I have a lot of things I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. Some of them are really small things (like learning to make hashbrowns, a breakfast food that has confounded me for years) and some are really big, like learning to live a more minimalist life.
In the past, I have begun each new year with great intentions but found following through really difficult—like many of those who create goals for the new year.
I think that’s because change is hard. We all want to improve and become better people — healthier, more productive, a better partner or friend. But it can be tough to stick to new behaviors.
So this year, I decided to get a little help from technology and research around the ideas of habit formation and willpower. By examining things like how smokers quit, why student perform well and how New Year’s resolvers stay on track, researchers are starting to discover how we can create lasting change in our lives.
The key? Habits. Good habits, it seems, are the crucial building blocks of a better, healthier, happier way of life.
But where do good habits come from? How do you create them?
Building an awesome habit
- Start so small you can’t fail
- Work on the small habit for as long as it takes to become a ritual (something you’re pulled towards, rather than which requires willpower)
- Make a very small addition to the habit, ideally anchored to an existing ritual
So it seems getting a little help building that initial habit could help a lot. Fortunately, there are tons of great tools and apps out there that want to lend a hand.
Here’s a look at some of the best free tools and apps I could find for building stronger habits.
Apps and tools to build strong habits
The concept is simple: You pledge $21 that says you’ll keep up your new habit for 21 days, the time it takes to ingrain it as a habit. Each day you succeed, you get $1 back. Each day you fail, you forfeit $1, which 21habit donates to one of several charities.
A simple tool for tracking your daily goals and keeping a log of your daily activities. Templates are provided for tracking all sorts of activities and habits, and you can also create your own custom goals. Data you collect is displayed in the style of chart you specify.
Beeminder puts a little sting into habit formation by requiring you to pay up if you aren’t able to keep your goals. You commit to pay something — initially $5 — after the first time you get off track with your new habit.
This motivational tool uses the “don’t break the chain” method to help build good habits and break bad ones. Each day you complete a task you want to keep up, a visual streak grows. Bonus: There’s also an iPhone app for on-the-go habit-building.
Whether you would like to tally a day or a year, Daytum helps you collect and visualize the most important statistics in your life—whatever they might be—and create an up-to-the-moment personal dashboard. Also has a companion iOS app!
This site definitely doesn’t mince words! Nor does it shy away from its goal—helping you create new habits through accountability. All you need to get started is a goal, a deadline, some money and someone to act as your witness. If you don’t meet your deadline, there goes your cash.
This site is designed around accountability—a proven motivator in creating new habits. There are daily check-ins and progress reports, and a community to encourage you. You can even join or build a team of others working on the same thing as you.
Set simple reminders to be sent through your choice of email or text.
This web app first focuses on core values and then breaks them down into smaller goals and habits, with tons of visual progress reports. Also cool is the “Dreams” feature, where you can create and add to your lifelong “bucket list.”
So this one is not quite a habit builder, but still too cool not to mention! Momentum is a personal dashboard designed to eliminate distraction and provide inspiration, focus, and productivity. Choose your goal or focus for the day and Momentum will gently remind you of it each time you go to open a new tab.
stickK focuses on incentives, accountability and community to help you keep up your habits. Each user creates a unique Commitment Contract to achieve goals within a particular timeframe. If you are unsuccessful, stickK lets your friends know about it. You can also put money on the line for any contract.
BJ Fogg has studied human behavior for 20 years. His TinyHabits is a free, ongoing 5-day session in which you learn about habits, select 3 new habits you want and respond to a daily email. In less than 30 minutes total, he promises skills that will benefit you for a lifetime.
Both iOS and Android apps
Life’s a game with HabitRPG, which rewards you for completing tasks and goals with gold, points, progress and more features. If you don’t complete tasks, your can loses health or even die and lose the progress you’ve made. You can also add friends to your group for community and accountability.
I have really enjoyed using Lift. The app does a great job is facilitating habits by breaking them down into small pieces and getting you into a routine. Check in when you complete goals of your choosing (popular ones include floss, run, meditate and more). For almost every habit there’s a great Q&A going on and an expert-led group that can help you come up with achievable goals.
A simple way to celebrate daily successes that also creates motivation you may not even know you had. It starts you out with 50 suggested activities, so you’ll easily be able to find a new goal to work toward. Choose the ones that are right for you, or add your own to create your individual happiness list. Balanced gives you positive feedback, lets you know if you are on a streak, and keeps you aware of when you last did each activity.
Another “don’t break the chain” habit builder based on Jerry Seinfeld’s famous advice— with an added visual emphasis.
Need a wake-up call and a habit builder? HabitClocks not only wakes you up but also helps you perform morning routines that will improve your daily mood and productivity.
If you want more control over how to create and track your habits, Loggr could be the answer. This app allows you to track, quantify, view and export any data—you choose what’s important to you.
An easy way to keep track of your time and activities in order to get more insight into your behavior patterns. Reminders adjust to your behavior, and progress bars show the time until your next reminder.
Get the data you need to build better habits with Way of Life, which seems to track your habits in every visual way possible. As you collect more and more information, the idea is that you will be able to easily spot positive and negative trends in your lifestyle.
A habit-building app that focuses first on creating an awesome morning routine and then add other rituals to install healthy habits and mindfulness in your life. Users get tips for healthy living and a coach to motivate you to go further.
HabitBull lets you set reminders for each habit and displays them on days when you need to be successful, so you can use it as a to-do list, a calendar planning tool or checklist or a repeating reminder. Try to get a long streak for the habit you are working on by covering your goals—the longer the better!
Pledge will remind you to do tasks you often neglect and highlight streaks and high scores so that you stay motivated and can focus on your goals. It also promises to “slightly judge you” if you don’t keep your promises, in case you might find that motivational.
I’m excited to try more of these tools to help me build strong habits in the new year and beyond. Maybe one of them could work for you, too!
As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit.”
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