Become The Best Version of Yourself Through Self-Monitoring

We cannot stand breaking promises to anyone…except ourselves.

Breaking a promise to your friends, family, or co-workers seems unfathomable. You will go to heroic lengths to not let them down. You want them to know they can trust you – that when you say you will do something, you are going to do it.

However, if the promise is to yourself...that's a different story. 

We all make promises to:

Make it to the gym 4 times a week...

Cut back on spending... 

Eat healthier....

But for some reason, if you don’t keep that promise, you won't be too upset about it.

You may feel guilty, but the passion to ensure that you come through for someone else just doesn’t seem to be there when the person you let down is the one in the mirror.

But what if you could see yourself differently? 

What if you could see breaking a promise to yourself the same way you see letting your friends or families down? 


When scientists looked at the brains of people looking at their reflections, they found something rather odd. 

The part of the brain that would say, “hey, that’s me in the mirror” didn’t light up. Instead, it was the part of the brain that sets goals for self-improvement. [1]

We compare what we see in the mirror to an ideal standard of ourselves. 

“I wish I was taller.”  

“I need to get in shape.” 

“Maybe I should try a new hair style?"

When you look in a mirror, you do not just see the person you are, you see the person you want to become.


Despite what you may be thinking, this is not just a phenomenon in Western Society where “looks are everything.” 

This comparison to an ideal standard is just as likely to occur in Papua New Guinea – where a tribe-member may strive to become the ideal hunter he wishes he was.

But why do we have this constant judgment of ourselves?

The answer lies in our evolution.

Millions of years ago, humans were remarkably vulnerable creatures. We were less than 5 feet tall, we were weak, and we didn't have claws, talons, or even sharp teeth. 

The only way we survived was by working together in a tribe. 

Therefore, our inclusion in the tribe was the difference between life and death. And to ensure we did not get banished, we needed to prove to the others that we were indispensable.

So we began looking at our behavior and comparing it to that of the "top" members of the tribe. We wanted to be like them, and began comparing our own behavior to theirs.

This led to the development of self-awareness. [2] 


To measure the importance of self-awareness, researchers wondered...

Would we let ourselves down less if we saw our reflection in the mirror?

If we were tempted to break the promises we made to ourselves, could our reflection possibly keep us in check?

To answer this question, researchers invited two groups of dieters into a room to rate different types candy bars. They were each allowed to eat as much of the candy as they would like to secure a “definite rating.” 

In reality, the candy-ratings were irrelevant. The researchers were really testing how much candy each participant ate. This is a classic test of willpower, as the dieter has clear justification for continuing to eat – it's in the name of science!

The first group ate their candy in a room without any mirrors, and acted as expected – taking the day off from their diets, and indulging in the treats. 

However, the second group was placed at a table directly in front of a mirror. So they could not help but see themselves eat the candy. 

This group not only ate less candy, but also reported less difficulty in resisting the temptation to binge.

By seeing their reflection, they tapped into the desire to be the best version of themselves – which made it easier to resist the temptations in front of them.  [3] 


So what does this mean?

Should you start carrying a mirror around to look at your reflection any time you face a challenge to your willpower?


However, the key finding in the study wasn't, "mirrors magically boost your self-control."

Instead, the takeaway was simply being aware of the person you are, helps you see the person you want to become. And seeing who you want to be can make it easier for you to make the decisions to become that person.

To boost your own self-awareness, research shows that you do not have to bring a full body mirror with you at all times. 

You simply need to increase your self-monitoring.  

By tracking your spending, you are less likely to spend impulsively. 

By writing down the food that you eat, you are less likely to indulge. 

And by monitoring where your time is spent during the day, you are less likely to waste it on cat videos. [1]

All of these changes will occur seemingly without you realizing it – just like the dieters did not realize they were indulging less simply because they could see their reflection.

By monitoring yourself, you are consistently reminded of the best version of yourself. This triggers an area of your brain that is responsible for inspiration, motivation and sticking to long-term goals. 

This is phenomenon is what Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, calls “Want Power”. [4]

Want Power is the strongest form of willpower you have. It creates the same energy that we get when we read a motivational quote or get inspired by a great speech. 

It creates a rush of energy for you to push through the day-to-day grind and work toward your larger aspirations. By monitoring yourself, you naturally create this power – helping you make the right decisions to live up to the best version of yourself. 


With advances in technology, many different apps and services can help you track information on yourself.  

Here are some that I would recommend depending on what your goals are.  

*Do not get all of them at once! Add one at a time. If you try to track everything at once, you are setting yourself up for failure.


Due to all of the benefits of self-monitoring that I listed above, keeping track of what you eat has been proven to be the number one way dieters lose weight (even without denying themselves anything!). [5]

Simply writing down the day, time, and food that you eat are enough to see results. 

However, I recommend that you use MyFitnessPal which makes it much easier to see all of the nutrition information (you can also invite your friends to add some healthy accountability). 


Keeping track of your expenses has proven to change the way you look at purchasing an item. In most people’s brains, the reward center lights up every time you contemplate a new purchase – which can lead to being impulsive. 

By tracking your finances, you are able to rewire your brain to think more logically about the expense and make smarter decisions. [1]

There are many financial tracking apps on the market today. I use Mint, but many others may work better for your needs listed here


Tracking your exercise progress is another great way to stay committed. Not only does keeping track of your exercise plan help you make it to the gym, but tracking your improvements is very intrinsically motivating. 

Seeing your progress – no matter the exercise – will motivate you to stay on track. 

Again, nothing fancy is necessary. This is my personal checklist which helps me keep track of my workouts. If you want something more advanced, here is a list of apps that can help you track your progress. 


It's hard to find enough hours in the day to get solid night of sleep. That is why finding ways to increase your sleep quality can make a big difference. 

There are now apps out there that can track the quality of your sleep and offer suggestions that will help you get more out of the hours you can spend in bed. 

To get started here is a list of apps that you can use to help get a better rest. 


Finally, you can now monitor how much time you are spending productively.

With the invention of the internet, we continue to find unique ways to waste our time. However, by monitoring where that time is going, you can better understand how to deal with distractions. 

I personally use Toggl to track all of my time and review a summary at the end of the day. For other solutions, here is a list of the best apps to help you see where your time is going throughout the day.


The main reason that we do not want to let other people down is because we want their approval. We want them to see us living up to the high standards that we set for ourselves.

By monitoring our behavior, we subconsciously try to live up to these high standards as well. We can objectively see where we are and compare that to where we want to be. 

This may sound harsh, but what you are doing is keeping the best version of yourself in mind and subtly acting more like him or her. 

And we owe it to our friends, families and especially ourselves to strive to be the best we can be at all times.