Habit Tracker: Don’t Break the Chain!

Last week we discussed the importance of small wins and this is where the rubber meets the road.  In this post, you’re going to pick a habit, set a goal, build a simple tracking system, and then start casting votes for your new identity. 

In solidarity with the original Reddit post that kicked it all off start this background music, read a few of the comments (sometimes, especially recently, it can feel like you’re alone on this life journey.  But rest assured you’re not.  Not now.  Not ever.), and then reach between your legs and remind yourself that you’ve got a pair.  It starts now.

What it is.

The X effect, sometimes referred to as don’t break the chain, is a simple habit tracking system that fits on a notecard. It’s easy to set up and gives you some valuable information.  Right now your main concern is with simplicity and action.  You don’t need a home run, you just need a base hit.  This is the right tool for the job.

Why you should use it.

Building new habits can be a tough nut to crack.  As stated above simplicity and action is the name of the game.  You’ll have tons of time in the future to build up a more complex system that’s custom fit for you and your lifestyle.  

Right now you’re going to focus on those small wins and start laying the foundation for your new identity.  Doing the habit itself is rewarding, and putting an X on your card has been known to induce side effects including an increased outlook on life, heightened internal dialogue of habit domination, doing a happy dance, and having a big shit-eating grin on your face (warning: if the feel-goods exceeds four hours please don’t contact your doctor.  Hug, call, or text a loved one and continue to spread the cheer).  These side effects help to create a positive feedback loop of habit adherence.

Set Your Goal

To start you’re going to set a S.M.A.R.T goal.  Start with one goal and once you’ve built some momentum you can add more down the line.  Let’s define S.M.A.R.T:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic, and resourced, results-based).
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

You probably already have a goal in mind but is it easy enough?  Remember, we want this to be easy and simple.  The goal is to start casting votes and building a body of work for your new identity.  Pick something you can fit into your daily life without any hassle.  This is how you build momentum.  

If you already have something in mind then go with that.  The goal needs to be relevant to you and your situation.  But, if possible, consider scaling it back.  If you’re completely lost and don’t have a goal consider starting with something like walking for five minutes, doing 10 push-ups (if you can’t do 10 push-ups don’t sweat it, it’s not a big deal.  Concentrate only on what you can do and work from there), making your bed, read 5 pages in a book, or journaling for five minutes.  If you end up doing more than your target goal then great!  But don’t adjust your goal, that can come later.  Remember, we want to build momentum.  Just because you had time and energy to go above and beyond one day doesn’t mean you’ll have them every day.  

The time-bound portion of the goal is to start ASAP (Today!  Tomorrow!  The very next available opportunity), limited to 60 days, and will aim for a specific time or place every day.  The start date will be listed in the top right corner, the total time is an implicit goal that goes with the system, and how your goal fits in your day will be explicitly stated.  

Here’s an example:

Every morning after I take a piss I’m going to take a walk for 5 minutes.

Boom!  Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.

Note:  If you don’t hit your target time or place but make it up later you still get an X.  Life happens and we’re flexible.

Be like Aristotle, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Jefferson and take more walks.

Key points:  

  • This sounds easy but make sure your goal isn’t anything open ended like “be more productive” or “don’t be sad”.  Be specific!
  • Aim for the first thing in the morning right after you take a piss or get some water.  If your goal is something like get to work 5 minutes early and clean your desk then disregard.
  • Look forward to knocking out that goal.  It’s way easier to get to bed knowing when you wake up you’re going to notch another win. 
  • Use environmental design to your advantage.  I’ll cover this more in depth below but put your card on your nightstand, on your home desk, on the computer, or on the fridge.  Anywhere where you’ll definitely see it.
  • Walking is vastly underrated.  100% pick a goal that is relevant to you, but I think a lot more people should make walking a daily habit.  It’s an incredible way to get some exercise and process your thoughts (also great socially if you can get an accountability partner to walk with you!).  If you’re not in the habit of walking don’t be surprised if your endurance isn’t great.  Start slowly and work your way up.

Here’s What You’ll Need.

  1. 1 Pen
  2. 2 index cards

Optional:  A second pen of a different color.

The first card doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to get done.  The second pen is if you want your X’s to contrast with the rest of the card.

Mandatory items and optional pen of a different color. Disregard the multiple fold in these. I was using them for something else and my other note cards were buried in a box. Your finished cards will only have a single fold going vertically down the middle.

How to Set Your Card Up:

Read these instructions in their entirety one time through and then execute them on the second time through.

