Switch – Must Read Book

Below are excepts from the book Switch – How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I highly recommend you to read this book several times.

Your brain isn’t of one mind.

The brain has two independent systems at work at all times – the emotional side (instinct, pain, pleasure) and rational side (thinking, planning).

To keep it simple – use the analogy (from The Happiness Hypothesis) of the Elephant and the Rider. The Rider sits on top of the Elephant and seems in control. But the Rider is tiny compared to the Elephant. So, when they disagree which direction to go, – the Elephant always overpowers the Rider.

The Elephant is lazy and looking for quick payoff (ice cream) over long-term payoff (being thin). But the Elephant is much more powerful then the Rider. Especially with emotions like love, sympathy and loyalty (ie. your fierce instinct to protect your children against harm is your Elephant.)

The Rider on the other hand can plan for the long-term. But he also tends to over-analyze and over-think.

That’s why if you want to make progress toward a goal, you’ll need the energy of the Elephant and the direction of the Rider.

Self-control is an exhaustible resource.

When you resist something, your energy is drained, until you can’t resist it anymore. It’s like doing bench presses at the gym. The first one is easy, when your muscles are fresh. But with each repetition, your muscles get more exhausted, until you can’t do any. Change is hard because people wear themselves out. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

Direct the Rider

  • What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity.  So provider crystal-clear direction.
  • In tough times, the Rider sees problems everywhere, and “analysis paralysis” will kick in. He’ll spin his wheels indefinitely unless he’s given clear direction.
  • When the path is uncertain, the Rider will get exhausted in ‘analysis’ and the Elephant will insist on taking the default path (ie. the easy way). As a result, you keep doing things the old way.
  • Find the Bright Spots
    • Humans are more wired to focus on the negative (“bad is stronger than good.”)
  • Script the Critical Moves
    • Big problems are rarely solved with big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, over a period of time.
  • Point to the Destination
    • To the Rider, the ‘analyzing’ part is more satisfying than the ‘doing’ part – and that’s dangerous.

Motivate the Elephant

Central challenge of change is keeping the elephant moving forward. Whereas the Rider needs direction, the Elephant needs motivation. And, motivation comes from “feeling” (knowledge isn’t enough to motivate change). Plus, motivation comes from “confidence”. The Elephant has to believe that it’s capable. You can instill confidence by ‘shrinking the change’ and by ‘growing your people’.

  • Find the Feeling
    • What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Elephant can’t operate too long on force. So, find a way to engage through emotions.
    • The sequence of change is NOT Analyze-Think-Change, but rather See-Feel-Change. You see evidence, which makes you feel something. It speaks to your Elephant.
    • People generally think of themselves as above-average (it’s called ‘positive illusion’.) Positive illusions make it hard for us to get a clear picture of where we are and how we’re doing. They are dangerous for change.
    • We need emotions for change to occur – but which emotions? Positive or negative?
      • If you need quick and specific action – then negative emotions might help. But negative emotions tense us, they tend to close our minds.
      • For long term solutions, its best to trigger positive emotions – they cause us to become more creative and open minded.
  • Shrink the Change
    • Make people feel as though they’re already closer to the finish line than they might have thought.
    • Sense of progress is crucial because the Elephant is easily demoralized (its easily spooked and needs reassurance – even for first steps of the journey.)
  • Grow Your People
    • Create a sense of identity (our inspiration to change comes from desire to live up to identities)
    • Inspire a growth mindset (remind that our brains and abilities are like muscles – they can be strengthened with practice. We are not born with abilities – we acquire them)

Shape the Path

Make the journey easier by changing the environment.

Create a steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove friction from the trail. Put lots of signs on the way and tell them they are getting close.

  • Tweak the Environment
    • What looks like a people problem is often a situation (ie. environment) problem.
    • When you shape the environment, you make change more likely. In essence, you’re outsmarting the Elephant.
    • Make the ‘right’ behaviors a little bit easier and the ‘wrong’ behaviors a little bit harder.
    • Use the “Haddon Matrix” to think systematically about situations:
      • 1. Pre-event (how can we avoid/prevent situations before they happen?)
      • 2. Event (we accept that situations happen – how can we avoid injuries?)
      • 3. Post-event (we accept that situations and injuries happen – how can we recover fast?)
  • Build Habits
    • Set ‘action triggers’.
      • Connect new behavior to old habits (example – I’ll go to gym after taking kids to school)
      • This way you pass control of your behavior to your environment – and it becomes more automatic.
    • Create ‘checklists’
      • Make it easy to build habits by following a simple checklist (ie. direct the Rider)
  • Rally the Herd
    • Its proven over and over – we do things because we see our peers do them.
    • Help spread behaviour, and it will be followed by other.
    • Make certain behaviour as something ‘cool’ and ‘acceptable’, and others will follow.

Big changes start with small steps. Small changes tend to snowball.

“A long journey starts with a single step” but a single step doesn’t guarantee a long journey.

Follow the methods above to make change more likely.