Thriving Well


By downsizing your ambition in small, simple steps, you can try to reverse engineer the behaviour that holds you back.

23 Jan 2019
I f we all did the things we should that were good for us, the world would be a better place. That’s why we make New Year resolutions. But the research shows they last for about two months, if you’re lucky. Is there a way to keep them?

Try microresolutions. Most resolutions are so big that your brain ignores them and dooms them to failure, says author Caroline Arnold who’s surveyed the scientific evidence. (They have titles like this: “Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: a limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative”.)


Here are 5 things you need to know about microresolutions:


#1 Microresolutions mean making small changes in daily life. Small, daily changes are the ones that can actually happen. And stick.


#2 Going big with your resolution is a way of procrastinating from doing the small daily changes that stick. Deep down, you don’t really want to do it.


#3 We’re all born with a bunch of behaviourial tendencies that we think we can’t change and that make our resolutions fail.


#4 But once we recognise what these are, we can identify what triggers them. Here’s what to do: write them down and decide which ones you’d like to change first.


#5 Then you need a cue to trigger off your microresolution to override your existing habit. So you need to associate your microresolution with a daily activity. If you’ve microresolved to leave for work faster each morning, this could be something as simple as opening the bathroom door when you first wake up. Get going!


We don’t yet have enough data to gauge the success rate of microresolutions, but here’s the thinking behind it. Briefly, it looks at the mechanism by which our habits become hard-wired into our mind and body. By reverse-engineering the process, this might undo the deep-seated habits that make our resolutions fail.


#6 There’s another kind of microresolution: make a change over a limited time. Try it on to see if it works or return it, no questions asked! For example, Instagramless Chinese New Year: pay more attention to real people. The best thing about these exercises is they make you conscious of your compulsions and habitual behaviour. Retake control of your life! Resolve to be grateful for fresh air, sunshine, family and friends. Be kind to all life’s creations!