Gerard Westhoff looks at how you can use tech to stick to your new year’s resolutions
The mince pies are all gone, you’re fed up of eating turkey, and you’ve recently consumed your own body weight in chocolate. Christmas is over, the New Year is fast approaching, and it’s time for some self-reflection on the year gone by. What went well for you? What needs improving? And what areas of your life need a complete overhaul?
Every January 1st, millions upon millions of people around the world set themselves New Year’s resolutions – promises to themselves of self-improvement, or actions of generosity to others. But also every year, the majority of people fail in their resolutions. They’ve had a cheeky cigarette by January 2nd, left their gym membership forgotten by mid-January, and regressed back into watching Netflix alone in bed every Friday night by the start of February (not that there’s anything wrong with that, who can resist a House of Cards marathon?). A 2007 survey by British psychologist, Richard Wiseman, found that 88% of resolutions end in failure, whilst an Australian study last year found that the key reasons people state for failing in their objectives are, 35% unrealistic goals, 33% not keeping track of progress, and 23% simply forgetting about them.
In the face of these forlorn statistics on their success, how can you motivate yourself to stick to your resolutions? Well, these days everyone and their grandma has a smartphone, and it just so happens that there are plenty of free apps to help you achieve almost every desired goal you can think of.
Losing weight and improving fitness is one of the most common resolutions people set, especially after the gastronomic overindulgences of Christmas, and it is also one of the most widely failed. What you need to stick to this objective is a clear goal – simply buying a gym membership won’t cut it. That’s where the NHS Couch to 5k programme come in. Available in either podcast or app form, the nine-week programme helps even the most slothful of couch potatoes progress from no running experience, to being able to run for 30 minutes non-stop.
Already got a decent base fitness but in need of motivation to progress to the next level? Then Strava is the app for you. Strava uses your phone’s GPS capabilities to track your runs or cycle rides, in order to help you analyse and track your performance improvements. It lets you connect, and share your activities, with friends and other athletes around the world, comparing your times over particular ‘segments’ of your activity – providing that extra competitive incentive to work those legs a little harder on that last stretch of road.
Definitely do not download the Be At One app. With the two for £10 ‘appy hour’ drinks offer it provides, I find the temptation of a Boston Tea Party cocktail a constant struggle…
But in all serious, get the Drinkaware app. You use the app to record each time you have an alcoholic drink, and it tots up the financial and calorific cost your habit is incurring – and it will surprise you how large these costs are over the course of a term. It analyses your drinking trends, telling you whether your alcohol intake is increasing or not over time, providing a natural incentive to cut down.
Making the most of university
After the initial burst of nights out and society events attended at the start of first term, by Christmas the weariness has inevitably hit in and your life begins to revolve purely around the library and your bedroom. But at the start of a new term and New Year, it’s time to make the effort once again, and you can do that with the organisational help of Houndly. Missed that interesting public lecture as you hadn’t seen it advertised? Not sure when UCLU societies are holding their big socials? Then Houndly is the app for you. Founded last year by UCL engineering student, Gameli Ladzekpo, Houndly collates and lists all the events happening around campus, helping you to better explore UCL’s vast range of fun and thought-provoking happenings.
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Learn something new
Want to learn a new language? Check out Duolingo, which helps teach you your language of choice in a fun, game-like, addictive way. Its lessons come in bite-size chunks, perfect for slotting in for five minutes on your bus to uni. Similar to Duolingo, but more focused on vocabulary learning, is Memrise. It operates on a points-reward basis like Duolingo, but somehow makes the learning even more easy and playful. Plus, Memrise has the added function of helping you learn anything. From the capital cities of the world, to the first 150 digits of Pi, the app is a genuinely fantastic resource for the general knowledge addicts amongst us.
Be more productive
Ever find yourself sitting down to work, then only lasting five minutes before you check Facebook on your phone? Then you need Forest. The app visualises your set chunk of work time, for example 30 minutes, as a sapling growing into a tree. Leave the app to procrastinate before the 30 minutes is up and your tree will die. Tragic I know. Work harder for longer, without touching your phone, and you will soon create a ‘forest’. It’s a simple concept, but surprisingly effective.
For an alternative to Forest’s hands-off-your-phone approach, you may want to check out Habitica. Habitica turns your life into an RPG game – with experience points and gold coins rewarding you for reinforcing good habits and achieving your to-do lists, and loss of health points punishing you for bad habits. You can then use your gold coins to either buy in game items, like clothes for your avatar, or to purchase real life rewards, rations of things like TV shows that you allow yourself to watch for being productive.
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