“How noble and good everyone could be if, at the end of each day, they were to review their own behavior and weigh up their rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day and, after a while, would certainly accomplish a great deal.” — Anne Frank
Anne Frank wasn’t the only famous person to recognize the benefits of recording elements of her daily behavior. Benjamin Franklin set 13 personal goals for himself, and used detailed grids to measure his progress toward each (yes, that’s why the popular organizer is called a Franklin Planner). His conclusion: “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined, but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish…” Ernest Hemingway recorded how many words he wrote each day on a piece of cardboard mounted under a stuffed gazelle head. He said it helped him to “not kid himself.” Elite athletes routinely keep logs of their performance and the factors that seem to contribute to peak performance.
Research confirms the insights of these famous figures. Regularly recording aspects of your behavior and progress toward your goals—a process psychologists call self-monitoring—enhances success in making a variety of life changes. The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks those rare people who have kept off 30 pounds for at least a year, reports that one of the few predictors of lasting weight loss is keeping records of eating and exercise habits. Similarly, students who keep records of their studying perform better than those who don’t. In clinical situations, self-monitoring has been shown to be an effective tool that can aid in reducing alcohol consumption, smoking, disruptive classroom behavior, nail biting and even hallucinations! Of course, simply recording behavior itself tends to have modest effects that diminish over time. But it can be a powerful, performance-enhancing tool when combined with a clear sense of one’s ultimate ambitions, motivating near-term goals, and the other techniques for change that we’ve covered in this series of articles.
The first step to self-monitoring is to identify your goals. Your goals should be attainable and should be broken up in to Short, Intermediate, and Long Term. Simply stating "I want to lose weight" or "I want to get in shape" isn't sufficient--your goals should be easily identifiable, describable, and specific ("I want to lose 5 lbs. of fat in 2 months", for example).
The second step to self-monitoring would be to keep a log, or collect data. Keep it simple! Write down how much time you spend doing cardiovascular exercise, lifting weights, sets/reps/amount of weight lifted, stretching/flexibility, etc. Utilizing the workout lists I provide in my class is a great starting point. Check off what you did and how much weight, for example. I would also recommend keeping track of the progress you make utilizing a 1-10 scale, with 0 being no progress and 10 being outstanding progress. Each day, after doing a workout, write down how you felt about the workout and/or specific exercises.
You might also want to track such health-related measures such as weight, body-fat, hydration, medication needs, blood-pressure, measurements (such as hips/thighs), etc.
More powerful than the actual data is the analysis of the data. That is what I try to focus on. I am more concerned with overall trends than simple one-time data. I've worked with a lot of folks who become sad/angry when they weight themselves and have lost no weight from one time to the next; but, what is the trend? Is it downward? Is what you're doing overall working? Do changes need to be made?
Remember that self-monitoring is self-reward. Recording progress and seeing changes for the better encourages folks to celebrate success. On the flip-side, seeing results that aren't ideal can provide thought-provoking rebukes to current strategies. Self-Monitoring also will keep your eyes on the ultimate prize--those goals that you wrote down earlier. Most importantly, though, self-monitoring will provide accountability.
Having a trainer is one form of accountability. The most powerful form of accountability is, no doubt, self-accountability. You need to be honest with yourself. Even if you have a bad day or bad week it is better to address that, make corrections, and move on, no matter the short-term outcome. Keep your eyes on the prize!
* The Science of Self-Monitoring, Dr. Stephen Kraus, Ph.D., www.FitnessCoachPro.com
* Garfield C. Peak Performers: The New Heroes of American Business, New York, NY: Avon: 1986
* Watson DL, Tharp RG. Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole