According to scientists, we’re terrible at keeping New Year’s resolutions. Shocker, I know, kind of like that thing you’re always hearing bears do in the woods. “Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource,” wrote Jonah Lehrer in a 2009 Wall Street Journal piece canvassing our cerebral proclivities — or lack thereof.
I can relate. I’ve never kept a New Year’s resolution much past that first week or two. What’s that Homer Simpson quote? “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try.” I’m not that despondent about annual self-betterment oaths, I just don’t think an arbitrary date’s the best way to recalibrate. Pick a date, any date, and if you’ve mentally girded yourself for the task ahead, it’ll do.
But okay, maybe your 2013 was long and arduous and you’re here looking for encouraging words, or how about just a round of encouraging apps to give you some 2014 guidance? Here’s a getcha-started rundown based on a Harris Poll of the 10 most common New Year’s resolutions, to help with your stab at post-festivities asceticism.
Addendum: Don’t try all or even a handful of these at once if you want to make headway. As Lehrer puts it, “Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once.” So before you throw stuff like triple-thick shakes and buckets of cheese-dipped fried chicken or smoking, binge shopping trips and piles of household bric-a-brac under the bus in a kind of self-improvement surfeit, maybe start with just one of the apps from the list below and give it the old college try. And if all else fails, remember what Oscar Wilde supposedly said: Everything in moderation — including moderation!
The obligatory weight loss app of the bunch, this one’s available free for iOS and Android (as well as Nook, Kindle or any computer browser). It’s essentially a calorie tracker wrapped inside an elegant interface — its chief selling point, in my view — that includes category-based goal-making, customizable challenges, a food barcode scanner, optional social links for peer support and a mammoth backend database that includes “thousands of restaurant, grocery store, and brand-name foods.” The free version covers fitness essentials, but if you’re looking for more granularity, $40 a year gets you “premium” extras, including support for additional health metrics and compatible fitness devices.
Get your personal finances in order (for iOS and Android), and note that “in order” can mean simply paying attention to what’s going on, which is where budget-only apps fall down. I’ve tinkered with all the major finance management apps over the years, from Microsoft Money and Quicken to online web one-offs and roll-my-own spreadsheets. Mint’s the best thing I’ve encountered, hands down. It’ll plug into any account — banking to credit cards to investments — auto-categorize transactions (though it sometimes needs a helping hand), and then auto-collate everything in easy-to-read graphs. It also lets you create any type of budget and — crucially — lets you disable access remotely with the click of a Mint.com account button, in the event you lose your device.
I’m a longtime runner, so with apologies, I’m going to bias the “exercise more” category slightly — I’d rather evangelize what I know than toss out something superficially all-encompassing. Runmeter’s selling point is its gorgeous interface and detailed cross-relational info screens, giving you everything you’d want (and more), from its real-time map to calories burned to pace-per-mile to elevation changes to historical aggregation — all in easy swiping distance. You’ll have to spend $5 a year to add trend analysis, check traffic or download additional voice types, and note that Runmeter is iOS-only, so if you’re looking for an Android alternative, my previous favorite was MapMyRun.
Need a job? Want a new one? Job Search (free for iOS and Android) is the highest rated tool on Apple’s and Google’s app stores, letting you sort by relevance or date, GPS-related location as well as jobs that support applications directly from a mobile device.
If you want to eat healthier, you need to know what’s actually in whatever you’re buying, which is where Fooducate comes in. It lets you scan product barcodes to conjure letter grades (A to D) based, according to TIME health writer Alexandra Sifferlin, “on an algorithm developed by nutritionists and dietitians, which takes into account the nutritional density of each food.” This one’s free for iOS and Android.
So much of stress management — relaxing, meditating, shifting your attitude in the moment and so forth — hinges on how you manage something as deceptively simplistic and autonomic as breathing. Breathe2Relax is a free app for iOS and Android focused on diaphragmatic breathing techniques designed to “decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management.”
Surely the most difficult resolution to keep, quitting smoking probably qualifies as the most impactful. QuitSTART is a free app for iOS and Android created by the Tobacco Control Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute and endorsed by Smokefree.gov that’ll help you “track your cravings and moods, monitor your progress toward achieving smokefree milestones, identify your smoking triggers, and upload personalized ‘pick me ups’ and reminders to use during challenging times to help you successfully become and stay smokefree.”
No really, Facebook. No app’s going to help you improve a relationship by itself — robo-reminders and box-checking lists aren’t the way to go if we’re talking about meaningful interaction — and since Facebook’s the de facto social network (for better or worse), consider this: Instead of abandoning Facebook in a fit of post-hipterist pique, how about just pruning your friends list? Mine was pushing 1,000 a year-and-a-half ago, when my son was born, most of that tally people I’d never met. Now it’s down to a few hundred strong: actual friends and relatives only. Improving relationships online is really about curation and having the time to focus…again, assuming we’re talking about meaningful interaction.
This could just as well be something native, like iOS and OS X’s native “Reminders” tool if you’re self-disciplined enough to use it consistently, but since a lot of day to day work is still done in browsers, and the most popular browser at the moment is Google’s Chrome, consider giving Strict Workflow a shot. It’s a freebie “time management strategy” plugin based on the Pomodoro Technique that bids you tap a tomato at 30 minute intervals: you work for 25 of those 30, distraction-free — the app blocks access to popular sites (and you can add others) — then reward yourself with a five minute break.
The Harris Poll’s final New Year’s resolution pick, “take a break,” feels like double-dipping, since there’s already a stress management category, so let’s have some fun: We’ve all at one time or another been at a movie theater, beholding some mind-blowing sequence, when nature calls. RunPee, $0.99 for iOS, Android and Windows phones, will “tell you the best time to run and pee during a movie without missing the best scenes.” Give yourself — and your overworked bladder — the break it deserves in 2014, all the movie-year long.