How a Pile of Chicken Bones Can Help You Keep Your Resolutions

How to be happier.
Feb. 20 2009 9:12 AM

How a Pile of Chicken Bones Can Help You Keep Your Resolutions

One strategy that I find hugely helpful in many aspects of my life is to track my progress. Having some concrete proof of advancement gives me the gold stars I crave, and the accountability of charting my progress—or lack thereof—keeps me diligent.

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One key way I track my progress is through my Resolutions Chart . The boxes below each resolution show me where I’m making progress and where I need to work harder.

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I’ve found other ways to keep track of progress, too. As I’ve worked on the draft of my Happiness Project book (self-promotion alert: it comes out in January), I kept a pile of all the printouts I’ve made. I work almost exclusively on the computer, but every once in a while I have to read it in a hard copy—somehow, words look so different printed on a page. Keeping a stack of my evolving manuscript was a way to remind myself visually of how far I’ve come since I started.

As the photo here shows, the pile was also fairly unattractive, so after taking this picture I rewarded myself for completing the copy-edited version by tossing the entire stack. Now, in a reversal, the absence of the pile is a different sign of progress.

Keeping track of progress can help deter you from doing things you don’t want to do—for example, snacking mindlessly. In Brian Wansink’s fascinating book Mindless Eating , he describes an experiment where students were served free chicken wings while they watched the Super Bowl. When the tables were bussed so that people had a clean table in front of them and no evidence to remind them of how much they’d eaten, they ate 28 percent more chicken wings than did the people who had the leftover bones left piled in front of them. A friend applied this strategy herself. She is a big candy fan, and for a week, after she ate candy, she saved the wrapper in her purse. At the end of the week, she was horrified by the number of wrappers she’d accumulated, and she was inspired to cut back on her candy consumption.

Another way to keep track of progress is to keep a one-sentence journal . The thought of keeping a real journal—the kind written in beautiful script in a parchment journal—is daunting, but keeping a journal of one daily sentence is manageable. My one-sentence journal is just general family news, but other people use them to track progress in a specific area: the launch of a new business, brainstorming ideas for a project, tracking training for a marathon.

Have you found any good ways to track your progress? And does it help you achieve your goals and keep your resolutions?

*I love reading the Communicatrix blog. It's full of insight and useful information, and it's funny .

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