We all know that creating change is hard, but somehow everyone of you reading this blog has managed to create healthy habits, like brushing your teeth everyday. Sure, maybe you had to rely on your Mom or Dad pestering you to brush your teeth every night while growing up. Or worse, perhaps you failed a few dentist visits by being told you had a cavity, but eventually you got into the habit. So now that Mom and Dad are no longer around to ensure that you're doing what you should, what can you do? Thanks to technology, there are Apps and online programs designed to help you develop new healthy habits.
In my last blog, I discussed some helpful tips for developing and keeping healthy habits. However, I intentionally left two very important tips out which are to set reminders and to keep track of your progress. Fortunately, for those of you with a smart phone, tablet or a computer, there are some free apps available that are designed to help you track and remind you of your goals so you can be more successful in achieving them. Now that you no longer have your parents around to tell you to brush your teeth, the app reminders and goal trackers serve to take their place.
I’m going to review two apps available for the iPhone (and iPad). The first one, Strides is also available to use on your computer. The second app is called HabitBull (and is also available for Android phones). I’ll also provide a link for other non-iPhone options for those who want to look at other Android options or have Windows phones. Both of the apps I’ll review are available for free although they also have premium paid versions which I'll also discuss.
First, I'll delve into Strides since I've been using it the longest. Strides is a robust goal and habit tracking program that's available both as a an iPhone App and a computer web based program. For the purpose of my review, I’ll focus mostly on the iPhone app, but I’ve tried the computer web based program and it provides the same functionality (and even offers some more robust tracking templates than the iPhone app version). However, it’s not as handy as having the app on your phone where you have access to it all the time. In addition, if you wish to set reminders, these will be more timely if you have them set on your phone.
Once you have downloaded the app and signed in by providing your email and creating a password, you can immediately begin setting up trackers. In the first image below, you can see that the app provides several common goal templates, but you can also simply enter in your own goal or habit in the top box. In the second image below, I've already selected the Exercise template and renamed the goal "Gym" so I can track how often I'm getting to the gym. You can then set up your exercise goal (I've set mine to 4 times) and the time period you wish to achieve that goal (per week). Strides will enter the current date as the start date, but if you want to set up a future goal, you can enter in the date you wish to begin the goal. You then have the option to set up alerts and when you want to be reminded. Finally, you can set up additional motivational factors like tracking how many consecutive weeks you achieve your goal and entering in a goal streak. In my example below, I've set the goal of completing this every week for the entire year (52 weeks).
Example: Setting Up Exercise Goal in Strides
What makes Strides great, is that it's very robust and allows you to set up different types of goals or habits. However, it's also fairly intuitive and easy to figure out (although it does come with a overlay tutorial, FAQ's and the ability to submit questions if you get stuck).
In the next example below, I've chosen the Save Money template, entered in an example of a start value ($500) as well as a goal value ($2500) and then entered in a date of 3 months from now in which to achieve the goal. In the next image, you can see how you can tailor your alerts to be reminded on certain days of the week as well as the time of the alerts.
As you use the app, you may want to adjust your goals, turn on or off reminders or how frequently you receive them. I started with the alerts turned on and over time, I felt like I didn’t need or want my phone chiming every time a reminder popped up, so now I just receive silent banner reminders when I open my phone.
Example: Setting Up Save Money Goal in Strides
Before I delve into how I've been using these apps, I'd like to preface that it's best to focus on just one or two goals (there is more advice on best practices for this type of app further down in the post). To give you a view into how I've been using Strides, you can see the list of my goals in the screen shot of the daily tracker below. For each goal, you can quickly see how well I was doing at the point in time based on the color of the goal. Goals listed in green (meditate, connect with colleagues, my clinic website) have been achieved for the time period that I set up. Goals listed in red (gym, drink water, weight, and move, walk, etc.) are behind based on the time frame I set up. Strides places a little vertical line of where you should be a any given point based on the time of day and day of the week (or any other time frame you set up when you created your goal, whether it's three months, a year, etc.).
You can also click on any goal or habit and see a more in-depth history of how you have been tracking on that goal as you can see from the second image posted below that shows my gym progress. The top section shows how you have been doing that week, since the screen image was saved on Sunday morning, the first day of the week and I hadn't yet been to the gym, the top section was still blank. The middle section shows my overall success rate, current streak and my best streak. The lower section shows my weekly progress over the past seven weeks where again green highlights a successful week and red shows where I fell short.
My Dashboard and Gym Success Rate in Strides
For those interested, there is a Strides Plus premium option and on the image below you can see the prices and what you get for your money. Personally I feel like the base app provides you with everything you need and the premium options are not worth the steep ongoing price commitment, whether you pay monthly or yearly. With most apps that I’ve come across that you pay for, normally there is a one-time fee that ranges from $0.99 - $19.99 (although apple allows for developers to charge up to $999). By contrast, the HabitBull App that I will review next also offers an upgraded version for a one-time fee of $4.99.
Below HabitBull is very similar to Strides, but with a few pros and cons:
Below are screen shots of my HabitBull habits. Since I'm still using Strides for mostly personal habits, I decided to use HabitBull for goals/habits that focus on my career, like ongoing acupuncture training, health related reading, attending networking events and posting relevant health related articles to my Acupuncture Facebook page. The first screen shot is the dashboard view showing all habits. The next three images show you the weekly view (all habits), monthly view for my Acu DNA Training and finally statistics on my overall success and ongoing streak progress for my Acu DNA Training.
If you have an iPhone or iPad and would like to get started, you can click the link here for the Strides App or HabitBull App. If you wish to use your computer to track your goals, you can click this link for the Strides Web based app. If you have an android phone, you can click here for HabitBull or here for Goal Tracker which is is another highly rated free app available on Google Play. You can also click this link to go to APPCRAWLR and see a list of additional apps comparable to Strides. If you have a Windows phone, you can click here to download the highly rated Habitual app.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind (from the people at HabitBull):
I've been very impressed with both of these apps and have not had any issues with either one. If you are ready to start developing healthy habits or other goals, I highly recommend you download one of these apps (or both if you want to test drive each before you decide which one you like best). If you do decide to download both, stick to just one or two goals and enter them into both apps. Try them out for one or two weeks and then decide which app best meets your needs. While it will be a little redundant tracking your goals in both, it will provide the best side by side comparison vs tracking different goals in different apps like I have done. However, if making change is hard for you, simply pick one app and one goal and get started. Don't get overwhelmed with all the options and views that you don't do anything at all.
There is a famous quote by the late Arthur Ashe who was a great tennis professional and humanitarian, where he states "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." If Arthur were alive today and had his own smart phone, he might update his quote as follows: "Start where you are. Download and use your new habit tracking app. Do what you can."
In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on which app, if any, you use to help you with your goals and what you like about it. Also, if you haven't already, please read my previous blog which provides 5 additional tips for building and maintaining healthy habits.
P.S. - Why not consider making Acupuncture one of your healthy habits to achieve your best overall health and wellness goals!