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How Smartphone Apps Can Help You Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Want to get fit, meet financial goals or beat stress? Apps can help create habits

closeup of biking couple checking the cycling tracking app on a smartphone

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Whether you want to read more or spend less, reduce your weight or increase your steps, apps can help you turn your New Year’s resolutions into lasting habits.

To get started, head to the App Store if you’re an iPhone user or the Google Play store if you have an Android to download the apps that match your goals. And remember, persistence is key. Experts say it takes at least three weeks and as long as three months to make a new habit stick.

"You have to build up to your goal, otherwise you end up sabotaging yourself,” says Sharon Good, a New York-based life coach. Apps can help you gain traction in a few ways: Some ask you to log your daily progress toward a specific achievement; others connect you to a community of users. They also can offer creative ways to achieve goals you might otherwise avoid, for instance, by letting you practice a new language from home rather than traveling across town for a weekly class.

No matter the goal — or the app you use to get there — Good says that mindset is key. In other words, don't just tell yourself you should do something. Remind yourself why you want to in the first place.

Optimize your health

Eating smarter and exercising are classic resolutions that can be tricky to keep. For success, try a two-pronged approach: Download one app, such as My Fitness Pal, to track your calories and nutrition, and a separate exercise app, like Johnson & Johnson’s 7 Minute Workout, to follow along with professionally guided fitness routines.

Or take the time to get familiar with your phone’s preloaded fitness app, Apple Health for iPhones and Google Fit for Androids. These health hubs measure things like daily step count and sleep schedule and can be paired with wearables such as the Apple Watch or Google’s Wear OS Watch to measure heart rate, record workouts and more.

If you struggle to get motivated, something like the Charity Miles app offers an extra incentive. For every mile of “movement” — walking, biking, running and dancing are all fair game — the app’s sponsors will donate a small amount to your choice of charity. More than 50 are available so far. Family and friends can also sign on to sponsor you through the app’s “pledge page” feature.

Watch your wallet

Whether you want to track your retirement spending or set specific savings goals, apps like Mint or Personal Capital give you a bird’s-eye view of your finances from daily expenses to home loans to investment growth.

These secure apps let you link your cards, bank accounts and more to track spending and savings in real-time. Colorful charts and graphics make it easy to visualize your financial progress.

Conquer your reading list

Having trouble making a dent in the pile of books on your nightstand? An app like Goodreads can help.

Users compile reading lists, review and rate the books they finish, and scroll through customized recommendations. If you prefer audiobooks, consider the LibriVox Audio Books app, which offers unlimited access to more than 50,000 works of fiction and nonfiction in the public domain. Public library card holders also can sync their accounts to the Libby app to access their library’s collection of audiobooks and e-books from afar.

Learn more live and online

AARP’s free online classes can help you learn more about your smartphone, its capabilities and its apps.

• Senior Planet from AARP has live courses that can help you choose and use the best phone for you.

• AARP’s Virtual Community Center has a Tech Help area with interactive events that include smartphone use.

Learn a language

Whether you’re looking to pick up a new language or brush up on the basics of one you learned years ago, apps can help you boost your fluency and your brain health at the same time. For example, one study found that learning a second language as an adult delayed the onset of dementia by four to five years.

Options like Duolingo, which offers courses in more than two dozen languages, or Memrise, which features user-generated lessons, are a great way to fit in bite-sized practice sessions throughout the day.

Remake your space

If you’re itching to redecorate or declutter your home, apps can help you at each stage of the process. Get started by taking an inventory and purging old items with an app like Byebye, a tracking and marketplace app for all kinds of home goods from tech gadgets to kitchenware.

Once you’re ready to redesign, interior design apps like Homestyler and Planner5D can help you visualize everything from a totally new floor plan to what an upgraded couch or carpet would look like.

Clear your mind

Hoping to feel less stressed in the new year? Meditation isn’t just a mood enhancer.

When practiced regularly, research shows that it offers a host of health benefits, from increasing pain tolerance to lowering blood pressure. All you need to get started is an app like Calm or Headspace, which offer guided meditations on a variety of themes, such as sleep or anxiety, to help you achieve mindfulness in minutes.

Travel hassle free

If you've resolved to take the trip of your dreams in 2022, you're not alone. More than half of American adults say they’re planning on taking a vacation of at least one overnight stay before the end of next year, according to a recent AAA poll.

The Kayak and Skyscanner apps make it easy to pinpoint the best deals on airfare, hotels and rental cars on the go. Planning apps like PackPoint, which generates a custom packing list based on factors like your itinerary and destination weather, and TripIt, for easy access to your master itinerary, take care of the rest.

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Log your progress

Once you're set up to accomplish individual goals, don't stop there. Download a habit-tracking app like HabitBull or Way of Life to log daily progress toward all of your resolutions and maintain that January momentum all year long.

And if you find yourself losing steam, don't panic. “Very often when you’re making a change, you’re going to lose consistency for a while,” Good says. “Don't let that discourage you. Start again."

This article, originally published on January 2, 2019, was updated to reflect current app availability and new information about health and home decorating apps. 

Sarah Elizabeth Adler joined as a writer in 2018. Her pieces on science, art and culture have appeared in The Atlantic, where she was previously an editorial fellow, California magazine and elsewhere.

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