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“Atomic Habits” – Why habit tracking matters

  1. Introduction

James Clear is a very influential speaker and entrepreneur. He works on the topic of efficiency and how to develop positive habits, with hundreds of thousands of  subscribers to his newsletter. His recent book, “Atomic Habits” has quickly reached the bestseller status. Although many other books have been written about the relationship between positive habits and success, this one stands out because of the depth of the related evidence, from neurosciences to personal experience.

This short post is a list of selected lecture notes, not a book review. Because the topic of “habit tracking” is crucially important to our team at Knomee, this will be the main center of our interest. However, the next section will start by pointing out some of this great book’s key ideas, to give you some reasons to grab your copy. The next section will zoom on habit tracking. Habit tracking is a powerful practice, it is just too hard for many, and they drop their tracking too soon, before reaching the benefits. The last section will highlight some consequences on Knomee's design.


  1. Picking up new habits 

Here are a few insights taken from the book, about habits.

  • One should set goals on outcomes, because they are what matters, but measure systems, that are the processes that will deliver the outcome. The relationship between efforts and outcome is not linear. The more complex the task, the more you need to measure your system, since measuring the outcome will not tell you what is happening. Here is one of James Clear’s famous quote: “ I believe that you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”. This is close to the army motto : you do not raise to the level of your expectation, you fall to the level of your practice.
  • If we look for the root causes of change, one should look our our identity : our values and our self-image, because the identity drives the behavior, that drives the process results that yield the outcome. There is a dual relationship between habits and identity, as noticed by Aristotle (“we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is a habit”). Working on your habits is a way to model your identity. This is quite a sophisticated idea, you should read the book, a summary will not do justice to the depth of the thinking.
  • There are four steps in the core of the habit forming process : cue, craving, response, reward. Although this is not unique (other work such as Nir Eyal in “Hooked” make similar references to this 4 steps process), this is obviously very relevant to understanding habit formation.
  • Desire is the fuel of learning, “It is the anticipation of rewards that drives to action”. This is a critical lesson from biology.  There is another 4 steps cycle that any change management plan should understand and leverage : desire => plan => action => reward/reflect. You can find a similar argument develop in a previous post of from one of our team members.
  • Repetition is at the core of habit forming, towards mastery. We definitely need practice (to do things) and repetition (lots of doing) to set up habits.
  • Our brains are poorly equipped to handle delayed gratification (time inconsistency: the way our brain evaluates rewards in inconsistent over time) - it is a skill one has to learn
  • Mastery is one of the key components of intrinsic motivation, as brilliantly explained by Daniel Pink (purpose, autonomy, mastery). James Clear adds this key equation : “Mastery = habits + deliberate practice”. We need both, deliberate practice is necessary for reflection, reflection is needed for the mastery’s self-awareness.
  • James Clear emphasizes the importance of consistency : “it’s not the first mistake/lapse that kills habit forming, it is the spiral of repeated mistakes”. Therefore, “doing it poorly”, when you feel that this is not the day or the moment to practice, is very important.


  1. Habit Tracking

James Clear writes a truly great chapter about “habit tracking” : “A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit - like marking an X in a calendar”. Here are some of the more salient insights :

  • “Habit tracking is a great tool towards setting up new habits or getting rid of bad ones, as exemplified by Benjamin Franklin”. See “The Happiness Project” from Gretchen Rubin.
  • "Habit tracking is powerful because it leverages multiples Laws of Behavior Change. It simultaneously makes a behavior obvious, attractive and satisfying". This is the short summary of the chapter : why habit self-tracking is a great tool to set up a new habit. Tracking make the habit “obvious”: the mere act of tracking a behavior can spark the urge to change it. As noted by James Clear, “Habit Tracking keeps us honest. Most of us have a distorted view of our own behavior”. Second, self-tracking bring some form of attraction because the most effective form of motivation is progress. “Each small win feeds your desire”. Last self-tracking is satisfying in the sense that tracking can become its form of own reward. “It provides a visual proof that you are casting votes for the type of person you wish to become”.
  • However, this is not the complete story, otherwise everyone would be using self-tracking apps: “Tracking is hard, it is not for everyone” : tracking your habits requires discipline, and provides with delayed gratification”. When possible, automated tracking (without conscious effort) is preferred. When manual tracking is required (usually one needs both to get a better context), “Manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits”.
  • “There is no need to measure your entire life. But anyone can benefit from tracking in some form - even if it’s only temporary”. Habit tracking is not binary : either you do or you don’t. It can be a temporary action, as a help to set up or to recover a positive habit.


  1. Why this matters to Knomee

The insights that are contained in this book are very important for the Knomee team and for our mobile application. Here are the four most important quotes that directly relate to our design decisions: 

  1. “Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habit satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress”. This is the heart of Knomee main user interface,to see your data for 21 days and to get instant recognition of how well/poorly you are doing with “mountain” icons (because your data looks like mountains, too).
  2. “Despite all the benefits, many people resist the idea of tracking and measuring”. Our key design objective with Knomee is to make it fast. Our second goal is to make it fun. Hence forecasting is built-in to make tracking both faster and more fun.
  3. “Tracking is hard, not for everyone” : true, but we believe that many more people could benefit from habit tracking if we could make it easier, faster and more fun. We are not there yet !
  4. “Manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits … even if it’s only temporary”. Knomee is designed toward temporary quest tracking. A quest is a small (less than 4) things that you want to track together to see if you are picking a new habit.


We strongly urge you to read the book to harness the power of positive habits, and the benefits of the “meta-habit” of habit tracking.

