We all have habits we wish we could start and others we wish we could stop. But habits are difficult to control. Despite thousands of years of evolution, our prefrontal cortex still has immense trouble wrestling control from the older parts of our brain which regulate our emotions and urges. We are able to both simultaneously intensely crave a chocolate bar yet recognize that it is about as far as we can get from a nutritional meal. This same problem exists in nearly every sphere of human activity: nutrition, exercise, education, work and even our relationships. Our ability to curb negative habits, such as eating junk food, has not had time to catch up to our modern understanding of our own biology (cravings for caloric dense foods was a beneficial evolutionary survival mechanism) and of the world that surrounds us, including others who wish to take advantage of how human habits are formed (the Donald Drapers of this world are hard at work).
Motivation and optimism aren’t enough to sustain the discipline which is required to change our habits and become better versions of ourselves. Many of us need external tools and systems to help keep us on track. This is where this worksheet comes in.
Go to our products section to download the worksheet.
This worksheet is based on the principle that it takes many days of intentionally completing a task before it turns into a habit. With repetition, we eventually assimilate the task into our regular life until it no longer requires intentionality. We can consider that an action has become a habit once it becomes nearly automatic for us to go through with it on a regular basis. Another strong indicator of habit adoption is if we feel “off” when we skip the habit or behave in a way that goes against the objective of the habit (for example, I feel sluggish if I skip my daily run or if I go over my daily caloric allowance).
Why 50 days?
This sheet is meant to help you stick to your new habit for 50 days in a row. This worksheet is set at 50 days for the following reasons:
It is an easy to remember objective that fits neatly within the decimal system. If you need to make some calculations to determine your rate of success, you can easily get a percentage (simply double your numbers: successfully following your diet 45 out of 50 days = 90% success rate).
A 2009 study which is commonly cited in productivity literature concluded that it takes on average 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. However, a frequently overlooked aspect of the study is that the time it took for behaviors to become habits varied greatly depending on the complexity of the behavior and the circumstances of the individual at the time of their efforts to adopt the habit. Simple actions took as little as 18 days to become habits, whereas more complex behaviors were estimated to take up to 254 days. The instructions accompanying this worksheet indicate that that the habit must be simple and that it must be within an individual’s abilities to achieve. As such, 50 days should be more than enough to successfully adopt easy-moderate habits. Using this approach, it becomes possible to achieve life-altering results: as we build a solid base of adopted habits over a series of 50-day cycles and slowly increase the difficulty of our habits over each successive cycle, it becomes possible to successfully adopt and maintain life-changing habits.
The idea for this worksheet came to me after I found the online community over at reddit.com/r/theXeffect. It is a group of people who support each other in 50-day attempts at adopting new habits. As is outlined in their wiki, all members of the group assist and support each other in the use of a technique which involves drawing a 7x7 intersecting lines on an index card in order to have a grid of 49 days / 7 weeks during which to attempt to maintain a habit (+1 final day for a total of 50 days). My hope is that our worksheet will be of use to this community.
2. Create multiple copies of the worksheet and rename each copy for each habit you want to adopt or change (e.g. “Habit - Flossing”, “Habit - Dishes after Supper”, etc.).
3. Type the title of the habit you want to adopt in the Habit text box. Include a cue in the title so that you know when or in which context it is supposed to take place. For example, instead of “Get up early,” you would write “Get up no later than 6 a.m. every day” and instead of writing “Keep counter clean,” you would type “Clean the counter after every dinner”. Err on the side of caution and adjust your habit so that it requires a bit less effort than what you know you can do. Your chances of success are much higher if you slowly build up your habit rather than going all-in right from the start. It’s also important to keep in mind that adding or changing certain habits - such as those related to nutrition, exercise and sleep - should be undertaken with caution in order to prevent injuries or illness. Our aim here is to increase willpower and to make the habit stick, rather than overextending ourselves by going straight for big results.
4. Think about the reason(s) why you want to adopt this habit. Briefly summarize it in the Reason(s) for habit text box. It will be good for you to regularly see it on the sheet so that it stays in the back of your mind on the days when you don’t feel like following through with your new routine.
5. Think of a reward that you think you will deserve after maintaining your habit for 50 days or cycles in a row. Type it in the Reward text box. Be generous. You want to select something that you would not buy or allow for yourself normally and, ideally, it should be something that makes you feel excited. Be careful that your reward doesn’t go against the objective of your habit (for example, if your habit is to count your calories every day in order to lose weight, don’t reward yourself with an entire large pizza).
