The Power of Keeping Score

On November 30th, I made some bold claims for the month of December. Since you were holding me accountable, I kept score:

Here’s how I fared:

·     Days of no TV/no Netflix: 31 of 31

·     Days of no dessert/sweets: 31 of 31

·     Days of 7-8 hours of sleep: 28 of 31

Without question, I’m proudest of the sleep category. December is usually a disaster with parties, nightcaps and a “I’ll get back to my regular schedule in January” mentality. Only to limp into the new year feeling like crap.

But the simple awareness exercise of checking a box every day kept me focused on this important behavior. There were no fewer than 10 nights where I was drifting towards the extra cocktail or losing myself in the oblivion of the internet where the pending ritual of checking the scorecard awakened me and kept me on path for 7-8 hours of sleep.

As a result, I felt amazing throughout the entire month of December. When does that ever happen??

That’s the power of keeping score – especially when you don’t yet have a habit built.

Keep Score…Keep it Simple

Every morning upon waking, I’d walk to my kitchen and the moment of truth – in the form of an index card – awaited me: My Scorecard.

I’ve developed this sophisticated scorecard over many years of trial-and-error. Here’s how it reads:

Dec 1st: Did I do the thing I said I was going to do yesterday? Yes _____  No _____

Dec 2nd: Did I do the thing I said I was going to do yesterday? Yes _____  No _____

Dec 3rd: Did I do the thing I said I was going to do yesterday? Yes _____  No _____

And so on.

Each day I didn’t watch TV, I’d put a check.

Each day I didn’t eat desserts, I’d put a check.

Each day I got 7-8 hours of sleep, I’d get a check.

As it turns out, I can’t handle anything more complicated than this. Nor does it need to be.

Your Scorecard Leverages Your Need to Achieve

Whether you’ve made a formal or informal New Year’s resolution, chances are you’ve got something important going that could use an added layer of accountability to ensure your success.

Since you naturally experience a payoff when you “achieve” something, setting up a system where you can secure the payoff of a checked box will work in your favor. This is especially effective as you’re building a new behavior that is not yet a habit.

Like I said before, this simple mechanism gave me at least 10 extra nights of 7-8 hours of sleep during the month of December.

A Final Word (of caution)

Not everything requires a score. In some cases, you can become so obsessed with scores that they supersede and override your original intention.

I once became so consumed with the fact that I’d meditated for 200+ consecutive days that I’d lost sight of why I was engaging in the practice, and only doing it to keep the streak going. Effectively all I was doing was weakening my mindfulness practice and wasting my time.

However, scoring can be extremely effective in the early stages as you look to build a habit or execute on a short-term behavior.

Take Command.


Amy Merrill