How To Make a Microresolution

The mechanism for changing your mindset through messaging is the same as for changing a physical behavior: a targeted and limited resolution practiced relentlessly until it becomes automatic. 

The following excerpt is from Small Move, Big Change by Caroline L. Arnold. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Caroline L. Arnold, 2014.


Are you ready to make a microresolution?

Start by asking yourself what you’d like to improve about your life. Sticking with the example we explored in the last chapter, the first expression of your goal might be framed in broad  terms—“I’d like to be neat”—and that’s a reasonable place to start. Yet neat is not a state you can adopt; rather, it’s a set of distinct behaviors that add up to neat according to your definition—there’s neat and then there’s neat. Every personal­improvement goal within your power can be reduced  to a list of behaviors, whether your ultimate  objective is to be neat, lose weight, get fit, be nicer to your spouse, be­ come organized, be on time, save money, advance your career, or get more sleep.

So taking neat as our example, the first step is to deconstruct what you mean by neat. Your  most pressing neatness issues might be to keep clothes hung up and to stay on top of laundry; or perhaps every drawer is crammed and the bed never gets made; or maybe you leave dishes overnight and let items pile up on surfaces. Don’t bother compiling an exhaustive list; just pinpoint one or two behavioral changes you think would make a difference.  Remember, you’re not trying to solve for neat overall; you’re just looking to identify a discrete behavioral change that will move the neat dial in the right direction.

If your neatness target is focused on managing clutter, your first resolution might be as simple  as resolving  to allow only certain items on certain  surfaces. It’s hard to keep a surface organized when it’s littered with items that have nothing to do with its utility—e.g., coins and a comb and keys on a desk; magazines and bills on a bureau; mail stacked up on a kitchen island. If every surface you have is just a parking lot for whatever, dedicating surfaces might be a good first resolution (you might even want to start with just one surface). Once items are segregated in logical groups it’s much easier to see what’s required to keep a particular surface orderly.

For example, if your desk is overflowing with piles of unopened and unsorted mail, making a microresolution to sort and discard mail before you place it on your desk will probably eliminate three­quarters of your pileup (neatness) and allow you to see at a glance what really needs handling (organization). If clothes sit in a heap on the bedroom chair all week, resulting in a mind­numbing weekend session of hanging  up (now very wrinkled) clothing, you might  consider  a resolution to hang up your clothes as soon as you take them off or start with a resolution allowing any set of clothes  only twenty­four hours  on the chair. 

Mindset Messaging

What about the mental habits that keep you from succeeding in your goals? In the present case, how might you improve your neatness mindset—values, preferences, and attitudes—to advance your objective?  For example, a neat mindset might include the attitude it’s more productive to work at a clean desk. Such an attitude can be taught through practice, just as one can teach oneself a physical behavior through repetition. You can do this by resolving to give yourself a microresolution message designed to improve your governing mindset.  A change in mindset will drive behavioral change, just as a successful behavioral change ultimately alters your mindset through experience.  As the nineteenth ­century psychologist and pragmatist William James observed, “The greatest revelation of our generation is the discovery that human beings,  by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” 

The mechanism for changing your mindset through messaging is the same as for changing a physical behavior: a targeted and limited resolution practiced relentlessly until it becomes automatic. The success of a microresolution message is measured solely by your remembering to give yourself the message in the circumstance you’ve selected, and that’s it. It’s like a mental tweet synchronized to a specific trigger.

For  example, someone working on neat might resolve  to send himself the message It’s really just as fast to hang it up when removing  his coat. Using the removal of the coat to cue the message will disrupt the autopilot attitude I don’t have time to hang it up right now and likely lead, over time, to a preference for hanging up the coat. To once again quote James, “The mere thought of a behavior tends to lead to the performance of it,” or as Sigmund Freud put it, “The thought is father to the deed.”

Some of my most successful microresolutions have been mindset targeted. I once resolved  to send myself the following message when I was tempted to snack in the late afternoon: I enjoy dinner so much more when I’m hungry for it. My resolution didn’t prohibit an afternoon snack; it simply posited the greater pleasure of sitting down to dinner with good appetite. Repeating this message to myself when I was tempted by a treat in the late afternoon led me to manage my snacks more closely and to give up noshing while preparing dinner (you know, that little  piece of French bread,  that  extra glass of wine) and did indeed result in deeper enjoyment of the family meal I prepared each night.  Repeating this message ultimately changed my mindset; I realized that by choosing to snack richly I was choosing to enjoy dinner less. I began selecting lighter snacks and timing them to result in greater appetite. Never before had I “saved” my appetite; I had always been an indiscriminate snacker.  So much so, in fact, that every diet plan I had ever drawn up for myself had been focused on how many calories I could carve out for my snack allowance.  Today I so prefer to save my appetite for meals that I seldom snack at all, and it’s all due to the mindset shift created by faithfully repeating my hungry for dinner message when tempted by treats in the afternoon.

From Small Move, Big Change by Caroline L. Arnold. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Caroline L. Arnold, 2014.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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