Many years ago while my dad and I were driving up to go skiing in Winter Park, Colorado the state patrol stopped traffic so that an avalanche could be intentionally triggered. Had we known at the time that the avalanche was going to tie up traffic for several hours we would’ve immediately turned around and headed to another ski resort. But we were told it would just take a few minutes.
We stayed long enough to watch them fire the artillery shells high up into this mountain next to the interstate. At first very little happened. Just a little bit of snow seemed to start drifting downwards. But it quickly picked up momentum and by the time it hit the road several hundred yards later it was a massive wall of snow that completely shut off the Interstate for hours to come. And yes, we drove to another ski area but it taught me a powerful lesson about momentum.
Many times when we want to make changes to our life we come up with an action plan that includes numerous changes. What we don’t know is we are doomed to fail. There is only so much you can absorb at once and there are only so many changes you can make it once.
If you’ve ever gone through physical therapy for an injury you’ve seen this. The physical therapist sends you home with what seems like 10,000 exercises you’re supposed to do. “They’ll just take a minute,” they cheerfully tell you. Yea right. Dude, muscle relaxers take a minute, PT takes dedication, a good memory and about 30 minutes if you do all the exercises they give you.
If you’re like me you can barely remember two of the exercises they gave you and it’s a miracle if you can even remember to do one of the two before you see the therapist again. I understand they are trying to help by giving you all of the exercises but if they really wanted to help they would give you two or three exercises, and let you master those first, before introducing more.
Small changes, what Caroline Arnold calls micro resolutions, have the power to be your personal avalanche for any change you want to make in your life.
In the last blog we took a look at four rules to making effective micro-resolutions. Now let’s take a look at some more.
- A micro resolution resonates. Arnold uses a great example about how to eat slower. Which resolution would you rather sign up for: I resolved to chew my food slowly? Or I resolve to dine leisurely and savor my food and drink? (Arnold 36). Most of us would rather sign up for a positive direction than a negative one (Arnold 37). Many of us have been told to establish goals that are framed in the positive rather than a negative. It is more fun to do things when we think we’re moving towards a goal rather than when we are trying to avoid something (particularly when we kind of like the thing we are trying to avoid). However, there might be some cases where you must adopt a zero-tolerance resolution such as having zero-tolerance for checking Facebook after a certain hour of night or zero tolerance for having road rage (Arnold 41-42). But even these can be framed in the positive such as: after 10 o’clock at night I will read a book for 20 minutes, or when I am cut off in traffic I will only respond with a smile. These might not be very easy at first but they will build momentum.
- A micro resolution fires on cue (Arnold 51). Whether we know it or not we spend our lives reacting to cues. In some way shape or form we are all Pavlov’s puppies. I am a little OCD so I am really susceptible to this. If I add one little thing to my morning routine I have a tendency to keep doing it long past its benefit. Many years ago when we were getting to ready to open Denver International Airport we worked on-site but none of the restaurants were of course open prior to opening of the airport. The only place to eat was the FAA’s radar facility which had a very nice cafeteria. I got into the habit of buying a package of Reese’s peanut butter cups after every lunch, but I noticed after I did it the first couple of times I developed a pattern to the point where I felt incomplete if I didn’t have my Reese’s. I still love Reese’s peanut butter cups to this day and even though this was a habit for over 20 years ago I still feel that little desire to have a Reese’s after lunch. But I also found out that a cup of decaf coffee or a small dark chocolate satisfies the same craving and is much more healthy. Spend a little bit of time identifying your cue and then replace it with the alternate behavior.
- When it comes to micro resolutions just take them 2 at a time (Arnold 61). For a period of time in my life I used to attend many Tony Robbins seminars and other personal and professional self-help seminars (now I have 3 kids and no money – disposable income are two terms I’ve not used in over a decade). Anyway, I would always come home from these events highly motivated to make numerous changes in my life. Then, within a very short period of time I would be sorely disappointed when I could sustain next to none of them. We can only handle so much change in a period of time. As a FranklinCovey 7 habits facilitator I appreciate the fact that the organization also recognize this. After a two or three day course facilitators will tell participants to just focus on one habit for a week or two or even longer until they have mastered it before moving onto the next habit. Remember that your goal is sustainable self-improvement so who cares if you take a few extra weeks to ingrain a new habit? (Arnold 64-65).
Once you have your new habits then it is time to take them out for a test drive (Arnold 70). You may have to tweak your micro resolution a bit. I even had to modify my no road rage zero-tolerance policy to allow myself to give the horn a gentle toot, particularly if someone was cutting dangerously close into my lane and I needed to avoid a collision, or to get someone’s attention to quick texting and drive through the green light. But even these behaviors were tempered as they were not followed up with dirty looks or single finger gestures.
The most beautiful thing about micro resolutions is just like an avalanche, they build momentum and they also pick up steam in other areas of your life. “Each successful resolution boosts your spirit, energy, and confidence and leads to more progress,” Arnold (72). “The key is simply to make a start.”
Arnold, Caroline L. Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently. NY, NY: Viking, 2014. Print.