However, Knomee is not a simple habit tracker. Knomee is a self-tracking app for people with a “quest” (with a question and a goal). There are better and simpler apps to just track your habits, such as  Streaks and Strides. Knomee is a more complex app designed for “self-tracking with sense”, that is, when you have a “why”, a clear reason for self-tracking (which is what the quest represents, not simply “do I succeed to develop this habit ?” but “why should I pick this habit ?”).

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Large performance improvements for new Knomee release !


This month's release for Knomee (v2.04) turns out to be quite important, because we were successful to optimize and to reduce Knomee memory consumption significantly. Since iOS kills apps that consume the most memory when it needs to load something new, this behavior (Knomee stopping with no warning because OS killed it) has started to happen before. The improved algorithm is both much faster and less memory-hungry, by a factor of five. This translates in better stability and performance.

As with the previous releases of Knomee 2, this release comes with a number of bug fixes and minor usability improvements. In addition, we have made two changes to reflect some of the comments sent by our users :

  • The main screen, that is used to enter new self-tracking measures, has been using “mountains” representations to give you a quick feedback on how you are doing, with respect to the target that you have set, with each of your quest trackers. Rounded light-green mountains are indicators of success (target reached) whereas rugged dark mountains indicate that you are still far from your target values. To make this more obvious, we have just added a smiley face, happy or unhappy, to the mountain icons. In addition, since 2.04, you may click on the mountain to get an explanation. The weather illustration gives you a trend: a bright sun indicates improvement while rain represents a decline in performance.
  • The Quest Rating interface, that you see when you click on the quest score on the main screen if you have selected the “tech mode” has been simplified. The goal of this interface is both to explain the quest score (from 0% to 100%) and to show the structure of the quest with colors to help you see which trackers help or do not help towards your quest. The new interface is simpler, it show that the score is the sum of three components:  the data score (how much data you have collected), the pattern score (the capability of knomee to extract patterns from your data) and the forecasting score (how well Knomee is doing with its forecasting algorithm). The idea, inspired by Granger causality, is that a good forecasting score is an indication of a good quest (remember that a quest is a "causal hypothesis" that you are trying to prove or disprove).

Knomee has now reached a good usability level and our goal is to develop our reach. There are a number of new competitors to Knomee, which is a good thing, since it shows the need for a truly customizable self-tracking app. However, Knomee is still the only mobile application with embedded AI that gives smart feedbacks and visual analysis of your self-tracking data.

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Knomee may help during recovery after surgery

Since we have released Knomee version 2.0 in May, we are upgrading our iOS app every month with performance improvements, bug fixes and small usability enhancements. Thanks to our user feedbacks, we are getting closer to the worry-free experience that you all deserve. Here are a few of the fixes that were introduced in version 2.02 and 2.03:

  • Show the quest category on home page (looks nicer) and make the big square "quest switch" button more visible on that home page. If you are not familiar to Knomee: the square button with your quest name helps you to see all your quests and select a new one. Managing multiple quests is much more interesting. 
  • Make mountains more explicit ( you may click on them). Mountains icons are a simple summary of (a) how you are doing globally with respect to the target (shape of the mountain) and what is the trend (weather element : sun means that you improve, clouds that you decline).
  • Introduce HRV from Apple Watch: Heart Rate Variability is a key bio-value that you may track, it tells you a lot about your heart health. We have introduced a standard quest to improve you HRV through sleep, reducing inflammatory foods and exercising your body.
  • Better memo edit and display in the chart view (the one that you get clicking on the eye). Memos are a key new feature of version 2.0. You may annotate Knomee with key moments, which will make it easier later to reflect on your self-tracking.
  • Bug fixes for quests with only 2 or 3 trackers (most of the quests use one target and three trackers, so we had missed a few things).

One of our team member received open heart surgery a few months ago and has gone through recovery using Knomee. Most of his usual quests were useless because of the global state of weakness after a major surgery. On the other hand, creating a handful of new quests dedicated to the recovery turned out to be very helpful. Here is a short summary of the key benefits:

  • Self-tracking helps to get a sense of your progress even though recovery is a complex story with ups and downs. The chaotic nature of recovery (how the pain reduces, for instance) is such that self-tracking helps to see the bigger picture.
  • After heart surgery, it makes sense to leverage other apps or sensors on your phone or connected device : "Instant Heart Rate" is a great companion app for Knomee:the shape of heart rate tells a lot, from arrhythmia to extra-systolic pulses. Rest heart rate and HRV are two other bio-measures that are very interesting to monitor to see your (slow) progress through recovery.
  • Knomee helps you to discover what factors will speed up your recovery : sleep (major ... no surprises, but it feels good to see it from your data analysis), food excitant (coffee, alcohol), fat intake,  etc. Everyone reacts differently, but Knomee helps you find the lifestyle and diet that will speed up your recovery to wellness.
  • Use of memos for key first moments during recovery - this is one of the most exciting application of Knomee 2.0 memo feature. During recovery there are good times (small victories : the first time you get back to being able to do something) and bad ones. Recording them using memos puts your self-tracking into perspective and makes your journey to better health an emotional one.

This short real-life user story is interesting because it emphasises one key principle of Knomee : there are no universal quests, the one that matter the most should be crafted by the user ... and there are no permanent quests. A quest fits a moment of your life, when you ask yourself a few questions (recovery after a major surgery is definitely such a moment). You create a quest and you self-track to help you build your own opinion ... then you move to other things.

It also shows that self-tracking is only meaningful when you ask yourself a question. Otherwise it gets boring very soon, which is what we hear from some of our users.