More than 80 percent of people fail at their New Year’s resolutions by mid-February, and while everyone certainly has their own contributing factors, there is one really big reason at the root of it all: Most people set bad resolutions.
But it is possible to set good ones.
New Year’s resolutions are, in essence, goals, which means they should be set like goals, not vague, wishy-washy hopes. The key to setting good goals is to make then SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-constrained. In other words, your resolutions should be clearly defined, challenging but within your reach, possible to achieve with everything you have going on right now, and with a firm time-limit attached. If you want to write a book next year, your resolution shouldn’t be to write a book—it should be to write 1,000 words (specific, measurable, achievable, a realistic commitment) a week (time constrained) until you’re done with a first draft.
Once you set resolutions like this, they get a lot easier to stick to—especially when you use the right apps to keep you on track. Whatever your resolution, there are tools available to make it easier to achieve.
Build a Habit
Whether you want to make your bed, brush your teeth, cook more often, or hit the gym three times a week, building a habit requires commitment—and an app to track it can really help.
The idea behind Streaks is super simple—the more often you’ve successfully completed a habit in the past and built a “streak,” the harder it is to break it. It’s easy to configure, seamless to use, and best of all, looks good.
Price: $5 each for the iOS and Mac apps
Way of Life
Way of Life takes things even further than Streaks. As well as building up “chains,” each habit gets a journal so you can take notes on how things are going, and there are also detailed analytics so you can see how well you’re sticking to your goals.
Price: Free to track up to three habits; $6 for Premium and unlimited habit tracking
Run (any Distance)
During the pandemic, running boomed. With gyms and fitness studios closed, what were people to do except jog like it was 1979? If you’re looking to join the latest incarnation of the original fitness trend, there are a few apps for you.
If you haven’t run since you were a kid, it can be genuinely terrifying to get started. Running can be really uncomfortable—especially if you push yourself too hard at the start.
That’s where Couch to 5K comes in: it’s an eight-week plan that gets you from sitting on your couch to running (or walk-running) your first 5K in three 30-minute workouts per week. While you don’t need an app to follow along, C25K Trainer makes it even easier to stick to by guiding you through each run and tracking your route, distance, and pace.
Price: Free, with in-app purchases to remove ads and add features like Apple Watch support
Privacy concerns aside, Strava is the best app for tracking your runs. You can set weekly, monthly, and annual mileage targets (which make for good New Year’s resolutions) and share your results with your friends. For motivation, there are also leaderboards for different segments (though I’m much too slow to have ever made it on a decent one).
Price: Free; $8/month for Premium with most of the good features.
Learn to Meditate
Meditation is one of those awful things that lots of people smugly tell you is wonderful, and then you cynically try it and are forced to admit they were right. It’s not fair that it works as well as it does and, really, the toughest part by far is starting.
Calm is the app that taught me to meditate. The free Seven Days of Calm course was enough to get me through almost all my objections. I’ve been using it pretty much daily for three years (and now have a bit of a crush on Tamara Levitt, the main meditation guide).
Price: Some free resources, but really $70/year (though you can get it cheaper with one weird hack!!!)
Headspace is the other big meditation app. In many respects it's easier to use than Calm, as there are more courses and you have more control over the length of the meditation sessions.
Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t stand the soothing English accent of Andy Puddicombe, the founder and one of the main meditation teachers when I tried it. The service now has more teachers, so maybe you won’t have the same issue.
Price: Some resources free, but $13/month for most features
Keep a Journal
Journalling is one of those habits that best to build before you need it. If you can’t journal your way through the good times, it’s impossible to journal your way through the bad times.
Five Minute Journal
If you are just getting started, there’s only one app to recommend: The Five Minute Journal takes, well, five minutes to do. You answer a few questions about how you feel and what you want to achieve in the morning, a few more about how your day went in the evening, and that’s it.
But simple as it may be, it really works.
I know some people for whom the Five Minute Journal was a literal lifesaver, but things don’t need to be bad for it to be useful. I love just using it to keep track of how everything is going in my life. It’s the quickest, easiest-to-stick-with journal I’ve ever kept (and I’ve kept quite a few).
Price: Free for most features; Premium for $5/month
If you want more of a traditional, write-anything-you-want kind of journal, we love Day One. It’s beautiful and gives you a private space to record your thoughts. I’ve used it for years to tackle big questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” and “Why do Chicagoans get away with calling deep dish ‘pizza’?”
The big downside, if you’re new to journaling, is that you start off with a blank page that you then have to fill with your largely unprompted thoughts. There are daily questions (“Write about a recent movie you enjoyed?” or “How is your relationship with your father?”) and templates you can use, but you still have to bring a bit more discipline to the process.
Price: Free for one device and most basic features; Premium for $35/year with multiple journals and devices
Whatever your resolutions are, no matter how weird or offbeat, if you make it SMART you’re far more likely to succeed. And if none of the apps above are going to help your goals, look around. There’s sure to be one that can make things easier for you.
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