I thought I would kick off my article writing with something simple and lighthearted. Here goes!
You have a goal. It’s a great goal – you know that if you buckle down and work on it, your life will get so much awesomer.
Maybe you want to start exercising. Maybe it’s to lose weight. Maybe it’s practicing your craft. Maybe it’s building your business.
You feel ready. You want to do this. You KNOW this is something you SHOULD be doing.
But for some reason, you haven’t started on it. Or, you started it but then put it off in order to browse tumblr and then forgot about it. This is one of those goals that will take steady work over time to achieve, but after a few weeks (or days) the goal doesn’t feel quite as shiny as when you started. I’ve been there. (In fact, I AM there right now with some of my projects.)
If only you had… something. Something simple. Something that would motivate you to keep making that incremental progress, week after week. Something… sparkly?
Sticker Charts, the Answer to your Need for Constant Shininess
A sticker chart can be a valuable tool for keeping you on track with your goal. Every day that you successfully do what you said you’d do (depending on what your goal is), you get to place a sticker in the box corresponding to that day. It’s easy, it’s fun and a little silly. It also works.
In late 2008 I decided that my New Years Goal for 2009 was to make exercise part of my daily routine, which I defined as jogging five days a week. To help me stay motivated I made one of these charts. My results were great: the only missed days in my chart are from one weekend when I had a fever. In fact, I actually “cheated” a few times in order to fill up gaps in my sticker chart by exercising twice on one day to make up for not exercising another day. Hey, 20 minutes of running is 20 minutes of running. :)
A few years ago I stumbled across The Printable CEO series of forms designed by David Seah. The idea behind them is that forms can be used to direct your thoughts and actions according to what is important to you, and they can motivate you to act by providing you with lots of fun boxes to tick. My inspiration for trying a sticker chart owes a lot to David‘s creations. Kudos to him!
So why does this work?
This method works because it uses many of the same motivators that games use to keep players interested. I am greatly intrigued by how game mechanics can be used to motivate people to make positive change in their lives. Here are some of the principles used with the sticker chart:
Instant, continuous gratification. With goals like exercising (or even more so, something nebulous like ‘practicing’ something) it can be hard to see exactly what kind of progress you’ve made that day. We are wired to love instant feedback and gratification. So, using a sticker chart provides that by giving you a small reward every time you complete a unit of progress.
Progress tracking. This chart acts like the progress bar you see when completing some sort of quest in a game. It is hugely motivating to see exactly how far you’ve come and how much you have left to do.
Momentum. When people see a progress bar, they have this urge to fill up the bar by completing the task. And once you see that first week filled up perfectly, you want to keep your Perfect streak going. You don’t want to break your combo.
It starts easy and gradually gets harder. Okay, this isn’t an essential feature of using a chart, but I would HIGHLY recommend starting with a super easy action that you have no excuse not to complete. For example, when I decided to run five days a week, the first week I just decided to jog for just 5 minutes a day. The week after, I increased it to 6 minutes. Then 7 minutes, and so on. This allowed me to build up a few weeks of successes, and towards the end of the year I was jogging for around 40 minutes a day! I credit the idea of starting super easy to Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.
How to get started with your own chart
1. Obtain some amazing stickers.
Make the first step the easiest and funnest step. Go to a dollar store or office supply store and pick out some stickers that you love! Don’t be afraid to choose the My Little Pony or Batman stickers if that’s what you really want. Life is supposed to be fun! This way you’ll be excited to see them and use them. Caveat: Don’t pick ones that are too big, unless you want to make a really big chart.
I decided to use some rainbow star stickers that I already had laying around. I like that there are different colours to pick from (even though I decided to go the super organized route and stick them in rainbow order).
2. Define the specifics of your goal.
What exactly do you need to do? It should be a clear action like “run for five minutes” or “take notes on 5 pages of my text book”, something that you have direct control over.
How often do you need to do it? Do you want to do things on a specific day (such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday) or just a certain number of times per week?
Decide on a time frame. When will you be ‘done’ with this goal? Even if the action is something you would ideally want to keep doing indefinitely, I find that not having an endpoint in sight just makes me feel like I’m on a treadmill. In order to stay motivated, I have to be able to see the end of the tunnel.
I’ve decided to tackle this problem by consecutively choosing mini goals that all support a larger goal. In my case, my larger goal is that I want to exercise regularly for the rest of my life, but right at this moment my mini goal is the six week long Hundred Push Ups Challenge. When I finish that, I’ll pick a slightly different goal next. (Yoga?)
3. Make your chart.
You can spend as much or as little effort on this as you want. Are you the type of person who is motivated by having a beautiful notebook to write in? By all means, make your chart look pretty. It just needs to have some sort of grid on it with a box for each day.
The first time I made one to track my New Years Goal of running every day, I spent some time designing a tracking grid in Photoshop and printed it out. The second time, I wanted to get started quickly with the Hundred Push Ups Challenge so I just scribbled some columns in pencil on a piece of notebook paper. It’s proving to be just as effective for me.
Another thing you might want to consider is leaving some extra columns for ‘rest days’ if you want to have a few days off every week. You can still put stickers in these days since technically you are sticking to your plan by not doing anything. Fantastic.
4. Post it.
This is quite possibly the most important part of the whole process. You HAVE to place your chart somewhere that you will see it at least once a day, if not multiple times a day. This is non negotiable.
Posting it will greatly increase your motivation to complete your tasks because when you look at your chart every day, you will not want to have to see a big gaping hole in your chart reminding you of your failure.
I recommend putting it on a wall, because while you can turn off your computer or close a notebook, if it’s on your wall you can’t help but see it. I post mine above my bed side table in my bedroom, so I see it when I wake up and before I go to sleep as well as whenever I enter my room. No escape. :)
And that’s that.
Make sure you run through your first week flawlessly so you can get some successes under your belt. If you decide to make your own sticker chart, take some pictures and show me! I’d love to see if people can successfully use this method for different types of goals.
Best of luck on your quest for greatness!
- 4 Simple Steps to Start the Exercise Habit on Zen Habits.
- The Printable CEO by David Seah.
- What is Goalstreaming by Jessica Mullen. Another interesting method of achieving your goals, one that I am playing with lately. This method is more centered on documenting your progress as it happens and tapping your social network to find solutions.