Stories & Features

How technology can help you stick to your resolutions

Image of a runner wearing a smart watch
Technology like smart watches can help you track your progress towards your New Year's resolutions.

Get a leg up on your 2020 goals with technology, from smart watches to helpful apps

The numbers on New Year's resolutions are enough to make you gag on your bubbly. An often-cited study by the University of Scranton puts the success rate of reaching a New Year's goal at 8%, and the rate of sticking to a resolution at less than 20%. Another study suggests that most people abandon their resolution by – wait for it – January 12.

The good news is that technology can help. Tracking progress toward goals, and making your quest more enjoyable and interesting, can improve your chances of sticking with it. Start by choosing a resolution that's not so much aspirational as it is valuable and achievable. And for inspiration, read the medium.com story The Crossroads of Should and Must, which builds a case for starting to choose "must" over "should" as a way of delivering on your dreams and potential.

Here are some ideas of how technologies can help you deliver on the "musts" in your life.

I must be better with my money

Probably the most common New Year's resolution is around financial management, especially for those of us who somehow break the cardinal rule of carrying a balance on one or more credit cards. A recent Globe & Mail examination of StatsCan data sounded the alarm that Canadians are saving at the lowest rate in six decades and that many aren't equipped for that so-called rainy day.

Staying on budget could be as simple as using an app on your smartphone to regularly track what you're making and what you're spending. Among the most popular apps is Intuit's Mint app, which categorizes and tallies what you're spending – via links to your credit and debit cards – against a budget you set. A more involved (and far pricier) option is You Need a Budget, which has won over converts (who refer to it as YNAB) with its mix of budgeting, debt payment, and learning features.

I must be more physically active and eat better

Fitness trackers are to 2020 what the 20-minute workout was to 1983, the Bowflex was to 1986, and the Wii Fit to 2008. They are all the rage, can really help you get more active, and there are models that fit a wide variety of lifestyles and needs.

Among Wired.com's picks for 2019 are the FitBit Versa Lite, the Xiaomi Mi Band 3, the Apple Watch Series 3 and 5, the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, and the Fossil Sport Smartwatch.

If your key focus is nutrition, several meal tracker apps offer smartwatch support, including the MyPlate Calorie Tracker for both Android and iOS. Kick off your resolution with a low-tech primer, a deep dive into the totally reborn Canada Food Guide and its startling new image that shows half the plate covered by veggies and fruit.

I must reduce my home energy bills

There are a lot of things you can do to reduce your home energy bills, including these 21 low-cost tips from BC Hydro, but you're going to learn a lot by tracking your electricity use.

Start by creating an online account at bchydro.com and using MyHydro tools to see your electricity use right down to the day and hour, and compare it against similar homes and against outside temperature. If you want real-time monitoring of your home's electricity use, try the Rainforest Eagle 200 energy monitor, which allows you to use your smartphone or other web-enabled devices to see what you're using in both kilowatt-hours and in cost.

I must get more sleep

According to a StatsCan survey released in 2017, nearly 50% of Canadians between 18 and 64 reported trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. The risks associated with not getting enough sleep include obesity, heart disease, injuries, depression, and irritability. Not surprisingly, a lot of us choose it as a resolution.

Sleep tracking is one option for those struggling to sleep well, and tracking is widely available on fitness trackers including several FitBit and Garmin models. If you don't want to wear something while you sleep, try a bed sensor such as the iFit Sleep HR, which slips under your mattress. And if you're willing to spend big to get out ahead of the curve, be one of the first to try the UrgoNight sleep trainer, designed to train your brain to increase brainwaves associated with sleep.

In addition to tracking, start with some of the simplest ways to help you sleep better, such as:

  • Night light and blue light filters on your phone and other devices. Schedule them to kick in at sunset to reduce the amount of blue light – which tricks your brain into thinking it's still daytime – you're exposed to.
  • Dimming lights in your home, by manually turning off most lights and dimming others. If you've got it, use smart home technology and/or bulbs to schedule dimming each night.
  • Adding LED night lights to your bathrooms so that you don't wake yourself up by turning on a light in the middle of the night.
  • Avoiding all screens, including smartphones, laptops, and the TV, an hour before bedtime.
  • White noise or calming sounds in the bedroom, via a Google Home or Alexa smart speaker. It's as simple as saying "Alexa, play crashing surf sounds" and following it with "Alexa, stop in 25 minutes".
  • Lowering your thermostat, either manually or by programming it. Research shows that optimal sleep for most people is a range between 16°C and 18°C, which will also save energy and lower your heating bills by as much as 10 per cent. BC Hydro has run trials in recent years as new thermostats specifically designed for baseboards, including the Mysa Smart, Sinopé Line Voltage, and Stelpro Maestro, which allow you to adjust heating settings from other internet-connected devices, such as a laptop or smartphones.

I must drink less alcohol

While cleansing the body of alcohol is now a popular part of the post-party season detox routine, it's better to make lower alcohol consumption the norm throughout the year. One weapon in that quest is an alcohol tracker app such as DrinkControl (iOS) and AlcoDroid (Android), which you can use to track what you drink, how much alcohol and calories you're ingesting, and how much those drinks are costing you.

I must stick to learning the guitar

More than 90% of us who try to learn the guitar quit within the first year, but technology is stepping up to make things easier and more fun.

Your first hurdle might be tuning your guitar in the first place. The best option is to buy a digital tuner, such as the popular D'Addario NS Micro Tuner, which attaches to the front or back of your guitar's headstock for easy tuning. But there are also some cheap and effective online tuner options such as Fender Tune, an app that detects notes from acoustic guitars and amplified electrics, and offers auto tune, chromatic, and manual tune modes.

There's nothing quite like in-person lessons from a quality teacher to keep you on track and to deliver personalized instruction. But there's also a plethora of online lessons, including five sites recommended by guitarfella.com.

I must allow my kid(s) some independence

In a world of helicopter parents, there's a movement to give kids more freedom and independence to have fun (and to make mistakes) without the intervention of mom or dad. The "free-range kids" phenomenon is a product of a popular book by New Yorker Lenore Skenazy, who famously allowed her 9-year-old to ride the subway alone.

It's an idea that both fascinates and terrifies parents. One device that can help you kick off a childhood of independence is the coolpad Dyno smartwatch, which comes with a SIM card for phone calls and closely tracks the wearer – and even creates geographic-specific zones – while allowing for instant SOS messages with parents. The watch's app ensures your child's access only to approved contacts, and allows parents to monitor multiple Dynos.

I must make swimming part of my fitness routine

If you really want to get in great shape, swimming might be the best option as it combines excellent aerobic fitness with core and muscle strengthening in an activity that's easier on the body than most other sports.

It's also one of the toughest to stick to – just ask a triathlete. One problem is access (it's just easier to go for a run or a bike ride) but the real enemy is boredom. Enter the AfterShokz Xtrainerz conduction headphone, which is literally music to the ears of the many who had struggled to get into, and stay in, the pool. It's new this year and pricey, but it's getting some solid early reviews.