Streaks and Personal Agency

Streaks are at the core of most habit-tracking apps and are used as a visual cue, a positive reinforcement — and sometimes also as an extra pressure to an already busy life. If you perform the habit day after day, an impressive uninterrupted sequence gives motivation by visualizing what you’ve already accomplished. It also informs your future actions, by encouraging you to not break the streak. However, life is inherently not planable, and even the most wonderful habit streak comes to an end.

I often felt demoralized by completely losing streaks in the past, so I’ve built HabitBoard in a way that makes it possible to recover a streak or at least see your previous streak and progress.

Screenshot of HabitBoard on iOS showing the list of habits and the overall progress of the Read habit.

HabitBoard with a broken streak for the Read habit.

It’s possible to manually recover the streak based on personal rules, e.g., after a new streak of 7 days and the previous progress can always be inspected.

In HabitBoard you can see all your previous progress and also can mark something as done for the previous day (and all the days before). It requires some personal sense of responsibility, but I think it’s good to assume and encourage this in this domain. Habit formation is highly personal and I support everyone to come up with their own processes and rules around habits. So it might be possible to recover a streak by performing the habit for 7 days in a row.

Each of the habits in the app also has a small number which shows the current streak for that habit by default. But personally, I often found it more helpful to see monthly completions as a metric on habits. This way I can compare the number of completions to the current day and see if I’m still on track. I made the numeric display configurable and for people who feel too restricted or externally driven by numbers, it’s even possible to disable the numbers completely.

Screenshot of HabitBoard on iOS showing the list of habits with enabled streaks on one side and completions on the other side.

HabitBoard with display of streaks vs. monthly completions.

It can be more instructive to instead of the current streak (left) see the monthly completions of a habit (right).

Importantly, it’s possible to skip a habit for the day (via long-press on the respective habit square). This way, the streak is preserved and you, optionally, can add a note with some additional information about why you’ve skipped the day. For example, I had a small accident last week and can’t exercise at the moment — so instead of marking my exercise habit as not done, I marked it as skipped and did not lose the streak. I’ve also lowered my move goal on the Apple Watch — an easy way to create rest or recovery days within Apple’s fitness tracking.
And speaking of rest days: the skip habit feature can also be used as such — without any emergency or for habits you only want to perform once a week.

Screenshot of HabitBoard on iOS showing ability to skip a habit and attach a note.

HabitBoard with option to skip a habit and seeing a small note attached to the day.

Skipping days don’t break the streak and, optionally combined with notes, allow for a highly personal customization of rules and processes around habits.

It’s important to remember that those apps, tools, and processes are meant to support us in our aspirations and not to enslave us to mindlessly perform to keep a streak.

I encourage and support everyone to create their own processes and rules around using an app like HabitBoard. I understand that it can be difficult for some to relate to this sense of personal agency, but I think it’s part of the process to confront it.