I have a lot of things I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. Some of them are really small things (like learning to make hash browns, a breakfast food that has confounded me for years) and some are really big, like learning to live a more minimalist life.

In the past, I have begun each new year with great intentions but found following through really difficult—like many of those who create goals for the new year.

I think that’s because change is hard. We all want to improve and become better people—healthier, more productive, a better partner or friend. But it can be tough to stick to new behaviors.

So this year, I decided to get a little help from technology and research around the ideas of habit formation and willpower. By examining things like how smokers quit, why student perform well and how New Year’s resolvers stay on track, researchers are starting to discover how we can create lasting change in our lives.

The key? Habits. Good habits, it seems, are the crucial building blocks of a better, healthier, happier way of life.

But where do good habits come from? How do you create them?

BUILDING AN AWESOME HABIT

We’ve written about habits before on the blog. One of the most beneficial posts for me was Joel’s simple method to create a new habit:

  1. Start so small you can’t fail
  2. Work on the small habit for as long as it takes to become a ritual (something you’re pulled towards, rather than which requires willpower)
  3. Make a very small addition to the habit, ideally anchored to an existing ritual

So it seems getting a little help building that initial habit could help a lot. Fortunately, there are tons of great tools and apps out there that want to lend a hand.

Here’s a look at some of the best free tools and apps I could find for building stronger habits. If I didn’t discover your favorite tool, add it in the comments and keep our list growing!

APPS AND TOOLS TO BUILD STRONG HABITS

Web apps

21 Habit

The concept is simple: You pledge $21 that says you’ll keep up your new habit for 21 days, the time it takes to ingrain it as a habit. Each day you succeed, you get $1 back. Each day you fail, you forfeit $1, which 21habit donates to one of several charities.

42Goals

A simple tool for tracking your daily goals and keeping a log of your daily activities. Templates are provided for tracking all sorts of activities and habits, and you can also create your own custom goals. Data you collect is displayed in the style of chart you specify.

Beeminder

Beeminder puts a little sting into habit formation by requiring you to pay up if you aren’t able to keep your goals. You commit to pay something — initially $5 — after the first time you get off track with your new habit.

Chains.cc

This motivational tool uses the “don’t break the chain” method to help build good habits and break bad ones. Each day you complete a task you want to keep up, a visual streak grows. Bonus: There’s also an iPhone app for on-the-go habit-building.

Read the rest of the article here.