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Have New Year’s resolutions? These apps help you achieve them

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Jose Luis Pelaez | Getty Images

With the start of a new year, many are setting lofty self-improvement goals that will soon be abandoned. But there are apps that can help you stick to your resolutions.

One of my goals this year is to control how much I use my phone — to resist constantly looking at all the notifications that pop up from my apps. So I'm using the Forest app to help, and it's surprisingly fun.

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The idea is that you set a time during which you will resist all urges to check Facebook or email or play a game. Then Forest plants a "seed" on its screen for you. As your timer counts down, the seed grows into a full-fledged tree or bush, rewarding you with cute graphics and a sense of achievement.

If you're tempted to move away from the app and you unlock your phone, Forest displays a cajoling message (which you can customize) telling you to put your phone back down. And if you do fail and switch to another app, your cute plant withers and dies and Forest tries to make you feel bad about it.

When you manage to finish the timer properly, you are rewarded with coins that you can use to unlock different types of trees in the app. There are analytics so you can track your forest growth achievements over time, and you can even compare your statistics to those of other users around the world.

Forest works well, and if your 2017 goal is to be more in the moment, ignore your phone and actually talk to your friends when you are with them, this is the app for you. It's $2 on iOS and free on Android.

Repeating a new habit is the trick to making it stick, but it is also difficult. HabitBull is designed to encourage you to stick to your new goals. This app is a habit tracker: You enter details of the habits you want to learn, and it keeps track of how well you are achieving them.

You can customize a list of habits, setting when you want to measure your achievements, and if each one is rated a success on a yes-or-no basis or by some sort of count (for example, I'm using it to track my goal of 10,000 daily steps).

To update the app you merely select your habit from the list, then tap on the calendar interface that pops up. It's very easy, and it can be rewarding to enter a daily update because it brings your new habits to mind.

The most interesting section of the app is the weekly report section, which shows you graphs on how well you are achieving your goals alongside a motivational image and an interface for the app's built-in discussion rooms. Here you can talk with other users and find out their motivational tricks.

The app has a minimal and good-looking interface, and the free version includes lots of features. You can pay to upgrade to the premium edition, which gives you extras like tracking 100 habits and syncing across different devices, but it costs $5. The app is helping me stick to my goals, though I have had to form a new habit of using the app itself. Luckily, HabitBull includes alerts and reminders. Available on iOS and Android.

If HabitBull doesn't appeal to you, check out Productive, which is a free iOS download. This app has similar features to HabitBull, but includes a slightly more modern-looking interface and icons to more easily identify each of your habits. Some of the app's features are locked down in the free version, however, and it costs $4 to unlock them.

Blinkist is an intriguing new app that encourages you to read more nonfiction books. The app contains cleverly written digests — called blinks — of many nonfiction titles, with each book broken down into a handful of pages that summarize the main arguments. It's a fun and fascinating way to discover new and interesting topics. (Did you know that Russia once tried to make natural rubber out of dandelions? I do now, thanks to a blink of a neat book about chemistry and history.)

Above all, Blinkist is fast. Because it takes only a minute or two to read a blink, it is great for coffee break entertainment. Plus, if a particular title interests you, the app contains links so you can buy the full text. Blinkist is free for three days, and then it costs $45 a year (which is expensive, but the app covers more than 1,000 books). It's on iOS and Android.

Finally, if your goal is to stay fit, the Zombies, Run! app is an enjoyable motivator. It combines traditional fitness tracking with audio stories and motivational goals that push you to run ahead of an advancing zombie horde. This app turns my jogging exercises into something much more exciting. Zombies, Run! is free on iOS and Android, but to have access to all features, it costs $3 a month.