6. If you have any notes or information you would like to add to your sheet, type it in the Notes text box. This can be anything relevant to the habit: scheduled events that you know are likely to interrupt your streak, the location where necessary items for the habit can be found, a reminder to let your close ones know when and where you will go out for your jogs, etc.
7. You can type in a few characters in the square boxes to the right of each of the 50 hexagons. These small boxes can be used to write days of the week and dates (for example: “Wed.21”) or small bits of information relevant to your habit (for example, if your habit is to exercise every day at the gym but you want to vary or alternate your activities, you could use this space to write RUN for cardio days and STRENGTH for weightlifting days).
8. At this point, save the changes you have made to the worksheet so that you don’t lose what you have typed in so far. If you plan on using the worksheet electronically, remember to save your copies in an easy to find location. I recommend that you keep your copies of the worksheet on cloud storage so that you can access them and keep everything up to date from multiple devices. For those who plan on using the worksheet in paper format, go ahead and print one copy for each habit at this time.
9. Start your habit today and cross off the first hexagon by clicking on it or by filling it in by hand. Do not wait until a Sunday or a Monday to start. You should begin today, as early as possible (this is why the squares to the right of each hexagon are blank, so that you can you start your 50 days on any day of the week or the month).
10. Cross off the numbered hexagon for each subsequent day or cycle that you complete your habit.
11. If you miss a day, leave the hexagon for that day blank and just keep going the next day. Do not start back at zero. Take the time to reflect on what happened so you can remember and make better plans in order to avoid being in that situation again. Write down your reflections about what lead you to miss your day, either in the Notes section of the worksheet or on a separate text file or paper note.
It’s okay to miss one day here and there. Life happens. It’s necessary to have some margin of error so that we remain flexible and can adapt to illness, unexpected weather, etc. Missing a day here and there will happen even after you have gained the habit. It is therefore best that you learn to develop plans so that you can avoid missing days in the future and know how to “get back on the horse” the very next day. The important rule to remember while using this worksheet is that you shouldn’t miss more than one day in a row. As soon as you miss two days in a row, document what happened in writing again and keep your 50-day worksheet for reference. You will be starting back at Day 1 now but not before making a few adjustments. Before you start over a new 50-day sheet, open the PDF file you saved for this habit and make two changes. The first is that you will make the habit slightly easier; if you were trying to build up the habit of going to bed earlier, say at 10:00 p.m. every night, you will adjust it to 10:15 for the next 50 days. The second change is that you will also increase the value of your reward in whatever way you can afford and which is reasonable. For example, if you promised to buy yourself a 60$ video game, now increase your budget to 80$ or if you promised yourself that you would go for an overnight trip, make it a weekend trip. Remember, our aim is to build up willpower and to go for consistent, compounding results, not to go for sudden big gains. You need to make the habit stick (so make it a bit easier) and, for now, since your habit may not provide you with the ultimate results you’re looking for until quite some time, an external reason to stick to the habit can help provide you with some temporary motivation (so an increase the attractiveness of your reward can temporarily help keep you motivated despite some setbacks).
12. At the end of your 50-day sheet, you get your reward. Congratulations, you now have a new habit!
13. You can now either continue working with more 50-day sheets for as long as you want or try to see if you can maintain the habit without the support of the worksheet. If you see yourself slipping up again with your newly adopted habit, simply start a new worksheet.
14. If it’s possible and relevant, you should try to slightly increase the difficulty of your habit at regular intervals (such as at the start of each new 50-day sheet). This doesn’t apply to all types of habits but for many (such as nearly all exercise habits), a slow but steady increase in difficulty will help you stick to the habit over long periods of time.
Technical features of the worksheet
Blue tint: Many PDF readers will display a blue tint over sections that can be completed in a PDF form, which can be unsightly or annoying. Most PDF readers have a setting called “Highlight Fields” which you can toggle off to remove this tint. In Foxit Reader (which I recommend that you use – it’s free), you can find this setting in the Forms tab in the upper left corner of the screen.
Font size in text boxes: If opened in a dedicated PDF reader, the font size should automatically adjust so that text entries fit within all text boxes in the worksheet.
If you want to learn more about habits and what makes them so effective in helping us make long-lasting changes, I recommend the following books:
There are also many android, apple and web-based applications which allow you to track and manage habits, which you can use instead of or as a compliment to this worksheet. My two favorite habit apps are the following: