“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle
I selected the observation by Aristotle to serve as the title of my review because I learned long ago, after spending still another January helping to pave the road to hell, that my habits had again defeated my New Year’s resolutions. Caroline Arnold wrote this book in response to a question many people continue to ask: “Why is it so difficult keep commitments, to follow through on resolutions, to make the changes that we know will achieve our personal growth and professional development?”
Years ago, after numerous struggles and frustrations, Arnold tried something different: “I assigned myself a small but meaningful behavioral change — a microresolution — and I succeeded in changing myself immediately. Yet it was only after succeeding at several microresolutions modeled on the first that I realized I had stumbled onto a method for making targeted mini-commitments that succeeded virtually every time.” She had established a new pattern of behavior, a habit.
As I began to work my way through Arnold’s brilliant book, I was reminded of another, The small BIG, in which Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein, and Robert Cialdini explain how and why small changes can spark big influence” in relationships with others. As they explain, their goal “has been to provide a collection of small BIGs that you could add to your persuasion toolkit. Small changes, informed by recent persuasion science that anyone…can employ to make a big difference when persuading and communicating with others.” One key point is that small BIGs must be used strategically. I suggest that a sniper’s mindset is needed rather than a carpet bomber’s approach.
So, we ask, why do resolutions fail? Arnold suggests five reasons, none of which is a head-snapper:
1. We make the wrong resolutions whereas microresolutions focus on doing, not being. Being different follows, rather than precedes, deliberate action.
2. We depend solely on willpower to succeed whereas a microresolution is designed to reform a precise autopilot activity and requires little willpower to succeed.
3. We’re too impatient whereas, when completing microresolutions, the key to lasting transformation is not speed or force but nurture.
4. We underestimate our mental and emotional resistance to change whereas microresolutions foster self-awareness and expose the hidden attitudes that thwart success.
5. We expect to fail whereas microresolutions are easy to keep.
Just as it is so easy to make a list of resolutions, it is just as easy to make a list of reasons and key points. It is important to note that, in her Introduction and first few chapters, Arnold identifies the WHAT and then devotes most of the material that follows to explaining HOW to use microresolutions to transform a life permanently.
Obviously, no brief commentary such as this can do full justice to the scope and depth of information, insights, and counsel that Caroline Arnold provides. However, I hope I have indicated why I think so highly of her book. Ultimately, its value to those who read it will depend almost entirely on the nature and extent of each reader’s commitment to making and then keeping a sequence of microresolutions that achieve and then sustain habitual success.