Ritual Sketching - A Creative Approach to Habit Tracking
Can tracking become an exciting and creative practice instead of a boring chore? As a part of my TOOL A WEEK commitment, I worked on a better habit-tracking method, that anyone could potentially modify and use on their journey. After a week of ideation, research, sketching, prototyping and a round of feedback from designer friends, I created a customisable system called Ritual Sketching.
First some definitions:
A habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.
For the sake of this tool, I will define ritual as a positive habit being built intentionally and performed mindfully. Beyond repetition, rituals can provide a way to structure time and direct one's attention to meaningful pursuits.
Like many others, I have been slowly trying to build everyday habits since reading James Clear's amazing Atomic Habits. One of the techniques he recommends is "habit tracking" - keeping a record of how consistently you are performing certain activities, hence turning them into habits. You can read about the benefits of tracking in this summary.
My experience with habit tracking #
For a total time of about 2 months, I've used an analogue tracker in the form of a spreadsheet printed on an A4. Here are my thoughts:
The Good #
- analogue tracking is very satisfying
- hanging on the wall next to my table creates a physical presence in my environment, which is very powerful
The bad #
- tracking only a boolean value is reductive
- leads to performing a habit for the sake of the tracker, not for its own sake
- analogue is not practical for travelling
- placement on the wall is not practical for moving about
The ugly #
I'm not saying spreadsheets aren't beautiful, but the look quickly became stale and office-like. This is exactly the vibe I want to steer away from.
The Ritual Sketching method #
The goal of Ritual Sketching is to keep a record of your habits with compounding, generative compositions. Instead of ticking a checkbox, the person using this method will create a sketch in their log according to a predetermined key. This sketch should reflect their habits on a particular day.
The key pairs each habit with a thing to draw. For example, my current key looks like this:
PERFORM : DRAW
meditate : line
mantra : ellipse
excersize : polygon
read : rectangle
write : squiggle
design : star
code : dots
In the log, each day should have its section with a star(t) placed in the middle of that section. The star(t) defines the x and the y axes, providing an "artificial" anchor on which the "natural" sketching can take place. Digital example:
When a person performs a certain habit, they draw the corresponding thing into today's section of the log. This continues throughout the day as the shapes slowly compound into a composition. A the end of the day a sketch containing information on today's activities emerges. Even though the key stays the same, each daily sketch will inevitably be unique. Seeing the effort already put in, the daily log should act as a source of motivation, as breaking the chain with an empty star(t) will not feel right. After some time has passed, changes, fluctuations, exceptions and maybe even trends can be observed.
With sketching, there's a lot of opportunity for non-boolean reflectivity. Some simple ideas to start with:
- the size of the shape reflects the length of the ritual
- the placement of the shape reflects the time of day the ritual was performed
My implementation and templates #
Ritual Sketching as a system and practice can be implemented in many different forms. Here I will provide my implementation(s) along with some templates to get you started!
I started using an analogue tracker printed on an A4 which I hang next to my desk. One sheet contains 5 rows of 7 start(s) for a total of 35 days, which is more than enough for a month's worth of sketching. The key is printed at the top along with a space to fill out the start and end dates.
PDF Templates: #
- the exact one I use
- fully blank
- blank rituals + "shapes" key
- blank rituals + "abstract" key
- blank rituals + "objects" key
After ~2 weeks of tracking on the wall, I switched to using a notebook. Each day gets its own page split into two sections: tasks on the top and ritual sketching on the bottom. I think the portability of the notebook makes me use the tracker more, plus it just feels more cozy. I'll make sure to update this post if I try any other modifications or implementations.
Final thoughts #
I'm looking forward to using this technique in the coming months, as only time will tell how well it truly works. Then there's an exciting idea I got from my friends - to implement Ritual Sketching in a paper notebook or some kind of digital space, both of which will provide an affordance to "animate" individual sketches into a moving picture. I'll post an update once I gather more experiences, thoughts and prototypes. Thanks for reading!