Lauren Goode

On the Road to Self-Betterment, Apps That Keep You on Track

Setting goals is easy. Keeping them is the hard part.

That’s where the newest wave of goal-keeping applications, like Lift and, comes in.

There are already a ton of web apps out there that encourage you to write down your goals — both long-term and immediate — and check in on a regular basis. Lifetick and 43 Things come to mind. And many mobile fitness apps, whether standalone apps like RunKeeper or complementary apps to wearable devices, have a social tie-in to motivate users.

But Lift and Alive aren’t just for fitness; they’re for a wide range of goals, whether health and wellness, productivity or other personal-betterment goals. is currently Web-only, while Lift is mobile-focused.

The Lift app is overly simplified, so that goal-tracking doesn’t become another challenge in itself. Alive uses a system in which friends can place micro-bets on you, depending on how confident they are that you’ll take steps to reach your goal.

Both are free to use, and let you follow people the way you would follow people on Twitter. Your followers can then give you boosts or props online to help propel you to your goal.

Because I only used these apps for about a week, many of the goals I established were short-term, like, “Go running,” “Respond to that pile of personal emails” or “Call Grandma this week.” I didn’t enter in many long-term goals, such as “Run another half-marathon” or “Learn a new language.”

And I didn’t hit all of my set goals. (Poor Grandma — I still haven’t called her.) I blamed this partly on the fact that we had our annual D conference last week, so life was more hectic than usual.

But that’s really the point of these applications. There are always plenty of excuses you could throw out there for skipping the gym or putting off a task. By checking in regularly with a network of people who know your goals, you may be more inclined to get them done.

Overall, I like the Lift app more. I like it for the same reason that I prefer mobile fitness apps over Web dashboards: When I’m constantly on the go, I find it much easier to input data on my mobile phone.

Lift Pic 2

Alive’s system of allowing people to make micro-bets is intriguing, but the website is confusing in its layout. I spent more time trying to figure out the website than I did on tracking my goals.

Also, some friends and contacts of mine were already using Lift, which means it was easy to follow a few people and build a network in the app. None of my friends were using Alive, so I had to invite people and start from scratch — which isn’t fun if you’re already suffering from a bit of social network burnout.

Both are relatively new: Lift launched last August, and Alive soft-launched a few months ago, so both apps are still making improvements.

Lift is currently available on iPhone only, and it’s free to download. (There’s also a Lift website, but the application is really mobile-focused.) There are three tabs at the bottom of the Lift app: Habits, Activity and Me.

“Habits” is where you create your goals. You can search from a list of popular topics, such as health, productivity and learning habits, or you can enter your own.

Once you’ve completed a task or achieved a goal for the day, you select that habit and then tap a giant check mark in the app. Your completed goal then appears in the Activity feed.

Lift Pic 1

“Activity” is the feed of your actions and your friends’ actions. This is also where the app’s social element comes in. You can give your friends digital props for their activities, as well as comment on them.

I liked this feed. Few of my close friends are using Lift, but two co-workers are, including one who has been regularly meeting his exercise goals (who knew?). I gave him props a couple times and commented on one of his workouts. I was also given props on my own workouts, which made me feel surprisingly good.

Then there’s the “Me” tab, which takes you to your own profile. It shows your number of friends, followers and “check-ins,” which are the number of times you’ve tapped the check mark after hitting a goal.

Lift is straightforward, simple and satisfying. I like how easy it is to open up the app and hit the check button after, say, finishing a workout or responding to a pile of emails. After a few consecutive days of hitting my targets, the app sent helpful push notifications to my phone, challenging me to do more.

It’s not perfect, though. There isn’t an Android version of Lift yet, and, there are no privacy controls right now, which means anyone and everyone can follow you and see your profile. I would like to see more features — for example, a photo feed, or the ability to import data from other apps I use for keeping track of things.

alive pic 1 offers more features than Lift does. But the website is a bit of a head-scratcher, with many different tabs, tiles and notification buttons. And I kept wishing I could access it easily from my smartphone.

I signed up for Alive using Facebook Connect, and was guided through the steps of setting my “Challenges.” I added a couple of evergreen Challenges, such as “Eat healthy while traveling,” but also a more immediate one: “Go running on Tuesday.”

As with Lift, you can find friends and follow others on the site, and they can follow you back. None of my actual friends were using Alive, so I followed strangers in the Alive community.

Unlike Lift, Alive has a subcategory called “Next Steps” that I didn’t understand at first. In fact, when I set my Challenge as “Go running on Tuesday,” I didn’t see an option to check this off when Tuesday rolled around.

According to Alive’s creator, Next Steps are the small steps you’re supposed to record as you walk toward your bigger-picture Challenge. So my long-term Challenge should have been, “Run another half-marathon,” while my Next Step should have been to run on Tuesday. Once I understood how these are broken down, Alive made a little bit more sense to me, and I had some baby steps I could check off each day.

You can create these steps yourself, or you can simply add Next Steps that others have created and are suggested for you, based on your goal.

Alive Pic 2

Alive uses “Boosts” for social encouragement. Your steps, combined with boosts, can translate into points through the app.

And here’s where Alive is unique: Others can boost you on your Challenges, and if you take the necessary steps, both you and your booster will get points. If you fail to complete them, he or she will lose points. This is usually a nominal amount of points, but this idea of placing micro-bets is supposed to incentivize you to actually complete your challenge.

The app’s creator says the points will eventually go toward actual rewards through product partners. If your goal is to run a race, for example, your points might go toward a new pair of sneakers.

But Alive’s layout is a little confusing. At the very top of the page there are three notification buttons, alongside Activity, Me and Challenges. Below the profile picture, there are Next Steps, Activity, Challenges, Resources and Followers. Then, to the right, there are tiles for your Challenges and your Next Steps. It all seemed redundant.

And during a very busy week, it felt like another chore — or another goal in itself — to take the time to sit down and navigate the Alive website. Alive’s creator says the company is working on a mobile app, but it’s unclear when this will be available.

In this day and age of the quantified self, goal-setting definitely has its place. But I think that it’s best tracked through a well-designed mobile application.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik