Books : reviews

Caroline L. Arnold.
Small Move, Big Change: using microresolutions to transform your life permanently.
Penguin. 2016

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 25 December 2016

Small, but smart: a Wall Street guru’s secrets to making change that sticks.

Every January, we start the new year determined to achieve our goals: to lose weight, save money or get a promotion. But science – and real life – shows that this ‘big push’ strategy is doomed to fail, with our limited willpower struggling against entrenched routines and autopilot behaviours.

Wall Street technology guru Caroline Arnold understands the power of small but precise targets in getting us to where we want to be. In this empowering book, she introduces microresolutions: simple and deceptively effective, they reward us with instant results that have huge, lasting effects.

Full of real-world examples, and backed up with new scientific discoveries, this practical guide will help you spot the small moves that will bring the biggest change to your life.

Several years ago I made the only New Year’s resolution that I’ve managed to keep: to make no more New Year’s resolutions. But I heard about the “microresolution” idea, with its promise of sustainability, and decided to find out more about it.

The key idea is that most resolutions are too big (“get fit”), and too vague (“go to the gym a lot”). They set impossible targets, and few specifics on how to achieve them. The microresolutions approach has two central ideas: the target is small and so achievable, and the steps to achieve it are well planned. The aim is to make a specific and relatively simple change, for long enough that the new behaviour becomes engrained, which takes two to three months to happen. Once the habit is firmly set, a new microresolution (up to a maximum of two at a time) can be started. These ingrained habits steadily accumulate (like compound interest) to produce the desired macro-change. Additionally, this approach provides a constant stream of successes, as each microresolution is achieved.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. It requires thought – which specific small behaviour change? – and planning – how and when to trigger the behaviour? These are crucial for success, so this is not a magic cure-all. The trigger in particular needs to be carefully designed: a reminder to do, or not to do, the specific thing in exactly the right circumstance.

This is definitely a sensible and practical approach to changing behaviour: incremental development, where each increment becomes a habit, providing incremental feelings of success, building to a large overall effect.

Maybe I’ll break that last New Year’s resolution after all.