look in the Mirror
“One way to check in progress is the eyes,” says Sas, who — as a face reader — encourages you to look at your eyes. “Do they look clearer, brighter, with a twinkle or spark?” she asks. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, “The intrinsic spirit called the Shen shines out through the eyes; When the spirit is feeling fulfilled, it can shine out through the eyes, as well as your teeth-smile, hair, and radiance in the skin.”
Ophthalmologists and dermatologists corroborate the concept of checking your overall health through the state of your eyes and skin — in addition to being a marker of your health progress, your eyes and skin can also give you warning signs about your health, such as if you’re fighting an illness.
#4 Check-in With a Wellness Professional
Sometimes it’s hard to see yourself and your progress when you’re busy just being a human. We also aren’t always the most objective of sources! If you have the ability to check in with a professional — even just a few times during the year — this can be remarkably helpful on your journey. Having an outside source, especially an expert, to evaluate and give feedback can help you stay on the right track. Try going in for an annual physical, and ask for a follow-up appointment in six months. Schedule a session or two with a personal trainer, coach, dietitian, acupuncturist, therapist, or holistic practitioner, and come with your list of goals in hand — these professionals can give you specific, personalized pointers on how to keep checking in on your success.
#5 Evaluate Niche Health Markers
There are some more granular health metrics like your VO2 max, LDL levels, and resting heart rate that are best evaluated by a medical professional or coach — but some can be tracked at home. One, Sas says, is to track your breathing. If you’ve been working on your cardiovascular health or your mental/emotional health (or both!), this is a fun one.
Your Goals, Your Pace
Success looks different to everyone, especially because we all experience health in different ways. Our bodies are different, our compositions are different, and our timing will be different. Remember, as you’re working toward any particular goal or resolution, your journey won’t look identical to the journeys of your friends, family, and anyone else who inspires you.
Try not to compare yourself to others, and remember that you’re on a very specific, individualized path. You ultimately have to find the tracking and progress reports that work best for you and your situation — but these are all great places to start and begin to feel out what’s right for you.
Speaking of comparison, there is one person you can (and should) compare yourself to — the you of yesterday, the you of last week, the you of last month… you get it. This is actually the comparison tool that serves you best because it allows you to visit your progress, evaluate which methods are working for you, and pivot as needed.