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Family Tech: Online Tools for Achieving Big Goals

Trying to make a big, positive change in your life like losing weight or improving family relationships? These handy web-based programs can help you get the job done.
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Jens Bonnke

Usually when a task becomes pressing—something kid-related, a work deadline, a home-improvement project—it goes on my to-do list and gets done. Rarely do loftier goals like "Lose 10 pounds" or "Get along better with my husband" make the cut. For those bigger-picture things, I just sort of hope. And flounder.

For 2011, I vowed a more proactive approach. Harnessing the power of technology, like I do in pretty much every other area of my life, would be key.

First up: A $20 program, The Power of Now, through HabitChanger.com. The site e-mails and texts me daily reminders to enjoy the present instead of dwelling on the past or future, a hang-up that makes it harder to peacefully coexist with my husband. So I just read the rather Zen e-mails as they arrived and did the easy, not-terribly-time-consuming mental exercises that were suggested.

And I changed.

For one thing I stopped trying to get Dan to alter his behavior, giving up on the idea that I could say something that would magically transform him. As The Power of Now puts it, "The greatest catalyst in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner, without needing to judge or change him or her... There are no victims and no perpetrators anymore, no accuser and accused."

And, astonishingly, it was that simple. Instead of counting how often I'd picked up his dirty socks and envisioning my future littered with same, I just threw them in the laundry without overthinking, or left them where they were. It was easier. We didn't argue. I even resisted (ironically, I thought) the urge to insist that he enroll in The Power of Now too.

So—could the Web also work on the 10 pounds I've been trying to lose forever? I signed up for HabitChanger's Losing Weight program ($30), which isn't a specific diet but aims to instill eating habits that pare pounds. For this elusive goal, I decided to raise the stakes.

At Stickk.com you put your money where your intentions are with a wager. I committed to losing 1 pound a week, then set up a "Stickk" so that if I fall short, the site hits my credit card for a $5 donation to a political organization with totally opposite beliefs from mine. The idea of giving this group my hard-earned cash is providing major incentive to exercise and lay off dessert. To keep me honest, I persuaded my 11-year-old daughter to be my referee. Now there's no way out unless I'm in my skinny jeans.

To up my odds of success, I use MyFoodDiary.com for logging meals and snacks. I thought the process would be a drag, but I actually enjoy it. When I have a good day—with sodium, fat, and calories in check—it gives me a smiley face. (Kindergarten teachers are so wise.) I also like the "If every day were like today" calculation, which estimates when I'll meet my goal. And it's working. I haven't given my hated charity a cent yet, and I'm closer to wearing those jeans than I have been in a long time.

Tools to Try

These sites put victory within reach.

HabitChanger.com Assorted 42-day programs for weight loss, smoking cessation, stress management, and more. Expert advice and tips hit your e-mail inbox daily for $20 to $40.

 

Stickk.com Charges you cold, hard cash if you fail. You set the amount. Free.

 

MyFoodDiary.com Packed with nutritional info for just about everything, and you can even input your own recipes. Enter what you eat and any exercise to calculate your expected net loss (or gain). $9 per month.

 

HabitForge.com Solid science backs up the idea that the first few weeks of forming any habit are the toughest. For 21 days, this site sends me a daily reminder and asks me to report how I did yesterday. When I falter, it rolls the count back to zero again. By the time I've done something for 21 days, it's a habit. Free.

 

Life Balance (llamagraphics.com) An elaborate to-do list/life coach program that lets me set up specific goals and break them into baby steps. From $20.

llamagraphics.com >>

Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.