10+ tools to create or break habits

When you recognize you need to change, it’s profound. You’ve paid attention to yourself and the world around you. And you’ve admitted that things could be better, that you need to start or stop a habit. Not all of us are willing to do that, so take one giant step forward. Still, it can be easy to stop there. Heck, creating plans that we don’t act on can become a bad habit in itself!

Enter the digital age. Every day, it seems, there is a new app or device aimed at helping us stop this or start that. We believe these kinds of tools can enhance motivation, help cement new patterns, and sometimes even provide insight (that’s why we created Unstuck). The key is finding the right one.

To come up with our short list of 10 habit-building tools (including a book), we put out a call to you, the Unstuck community. Then we plucked some of our favorites, mixed them together, and sifted through for what we feel are the most helpful. We’ve grouped our picks into the four methods we humans respond best to when it comes to creating good habits: String on the Finger, Buddy System, Gold Star Approach, and Eye Openers. If you’ve found a system that works that we didn’t include, please share in the comments.

The String on the Finger method creates cues or triggers to remind you. Sometimes all we need is a well-timed message to keep us on track. Better than a smeared note on your palm, a reminder app alerts without fail again and again and again until the activity becomes rote.

1. Due. This app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac lets you set up repeatable time-based alerts for anything: take a vitamin, mingle with your staff, call your mother, find time to think. We like the simple, thoughtful design that makes it quick to set and organize your alerts. Localized for 16 languages.

$4.99 in the iTunes store.

2. Checkmark.  When it’s more about where than when, this iPhone app uses smartphone check-in technology so you can set reminders based on where you are. Get the alert when you hit the location or schedule it to go off for a set time afterward. A good foil if you’re easily distracted.
$4.99 in the iTunes store.

3. Walgreens app. You don’t have to be a Walgreens customer to use the medication reminder function of the drugstore chain’s app, but you might want to be. In addition to reminding you to take your pills (especially good for multiple pills at different times), the app lets you order prescription refills and transfer prescriptions to Walgreens.
Free for iPhone and Android phones.

The Buddy System provides us with support and accountability from other people. It’s the reason we announce our accomplishments on Facebook. We all want to be successful in the eyes of others, and there is an immense strength we can get from community.

4. Lift. This community-based app for iPhone and web lets you join targeted groups, where you declare your goal, track progress, root for others, and get rooted for too. The largest group is nearly 80,000 people who want to exercise, but you can find all kinds of smaller niches as well, like Work Hard/Don’t Procrastinate, Help a Stranger, and Hula Dancing.
Recommended by an Unstuck reader.
Free for iPhone and web: https://lift.do/

5. sparkpeople.com The elder statesman of our list, this website aimed at reducing pounds offers robust ways to connect with people: one-on-one talks, member-supplied tips, goal-based groups, challenges, success stories, member blogs, and traditional message boards. You can track your weight loss on the site as well, but we’re most impressed by the sense of camaraderie.
Free on the web: http://www.sparkpeople.com/

The Gold Star Approach rewards or punishes based on performance, in these two cases with money. Fear can be a powerful incentive.

6. Gympact. This mobile app makes you put your money on the line when it comes to exercising. You decide how often you want to work out and how much you’ll pay, via credit card, if you don’t keep up your end of the deal. Each time you do exercise, you get about 40 cents, collected from the people who didn’t.
Free for iPhone and Android phones.

7. Stickk. When you set your goal (doesn’t matter what it is), essentially you wager that you will achieve it (though the money incentive is optional). If you don’t succeed, your cash goes to a friend, a charity of your choosing, or a charity that you despise. You invite a “referee” to monitor your progress, and if you want friendly support, you can invite your friends to cheer you on.
Free on the web: http://www.stickk.com/

Eye Openers are those big and little revelations that motivate you to change. But these perspective shifts aren’t so easy to come by. Here are three resources that inform in a way that refreshes your point of view and spurs you closer to your goal.

8. Tiny Habits. Created by Stanford professor BJ Fogg, this five-day email course coaches you to achieve goals without relying on willpower or motivation. You practice the method with three small goals to learn how habits are formed so you can apply it in other areas of your life. Professor Fogg checks in with you via email each night to follow your progress.
Recommended by an Unstuck reader.
Free: http://tinyhabits.com/

9. The Power of Habit. Charles Duhigg’s bestselling book reframes the struggle to create better habits into a conversation about the underlying motivations of our actions. Sometimes achieving success is a matter of learning how the process works.
About $15: http://charlesduhigg.com/

10. Jawbone Up Band.  A wristband that is worn at all times, Up collects data on your sleep patterns and steps walked in a day. You also can log your daily mood and food intake. The band connects with an app (iPhone and Android) to display your activity visually and offer healthful suggestions. Once you see what your habits are, the daily tracking motivates you to improve them.
$130 for band, free app: https://jawbone.com/up
Recommended by an Unstuck reader.

PRINTABLE TIP CARD #8: 4 systems and 10 tools to change a habit

More Unstuck Advice

5 easy ways to trick yourself into saving money Many of us have felt the stress of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Ideally, we’re supposed to have the financial wiggle room to set aside money for b...
Flex toward your goals with this strengths worksheet This post is Step 6 of Unstuck's 30-Day Habit Builder. Please find all the content here. You can sign up for the free email program here.  The ...
Adjust your goals to avoid getting stuck This post is Step 9 of Unstuck's 30-Day Habit Builder. Please find all the content here. You can sign up for the free email program here.  When...