Caroline L. Arnold: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

ArnoldCaroline Arnold has been a technology leader on Wall Street for more than a decade, managing some of the financial world’s largest software development teams and leading some of the industry’s most visible and complex initiatives. A dynamic and engaging speaker, she has appeared before groups as large as 5,000 people. Caroline is a recipient of the Wall Street & Technology Award for Innovation for building the auction system for the Google IPO, and her name appears on technology patents pending. Caroline serves as a Managing Director at a leading Wall Street investment bank. Caroline graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in English Literature, and lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Her book, Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently, was published by Viking Adult (January 2014) and is now available in a paperbound edition, published by Penguin Press December 2014).

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Caroline.
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Morris: Now please shift your attention to Small Move, Big Change. When and why did you decide to write it?

Arnold: After years of failing at self-improvement New Year’s resolutions, I hit upon a system where I was able to succeed virtually every time I made a resolution. I began sharing this “microresolution” method with family, friends, and colleagues who began to report successes and very entertaining stories about their microresolution experiences, and it occurred to me – Hey, this would make a really good book!

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Arnold: Well, the biggest head-snapping revelation was that I could actually write a book, after years of dreaming about it. I discovered that the only difference between doing it and not doing it is doing it, and that has had a huge impact on the way I now approach new opportunities and life in general.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Arnold: The form of the book is very close to what I originally proposed, but there is far more research in it than I had anticipated when I outlined it. I became really fascinated with willpower and behavioral science as it helped me to understand scientifically what I had discovered for myself experientially,.

Morris: As I read and later re-read your book, I was reminded of Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s response when asked how he and his leadership team were able to save the LEGO Group: “brick by brick.” You seem to endorse the same strategy for personal growth and professional development. Is that a fair assessment?

Arnold: I do see every successful change in behavior as a foundation on which to build, so yes, it’s a fair assessment. But I avoid and discourage others from thinking about a single change of habit as merely a step toward a greater goal. There really is no such thing as an insignificant behavioral change, and every positive shift in behavior you make has an intrinsic value. Too often when we talk about taking one step at a time we think of each step as only a means to a loftier goal, rather than signing up for the immediate value that your new behavior offers all on its own. So much of self-improvement is focused on a “someday” that never comes, rather than on the value you can experience immediately, today and for a lifetime, by making one behavioral change.

Morris: Please explain when any you realized the potential significance of a microresolution. Please cite an example or two.

Arnold: I realized the significance of microresolutions when I replaced a failed New Year’s resolution “to be organized” with my first microresolution, “to keep all my notes in one notebook.” First, I found my more modest resolution much more difficult that I had anticipated and it was then that I realized that any behavioral change that causes a change to routine will feel awkward and uncomfortable. Second, I found out how much value establishing just one new habit has – that notebook habit filled a critical gap in my organizational behavior, reduced my stress level, and taught me to respect the power of discrete behavioral changes. Third, I found out that if you practice any change in behavior with real focus for a few weeks it will become part of your personal autopilot and no longer require willpower to sustain.

After my success with the notebook habit I decided to try a microresolution focused on diet and had another success—I resolved never to eat a conference room cookie again. These two resolutions taught me that I could absolutely succeed at any resolution as long as my target was reasonable, limited, measurable, and sustainable for at least four weeks. These resolutions were the first of dozens that reshaped my life in every self-improvement area.

Morris: Please cite some examples of microresolutions in a workplace environment, microresolutions that could have great significance?

Arnold: One great microresolution from the book was from a lawyer who resolved “to always make the scary call first.” Every day when the she looked at checked her to-do list there was always a call she dreaded making, and she always put it off. But once she resolved to make the call first, her productively soared, because she got the task she feared most out of the way.

Another great microresolution from the book was about a person who had been told she wasn’t qualified for a leadership position because she was a bit negative. She thought this very unfair, but made a microresolution “not to be the first to complain at work.” The very next day there was a management announcement and this person waited for others to begin to bitch, but nobody said a thing. She realized in that moment that she had, inf act, been at the hub of this complaining. The book has many examples from the work world, from improving relationships, to productivity, to better communication, and every success story hinged on making one small change in behavior.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent could a series microresolutions help to achieve what Jim Collins calls a “BHAG”? That is, a big hairy audacious goal?

Arnold: Microresolutions can help with goal achievement all around by demonstrating that one can be successful every time one makes a resolution. The worst part about the failed resolutions is that we learn the habit of failure—we make big resolutions, but we’re not surprised when they peter out, because they petered out last year and the year before. But by leveraging the very forces that often doom resolutions — limited willpower, autopilot’s tenacious resistance to change—we can teach ourselves how to succeed regularly and to hold ourselves accountable.

I want to be clear that in the work world, we often do succeed at BHAG because our entire day is organized around achieving our priorities. It was easier for me to execute the auction platform for the Google IPO in six weeks than it was for me to “be bikini slim by summer,” “to be organized,” “to save more money,” because the Google IPO was urgent and concrete and my personal improvement resolutions were closer to wishful thinking. So often we manage the biggest things – work and family – while failing ourselves, because by the time we’re done with work and family there’s not a whole lot of energy or willpower left to hit the gym.

Morris: Apparently you agree with Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Here’s my question. By which process can the selection and completion of “small moves” become [begin italics] habitual [end italics]?

Arnold: I love that quote from Aristotle and use it in the book. The full quote talks about men becoming just by performing just actions and temperate by practicing temperate actions, demonstrating that even the highest character traits can be learned through practice. For example, if one has a habit of shading the truth to one’s own advantage, one might resolve never to lie in a given circumstance, for example not making false excuses about why they are late (my train was evacuated at Penn Station, etc.). By practicing this one change in behavior one could learn to be more accountable, learn to be more on time, learn that telling the truth and opening oneself to criticism may be a healthier state than arriving with a lie prepared. Similarly, one might develop a better character by pledging not to one up a partner, or by resolving never to say “I told you so,” to a child. These changes in behavior are surprising in their power and open doors to personal growth.

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To read all of Part 2, please click here.

Here is a link to Part 1.

Caroline cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Her website link

Twitter link

Link to video of her presentation at Microsoft headquarters

Facebook link

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