The follow-through on New Year's resolutions is dismal. It turns out that changing your habits is difficult and doesn't always feel good, especially when you need to do something you don't enjoy right now for the sake of a payoff months in the future. (Can you tell this writer has taken up running and then dropped it a few weeks later more than once?)
Making good on your New Year's resolutions would make you feel better about your life on multiple levels. But the process of actually making yourself do it is frustrating. Self-improvement may be simple, but it's hard. On the bright side, "hard" does not mean "impossible," and tools exist that can augment your willpower.
In fact, smartphones have enabled a golden era of willpower-augmentation tools. To make lifestyle changes that last, you should offload as much of the mental burden as possible onto technology.
Apps can enhance convenience and provide accountability, both of which are key to rebuilding your habits. Your tired, distracted future self needs it to be as easy as possible to make the right choices. And a lossless digital record of the changes you've made to your habits -- plus their impact, when that can be tracked -- will keep you from telling yourself white lies about phantom progress, as well as from getting discouraged by the feeling that you haven't accomplished much.
Chances are no matter which area of your life you're looking to upgrade, there are apps and other products that can help.
Want to lose weight? Track how many calories you consume using MyFitnessPal, which is free, or a more reliable paid service like Cronometer. As long as your body burns more fuel than you eat on a daily basis, you'll drop pounds over time. Buy a food scale and a human scale to ensure accuracy. Eyeballing portions leaves a lot of room for erroneous optimism. If regular weigh-ins stress you out, the app Happy Scale smooths out daily fluctuations.
Want to be more active? If you prefer a particular sport or type of exercise, there is almost certainly a specific app that caters to it. For generalists, the average smartphone comes with fitness and health software built in, along with an accelerometer than can track steps. A subscription service like Aaptiv can provide a huge library of pre-planned workouts, complete with upbeat music and motivational coaching.
Sleep occupies the gray area between physical and mental health -- it's an artificial divide anyway -- and default smartphone health software is often equipped to handle this aspect of your life too. But if you want to be even better rested, an app like Sleep Cycle is designed to optimize your wakeup time for your natural rhythms.
Speaking of the mind-body connection, meditation is an app-happy category, with entrants from Headspace to Calm to a variety of other soothingly named options. Mood-tracking with an app like Moodtrack Diary can get you more in touch with your energy levels on a day-to-day basis. Just recognizing you're in a funk can help you escape it or wait it out rather than, say, self-medicating with an entire pan of brownies. If you need professional counseling, there are numerous app-based services for that purpose too.
Finances and work
Aside from being healthier, the most popular New Year's resolutions cluster around professional success. Sometimes that means getting a promotion, a raise, or a better job, while sometimes it means being more productive on a day-to-day basis or getting more out of your paycheck.
Productivity is one of the richest app categories out there. You can try the Pomodoro method, which breaks your time up into short sections for work and rest. A to-do list app like Todoist can end up running your whole life, or you can use personal project-management software like Benjamin, or you can rely on work-oriented project-management software like Trello. Are you determined to meet more people in your field? Try a networking app like Shapr.
Want to save more? Try one of the numerous automated savings apps, such as Digit, which siphons money from your checking account into a special savings account in dribs and drabs, or Long Game, which takes the novel approach of having you pay into a savings account to play mobile casino games. Acorns will capture your digital spare change and automatically invest it.
Pretty much anything in your life
This is far from a complete list of all the self-improvement apps that could help your New Year's resolutions stay on track. (What if you want to learn a new language -- I haven't even mentioned Duolingo.) There are people who couldn't care less about their health but want to improve their relationships and social life, or their moral and spiritual life. Apps abound for those purposes as well.
An icon on your homescreen will never replace the need for willpower. But putting some structure in place around your goals will make them easier to accomplish, and that's the whole point here. The entrepreneurs who build apps like the ones mentioned above are invested in your stick-to-itiveness, and they've built entire businesses around helping you build the better version of yourself. Give it a try.