by Caroline L. Arnold
(Penguin Books, $16)
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
It’s that time of year when we flip the calendar page and start to think about ways to improve our lives. And yet, the vast majority of us will never follow through on our New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps, argues Caroline Arnold in “Small Move, Big Change,” it’s because we’re setting our sights too far away.
A huge, vague goal like “lose weight” or “exercise more” is abstract and overwhelming, making it difficult to know where to begin, much less stick to once the January zeal has written off. Arnold suggests instead a simpler and more effective way of accomplishing big goals: breaking them up into chunks that she calls microresolutions.
It’s a classic technique, but Arnold’s modern approach calls for a little soul-searching as well. One-size-fits-all goals often fail to take into account an individual’s particular needs and abilities. She advocates committing to tiny goals that are personalized, targeted, specific and realistic — essentially, goals so easy to achieve that you’d feel silly not doing them. This combines the benefit of immediate results with the high of instant gratification, a mix that can be surprisingly powerful.
Arnold presents herself not as a guru, but as a fellow pilgrim on the self-improvement journey. Writing in a clear, friendly and accessible style, she shares copious examples of real-life situations translated into workable (and nonworkable) microresolutions, alongside supportive quotes from experts both scientific and philosophical.
Learning to craft effective goals is both an everyday tool and a lifelong art. A key factor is the identification and breaking of negative or resentful mindsets that are standing in the way of positive change. And that’s a skill that can carry through into every aspect of life, no matter what the date on the calendar.