In Small Move, Big Change, Caroline L. Arnold addresses those who have made big resolutions and failed to keep them. That is a large audience.
Without getting into depth about the first chapter, the reason we fail in our resolutions is habit. When we want to change behavior, we come against the resistance of all our already ingrained behaviors. The larger the change we try to make, the larger is the resistance we experience.
Arnold’s solution is what she calls microresolutions. This is exactly what it sounds like, a commitment to a very small change. It is very important that a microresolution be easy. It should be so small, simple, and easy that you’ll do it in spite of your old habits. Do it consistently, and in a short while it will be a new habit.
There are seven rules to making a good microresolution. The first is already mentioned: make it easy. It should be specific and measurable (you’ve probably seen this before if you’ve read other books about goal-setting). The new behavior should have intrinsic value that provides immediate rewards (for most of us a small reward now is more motivating than the big reward down the road). It should be personalized to the user. It should be liked to a cue. It should resonate with the user (and generally be stated in positive terms). Finally, only take on two microresolutions at a time; you don’t want to exhaust your willpower.
I especially like the suggestion to link the new behavior to a cue. In reviewing my successes in making a change, I’ve often tied the new thing I wanted to do to a trigger. Many of our habitual behaviors are triggered by cues. These cues could be the calendar, the clock, a feeling, a sensory experience, a word, or another behavior. Our cues sometimes aren’t even logically connected to the behaviors they trigger. This is a powerful takeaway for me. In my future goal-setting, I’ll intentionally think of cues that might make a good trigger for the new behavior I want to implement. Using cues allows one to piggyback new habits onto old ones.
All of Arnolds rules are intended to do the same thing: take advantage of the way we form habits. Instead of unconsciously developing habits that may or may not help us, we can intentionally form habits that, bit by bit, move us I the direction we want to go.
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