The Korea Herald


Apps extend shelf life of New Year resolutions

Habit-forming apps useful for tracking daily progress and accomplishments, but in the end one has to build own habits, experts say

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : Jan. 16, 2024 - 15:47

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Are your New Year's resolutions still on track? If so, you have at least passed the initial three-day hurdle of maintaining a new habit or commitment, which the Korean saying “jaksim samil” warns about.

While the phrase underscores the tendency for ambitious plans to falter within three days, there are also a range of tips and apps out there to help people adhere to their goals.

For Park Ji-yeon, a 36-year-old office worker in Seoul, mastering English was a recurring New Year's resolution that she failed to realize several times, including last year.

This year, she adopted a different strategy: embracing digital learning through the SayVoca app. Park and her colleague share a subscription plan, splitting among them the monthly fee of 12,000 won or $9.

"So far, so good," she said, adding that the app's user ranking feature adds an engaging, game-like element to her language-learning journey.

Park is not alone in this trend.

Data from Wiseapp, an app analysis firm, shows there was a significant surge in English learning app downloads on Android and iOS platforms during the first seven days of 2024.

SayVoca is the most popular app, with over 3.35 million installs, followed by Speak with 3.12 million, Duolingo with 1.8 million, and Knockknockvoca with 558,000.

All four apps saw substantial increases in their numbers of active users during the first week of the year.

The number of active users on SayVoca surged from 432,000 in the last week of December to over 556,000 in the first week of January.

During the same period, Speak’s active users increased from 282,000 to 445,000, while Duolingo’s active users also increased from 367,000 to 452,000. Knockknockvoca’s active users also increased from 396,000 to 413,000.

Youn Ji-yoon, a 32-year-old office worker, has successfully maintained her New Year's resolution made in January last year, with the help of the English learning app Cake.

"The advantage of language apps is that they can be easily downloaded and used on a daily basis. While commuting to work, I was able to study English expressions from movies and dramas using the app," she explained.

The advantage of language apps is that they can be easily downloaded and used on a daily basis. While commuting to work, I was able to study English expressions from movies and dramas using the app.

Another notable trend involves the rising popularity of habit-forming and management apps aimed at ensuring that resolutions go beyond the initial enthusiasm.

The app Challengers, for instance, saw an increase in installations from 908,000 in late December to 925,000 in the first week of January, according to Wiseapp.

Challengers users commit to goals such as reading, exercising or learning a language by betting a specific amount of money. If participants achieve an 85 percent or higher success rate, they receive the full amount, and at 100 percent, an additional bonus is given. Users lose money if they achieve less than 85 percent.

Routinery, a similar app designed to assist in forming new habits, also reported an 87 percent increase in users from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 compared to the previous week.

Lee, an office worker in his 40s, is one of the Challengers app users who signed up this January with the aim of establishing a habit of waking up at 6 a.m.

On the app, he is asked to take a photo of his washroom sink and post it between 5 a.m. to 6:09 a.m. every day for two weeks.

“Once I get used to doing this, I want to take the challenge to do the plank position for one minute every day,” Lee said, emphasizing how the app gives him a sense of achievement easily, as most tasks are doable.

Kim You-jin, employed in the marketing division of a local firm, expressed her intention to foster a daily habit of reading articles on marketing trends this year.

To facilitate this commitment, she recently adopted the Longblack app, a subscription-based service offering articles about various brands and marketing trends for only 24 hours each.

Kim emphasized the app's affordability as the primary factor influencing her decision to subscribe to the service this year.

"I have to pay 4,900 won monthly. I can just think of it as giving up a cup of Starbucks coffee," Kim said.

Additionally, she acknowledged the app's inducing feature that assists in reinforcing her reading habit, further contributing to its appeal.

Psychology experts say that these apps can positively impact commitment.

Lim Myung-ho, a psychology professor at Dankook University in Seoul, said that users of habit-forming apps designed to encourage individuals to set daily goals and share their progress with others are more likely to stick to their tasks due to what he calls, the "power of public commitment."

Kwak Geum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, said using apps that offer a daily sense of achievement can be very helpful when trying to form new habits. However, she advised not to be overly ambitious in setting goals. “Setting goals like losing 20 kilograms or earning 200 million won out of nowhere is not recommended,” she added.

Kwak also noted that apps can't do magic and in the end, one has to build their own habits.

“Don't rely too much on apps. You should be able to form habits on your own. It shouldn't be as if, just because there's no app for it, you can't form a habit yourself,” Kwak said.