Want To Make Big Progress? Science Says To Start Small

We tend to hold off on making behavior changes until we make our New Years resolutions. But instead of waiting for the new year, science suggests that there is a way to start making progress now that doesn’t involve a tremendous amount of time or effort—and is more likely to stick.

The trick? Think small. Or, more specifically, “micro.”

According to Caroline Arnold, a longtime Wall Street technology strategist and author of Small Move, Big Change, willpower alone is not enough to override our ingrained habits. The key to creating long-term change, Arnold says, is to set smaller but winnable goals that then lead to a pattern of sustainable habits.

For example, rather than setting a fuzzy goal of “get more organized,” she says you’ll have greater success with a more achievable goal, such as “sort and discard the mail every day.” Once that habit is established, you’ll be motivated to implement other organizational shifts to your routine.

Arnold calls these “microresolutions,” compact and powerful commitments designed to nail a precise behavior target exactly and deliver benefits immediately. The success of microresolutions relies on them being explicit and measurable, their payoff obvious and sustainable, being practiced frequently, specific and relevant to you, and easy to keep.

Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington concurs and believes the small things we do can have a transformative impact on our day.

Her company’s lofty mission—to end the epidemic of stress and burnout by changing the way we work and live—is made more attainable through what Huffington calls “Microsteps.” The foundation of her behavior change platform, Microsteps are small, incremental, science-backed actions we can take that will have both immediate and long-lasting benefits to the way we live our lives.

According to Huffington, Microsteps are the “building blocks of habits. Over time they accrue, and become new habits, which in turn become healthier and thriving lives.”

This is confirmed by science and habit change experts, who advise people to start small and do what they can to set themselves up for success. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, stresses the importance of creating an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. “Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits,” writes Clear.

The theme of “small and easy” is echoed by BJ Fogg, a behavior change researcher, the director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, and author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change EverythingFor Fogg, it’s about making the “minimum viable effort” by going as small as you can. “To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior,” he says. “Make it tiny, even ridiculous. A good tiny behavior is easy to do — and fast.”

This is important, says Fogg, because it creates small wins, personal victories that are deeply satisfying and worth celebrating. And because “you change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad,” notes Fogg, you’ll continue to seek out the reward of that new behavior. Plus, that mindset can help you build additional wins. “The more you succeed,” states Fogg, “the more capable you get at succeeding in the future.”

Perhaps Arnold sums up the cumulative benefit of small changes best: “Learning how to do just one thing differently punches your ticket for a voyage of continuous self-improvement.”

And that’s worth going micro.

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This article was written by Amy Blaschka , a social media ghostwriter who helps leaders craft their stories to communicate and connect better. As a former branding consultant, my role is to make it easier for my clients to share their unique talents and insights on a consistent basis, magnifying both their reach and impact.



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