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How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

By Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Switch by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Synopsis

Switch examines why it is often difficult for people to switch their behavior, and how, by understanding the mind, it is possible to find shortcuts that make change easier. Through scientific studies and anecdotes, Switch provides simple yet effective tools for implementing changes.

Key idea 1 of 11

Implementing change is like riding an elephant: choose a direction, give your elephant some peanuts and stick to an easy path.

Changing our behavior is not always easy, as anyone who has resolved to quit smoking, eat healthier or start running in the mornings will know. So what is it that can make change so difficult?

An excellent analogy for examining behavioral change is that of an elephant and its rider trying to follow a certain path. The elephant, being a powerful, stubborn creature, represents the emotional side of people, looking for a quick payoff rather than long-term benefits. The rider in turn represents the rational side that knows what should be done, and can tug at the elephant’s reins to exert some small degree of control over it. Finally, the path represents the situation in which the change is to take place.

Consider a situation where you want to get up at 5:45 in the morning to go jogging. Your inner rider has rationally analyzed the situation and thinks this is good for you. But what happens when the alarm actually goes off in the morning? If you’re like most people, your inner elephant will demand just a little more sleep, totally overpowering your rider, and you’ll end up skipping the jog.

But what about the situational factors that help or hinder your noble quest? A comfy bed and bad weather outside won’t help get that elephant moving, that’s for sure. On the other hand, the smell of freshly brewed coffee just might.  

All three components influence whether change will be successful, whether progress along the path is made. From changing your own diet to influencing others' behavior, your success will depend on your ability to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.

Implementing change is like riding an elephant: choose a direction, give your elephant some peanuts and stick to an easy path.

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