  1. Turn the card so the blank side is facing you and the lines are facing down with the red line at the top.  Put your long form SMART goal at the top of the card, and then underline it.
  2. Turn the card over so the lined side is facing you and fold the card so that there’s a vertical fold running up and down the middle.
  3. While folded, take a pen and use the fold as a guide to make a straight line from the first blue line down to the second blue line.
  4. Unfold the card and put an abbreviated version of your goal in the top left corner above the red line. (Using the above example you’d put Walk for 5 Minutes)
  5. Put the start date in the top right corner above the red line.
    • If you can’t start today due to time constraints or a prior commitment, aim for the next available day (hopefully tomorrow!)
  6. Using the centerline as a divider you’ll use the following format for each side of the line:
    • The abbreviations you’ll for the respective days of the week are as follows:  S, M, T, W, Th, F, Sa.
    • The order you should fill them in is S, Sa, W, M, T, Th, F to help evenly space them across their designated side of the card.  (Don’t worry if it’s not evenly spaced, this technique is just getting it even ish.)
    • When you finish you should have the days of the week in the order that they occur while being evenly (ish) spaced.  If there is any confusion please reference the picture below these instructions.
  7. In between the 3rd and 4th blue line, on the left section of the card, and under the corresponding day of the week write your target start date.
  8. Continue filling in dates in sequential order until you’ve filled in 30 days.  When you fill one line up skip two lines down so that there’s a blank line between each line with dates on them.  Once you’ve run out of dates in the current month start over at 1 and continue in sequential order for the next month.
    • Pro-tip #1:  The 30th day will end two filled in rows below the top row and one day past the starting date.
    • Pro-tip #2:  If you don’t start on a Sunday only the middle line will be completely filled.
  9. Do a happy dance.  There is no right or wrong way to happy dance.  Let the imaginary rhythm take control and bust a move.  You’ve just completed the first step to building your new identity.
  10. Once you’ve completed the goal (even if it’s not at the target time) put an X over the date.  The right endpoints at the top and bottom of the X should touch the top and bottom blue lines roughly halfway between the current date and tomorrow’s date.  This way you can link the X’s together creating a chain.
  11. Once you’ve finished a card, store it somewhere for safekeeping.  We’ll want to use these in the future.
  12. When you’ve completed one card, start over and make a second one.
Feast your eyes on your new habit tracking tools.  Notes:  1) There’s no specific time because not drinking coffee is a continuous thing.  2) I journal on a word doc so there’s no writing on the back of this card.

Design Your Environment.

Environmental design is anything you do to alter your environment to make your habit easier.  

Seeing the card is a big motivator to stick with it.  As stated above one way you can do it is sticking your card right where you’ll see it.  Continuing with the 5-minute walk example you could place this card on a nightstand, desk, or on/in the lip of your bathroom mirror.  Put it anywhere you’re bound to see it.  You could set your walking shoes against your door so when you open it in the morning to take a piss you’ll have to move them out of the way first.  You could tell your mom (accountability partner anyone?) to smack you with a wooden spoon if you haven’t left by X time or to send you a daily text reminder.  Anything to help increase the odds that you’ll accomplish your goal.

Whenever I do laundry I take my dirty clothes bin and set it down right in the middle of the walkway in my apartment.  That way I have to walk over it every time I go to the kitchen or my room and am constantly reminded the clothes need to be put in the dryer or folded.  Environmental design will be a crucial tool in your habit building toolset, take advantage of it however you can.

Get Your Mind Right.

The most important thing to remember is to keep stacking Xs.  Again, if you miss one, two, or twenty days in a row don’t worry about it. Turn the card over, pick a spot right under the long form version of your goal, write the date, and then right what happened/why you missed the day.  Get back on the horse the next day and start a new chain.

Conversely, whenever the feel goods strike flip the card over, put down the date, and write down your happy thoughts.  They can be one or two words, emojis, or even entire sentences.  This is a form of mini journaling.  If you run out of space continue writing on another card, a sheet of loose leaf paper, or (preferably) a notebook.  Don’t stop writing just because you ran out of space!  Journaling can be a crucial tool for some people’s success, we’ll talk more about this in a future post.

 We’re using dates and not straight numbers 1 – 60 so we can better analyze days that went wrong and to take the emphasis off of doing X numbers of days in a row.  If you get down then give yourself time, forgive yourself, and then get your mind right and get back in the game.  You’re playing the long game here.  You’re.  Playing.  The.  Long.  Game.  Repeat that to yourself as many times as needed.

If you don’t have notecards go out and get them right after you’ve finished reading this post.  If you can’t get them then use what you have at your disposal.  Use a whiteboard or fold a sheet of paper into quarters and use that.  You can set this all up on google sheets but I’d recommend setting up on something physical so you can incorporate it into your environmental design.  

When you make an x do a happy dance.  You stacked an X and have earned the right to cut up the rug to your heart’s desire.  Lean into it.  Get hyped.  Embrace that shit eating grin on your face when you mark your X’s.

Community is important, make a post down the comments, get your mom/dad/motherly friend involved, or make a post on r/theXeffect.  By no means do you have to do any of these but it’s highly recommended.

Don’t Forget to Reflect

After you’re done with your third or fourth week take a minute to look back and analyze your progress.  If you’ve missed a couple of days are you noticing a pattern?  Maybe you have ballroom dancing class with grandma on Wednesdays and can’t squeeze in an X.  Most likely it’ll be sometime on the weekends because you were out drinking all night one weekend and had a wedding to go to on another.  It’s ok.  If you can’t make time then give yourself permission to take off Wednesday’s/the weekend/whatever.  Remember, you’re playing the long game.

You’ve got this.

Hopefully you’ve already made your cards, if not then commit to it and set two alarms on your phone to go off every day in the morning and the afternoon until you’ve completed your setup.  Do it now.  Right.  Now.

Regardless of whether your setup is done or not it’s already started.  You made the cards or you set the alarms on your phone.  Congrats.  Take a deep long breath in and slowly let it out.  Let a little bit of that stress that’s been eating you up inside go.  You can do this.  You just notched a small win.

Now, do another happy dance, smile, and then give someone or something (or yourself!) a big hug.  You’re on the road to conquering the chaos.

See y’all next Monday,


P.S. This isn’t the method described on the sub, if you glance at the sub you’ll see a wide variety of form and function.

P.P.S Don’t forget to store those cards for safekeeping.  We’ll need them later.


shoutout to u/Bombjoke.  You’ve changed more lives than any of us will ever know.

It all started here:  https://www.reddit.com/r/getdisciplined/comments/1x99m6/im_a_piece_of_shit_no_more_games_no_more_lies_no/cf9dz72/

X effect subreddit:  https://www.reddit.com/r/theXeffect

X effect sub wiki: https://www.reddit.com/r/theXeffect/comments/fx97d7/updates_and_spring_cleaning/

SMART goal setting: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

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