New Tab, New You

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This post is about a light-weight piece of software I wrote to help track a few things about me I’m interested in monitoring.  It’s freely available (to use and modify) here.

The NTNY screen in action, tracking weekly goals and (white) carbs eaten.

This is a story.  One time, I wanted to get a lot better at pull-ups.  I wanted to be a good rock climber and to have a lot of upper-body strength, and pull-ups were one of the best exercises I could do.  So I thought about how I could do a lot of pull-ups– there was, after all, no bar in my house or office from which I could do the exercise.  An idea came to me: go across the street to the park, and each night, practice doing pull-ups there.

This was not a good idea.  That should be apparent if you’ve ever tried any self-motivated exercise regimen.  All I was relying on was my willpower to achieve a long-term goal.  I didn’t do anything differently except expect that I would make it to the park.  Every night, even when it was dark and rainy and sometimes cold, and I would magically muster up some willpower and go and do the pull-ups.

I think I went once.  Complete failure.

Now this story has a happy ending.  It’s not about me finding it within myself to walk across the street every night.  No, it’s when I realized that the only thing that could convince me to do pull-ups was to make it dead simple.  I would buy a pull-up bar, but only if it could fit in the door of my kitchen, bedroom, or office.  There was no other place I would see it frequently enough to just stop and do pull-ups.  It had to be visible.  It had to be right in my face.  It had to be zero extra work.

The result: I’ve more than doubled the number of pull-ups I can do to 15, and still improving.

The lesson: if you’re going to change something in your life, make it easy and obvious and shape your environment so it encourages you to make that change.  Make it zero extra work.

* * *

New Tab New You is a piece of software that makes behavior change easier.  It makes it zero extra work.

Here’s how.

I have weekly goals.   I’ve had them for a long time, and kept track of them in various ways.  It used to be my journal– that’s tough, because you only see them the day you write them, then it’s easy to forget about them for a while.  Then I tracked them on notecards posted to my computer.  That was good, but then I had a different idea– track them using my computer, but make sure they’re somewhere I would always see them.

So I thought “I can’t write a new program to store these, because why would I open it?  I’ll have to piggy-back on something else.”

About this time, I was also thinking of tracking the non-paleo carbs I eat every day.  Rather than call myself three-quarters paleo or something, I would actually write down how often I was eating unhealthy stuff.  I could eat whatever I pleased, so long as I accurately recorded how bad it was for me.

I needed a place to store this too– and like the weekly goals, this is something I’d need to see and interact with every day.

But I had learned my lesson from the pull-up bar.  If it wasn’t in sight and already something I’d encounter in my normal routine, I’d never have the willpower to add this into my routine.  So then I got the idea– a new tab screen.

I open hundreds of new tabs every day.  What if I could write a little page in HTML to store that data and show that page every time I opened a new tab?  Fortunately, HTML5 has such a provision.  I won’t go into the details here.  Instead, check out NTNY.  Right now, it only tracks weekly goals and a daily amount (I track carbs, but you could track something else in the graph).  But it’s basically all contained in two files, so if you know any HTML or JavaScript, you’ll find it pretty simple to edit and add your own widgets.  If you do something cool with it, submit a pull request on GitHub or at least drop me a line.

I look forward to hearing how this is useful for all of you, or if there are any changes you want to see!

 

  1. May 12, 2014

    Erik, this is a great idea. I have a written list of my 15 major goals for 2014 on my dresser so I see it every morning. Simply having goals written out and visible is a great tool.

    Hey, your last post here is from Feb. Come back and write more! :-)

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