Man sitting and writing in journal

"Just like maintaining our physical health, managing our mental health takes time and effort, and the rewards are worth it."

One of the most powerful motivators, in sustaining new habits, is seeing the progress we are making. But depression often clouds the way we see things, making it especially difficult to recognize our improvements. By taking steps to track our progress on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, we can celebrate our victories and use them to sustain our motivation. 

Our article on Creating Daily Habits and Routines can help us develop realistic and sustainable goals specific to the habits we are working to build (eg. being more social or physically active, practicing deep breathing, or making time to laugh). Our article on 14 Healthy Habits to Fight Depression can also help with ideas of where to start. 

When we track our progress, we can see which habits work for us, adapt those that don’t, and set new goals to propel us forward.

Tracking progress and checking in

Here are two ways we can track our habits:

  1. Creating a daily log, where we list and cross tasks off as we complete them each day.
  2. Completing weekly and or monthly check-ins to review our progress. 

Pick your tools

Depending on the habit we are trying to implement, certain tools for tracking and/or checking-in will make more sense than others. Here are some ideas to get us started:

  • Use a Habit Tracking App: There are many different apps that can help us track our goals. Some exist for specific tasks, like to track meals or workouts, and others can be used more generally to track all of our habits in one place. Many include useful features like checklists, calendars, and graphs to help visualize our progress.
  • Try Journaling: We can use a journal to make notes and log our habits and/or when we check-in on our progress. This can be a physical journal, a word-processing document on our computer, or a file in a note taking app on our phone. What matters most is choosing the tool we are most likely to use. See our article, How Journaling can Help Combat Depression to learn more.
  • Set Reminders: Remind ourselves to regularly check-in. Most phones have a built-in reminder app for this purpose, but we can also use a planner, calendar app, or sticky notes.
  • Create a log: Using a calendar or whiteboard to physically cross days off when we’ve completed the habit, can be a very satisfying way to visualize our progress. 
  • Post on social media: Create a ‘log’ by sharing our habits as we complete them. For some guys, this could mean posting healthy meals or photos from their workouts to their IG story, and saving them to a new highlight section of their profile. Other guys might want to create a separate account dedicated to tracking their practice, like a “cooking instagram” or a “fitness instagram,” which also allows them to connect with others working towards similar goals.

What works best for you may take some experimenting to figure out, a combination of different strategies and tools may prove the most flexible.

Evaluating Habit Formation

The first step to checking in on our habits is simply seeing how often we were able to complete them. 

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  • How often did I maintain my habit?
  • What helped me stick to my habit?
  • What got in the way? 

Let’s take a look at how this can be done, by following an example with Aaron, who’s trying to work on his sleep routine:

Aaron split his goal down into small steps, setting SMART goals to implement every day this month, and writing them down in a notebook.

  • 30 minutes before bed, I will shut off all electronic devices.
  • 20 minutes before bed, I will lay out clothes for the morning, brush my teeth, and wash my face.
  • 10 minutes before bed, I will wind down with some deep breathing exercises.
  • When it’s time to sleep, I will pull the curtains, turn off the lights, and turn on the fan for white noise.

In the morning, Aaron used a notepad by his bed to track which steps he completed, what time he went to bed, and how well he slept. At the end of the month, he did a check-in.

When we’re struggling with depression, it can also be very helpful to use our check-ins to reflect on our overall mental health and whether our new habits have helped.

Here are Aaron’s notes:

Consistency: Kept habit up 4-5 days each week

Factors that helped:

  • Phone off 30 min before bed helped a lot
  • Deep breathing was helpful to clear my thoughts before sleeping
  • On days when I took longer walks, it was easier to fall asleep at night

Factors that got in the way:

  • I didn’t like laying clothes out before bed, ‘cause it’s hard to judge the weather
  • I usually go out on Saturdays, so getting back by 11:30pm is tough
  • When I bring home any work to finish, I end up working on my laptop ‘til past 11:30, then if I try to skip straight to sleep at midnight without the routine it’s much harder to fall asleep

Overall impact:

  • More energy in the morning and afternoon
  • Better focus at work
  • Still issues with mood and stress but sleeping around 6-7 hours a night now. Days where I slept 7-8 hours, I felt more rested

From here, Aaron can decide how well the habit is going and take appropriate next steps to either build on or adjust it. 

