– George Elliot
Caroline Arnold’s Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently teaches readers how to use micro-resolutions instead of typical “new years” style resolutions to achieve their long-term goals. The first half of the book lays the foundations for how and why to develop micro-habits, while the second half of the book goes over applying them in various situations like for reducing clutter, avoiding impulse spending and improving your health.
Micro-Resolutions Create Habits
Caroline Arnold makes an important distinction early in her book that many of us want to “be” something but then many of us aren’t willing to “do” what it takes to become that person. This is the genesis of micro-resolutions: that in a certain context, you will do a certain action that ties into a larger goal. For example, when you take off your coat after entering your house, a micro-resolution might be to hang up that coat. This would tie into the larger goal of keeping clutter under control and your living area tidy.
Habits are gradually acquired as people repeatedly respond to cues in a recurring context. To create new behaviors, you just need to latch onto these cues. That is, you don’t create cues, you just need to discover them.
Internal cues: emotions like happiness / frustration, feelings like tiredness, hunger or sweatiness.
External cues: smells, sights and people you come into contact with.
The idea is that you make a commitment to do something every time the cue comes up. It could be as simple as reaching for water (instead of a sweet beverage) when you are thirsty. A simple micro-resolution like this could help you lose 10 or more pounds over a year, and might even help stave off illnesses like diabetes over the long term. It takes at least 4 weeks of daily practice / 8 weeks if done semi-regularly to make a habit stick.
Each resolution should feel like a behavior you don’t ever want to do without before you make your next commitment. Don’t rush. If you carefully establish your new habit, it will last a lifetime, so who cares about a few extra weeks? As you take up new resolutions, your old ones must continue working for you—no backsliding. Never add to commitments you’re struggling with—you only risk short-circuiting your gains and undermining your confidence in your ability to follow through without excuses.
People might be tempted to try and develop multiple habits at once, but the author warns against it.
Less is more when it comes to achieving lasting change. It takes concentration to nurture a new attitude, adopt a new habit, or drop a negative behavior. Effectively changing one’s formula for living is a rarity, a behavioral breakthrough. Doing something new, something differently, demands rigor. Your microresolution is easy only in the sense that it is clearly achievable, but establishing any new behavior requires rigor. You must be in a position to demand of yourself that you follow through on your commitment, and that won’t be possible if you overreach.
Arnold also keeps a list of “nano habits” that she wants to work on such that when she’s in a certain context (like in her garden) she can pull up her list of small habits she wants to inculcate and work on one: “For me, knocking off a nano is a kind of treat, a break from must-do work, a stress reliever that demonstrates that a better quality of life just depends on targeted focus and commitment at the margin.”
The most impressive thing about Carol Arnold’s book is that she believes in what she writes. It’s not a system that she dreamt up at the dinner table one night, but something she developed over the course of her lifetime. The book is recommended and available at Amazon.