If the habit is going well

The first thing to do if a habit is going well is simply to stick to it. 

Once we feel confident we’ve built a new habit into our routine, we can think about how we might take it to the next level, from a new habit to a lifestyle change filled with multiple habits that align with our values and goals. 

For example, people who want more physical activity in their lives might start with the goal of walking everyday at lunch, eventually this could become part of an overall healthier active lifestyle including a range of similar habits like taking the stairs, walking to get groceries, and biking to work.

1. Level up your habit

When things are going well, try to harness that momentum to keep the habit going and see if there are opportunities to build on it. 

Continuing with Aaron’s sleep routine:

  • Having established a sleep routine, Aaron can now work on a morning routine that can increase his energy and improve his life, like adding a serving of fruit to his breakfast. 

We can also level up our habits by building a community around them:

Involving others can make us more accountable to stick with a habit, even on days when we are not at our best. When we surround ourselves with people who share our values and goals, it also becomes easier to adopt an overall lifestyle they also practice. 

For example:

  • By joining a local cycling group, we become part of a community that values fitness and being outdoors. If our cycling group often goes on morning bike rides, we may be less likely to stay out late at the pub, and begin to prioritize having a healthy sleep schedule so we can keep up with the group ride.

2. Add another new habit

This plays into the idea of creating an overall healthier lifestyle built up of habits that all contribute to and reinforce our health. 

The best professional athletes aren’t the ones that are only good at offence or defense, but the players who constantly continue to add new skills and adapt to changes in the game.

Try to only add one or two small things at a time though, as we don’t want to compromise the habit we are just beginning to form.

Taking our Self Check and Stress Test can help us see what areas we should work on first. 

If the habit isn’t working for us

It can be discouraging when a new habit isn’t going well. But recognizing when a habit is working and when it’s not is incredibly useful, because it gives us a chance to reflect on our priorities and adjust our behaviours accordingly.

In these instances, it can be helpful to ask ourselves:

  • What’s been preventing me from sticking to my goal?
  • Is the habit unrealistic, given other demands in my life?
  • Can it be adjusted to fit my schedule better?
  • Or do I just need to give it more time?

Depending on our answers to these questions, we can revisit our goals and decide how we can adjust our new habits to reach them.

Sometimes it’s hard to decide if a habit is working or worth sticking to, in these cases talking to a trusted friend or seeking guidance from a mental health professional can help. 

Use your habits to proactively manage your mental health

Once we have established some habits that work for us, we can use habits to proactively manage our mental health, both to act as a warning system and to strengthen our defences. 

To provide a buffer against upcoming stressors

If there are some stressful times coming up, we can double down on the habits we know work to better prepare ourselves and add an extra buffer to our mental health. 

Some common stressors that happen every year include:

  • holidays
  • birthdays
  • anniversaries (both positive or negative)
  • winter (seasonal affective disorder, SAD)

Other common stressors we can see coming months ahead and use our habits to prepare for:

  • getting married
  • starting a new job or school program
  • moving to live in a new area
  • having a child
  • financial issues
  • upcoming deadlines

To serve as a warning system

Once we’ve established a few habits they can also help to clue us in to how our mental health is doing 

Sometimes it’s hard to notice right away when our mood is dropping or when our anger is rising, but we may be able to notice if our habits have been slipping. 

For example:

  • Maybe stresses at work have been slowly wearing you down, but you don’t fully realize the impact they are having on your life, until you notice you haven’t been keeping up with your sleep schedule or the healthier diet you started. 

By noticing these changes in our behaviour we may be able to react more quickly to when our mental health is worsening, and then take appropriate steps and measures to simplify our lives, re-prioritize our health and reach out to friends or professional supports.


For more tips on forming habits, see our guide to Building Healthy and Sustainable Habits to Fight Depression.