Switch by Chip and Dan Heath: Book Summary and Personal Notes

The problem with change is we see it as an event, not a process.

From that mindset, it’s easy to see how we’re making change far more difficult than it actually is. And no, willpower is not the answer.

Notes and Insights:

  • To change someone’s behavior, you’ve got to change that person’s situation.
  • Changing people’s behavior requires an appeal to both their hearts and minds.
    • In The Happiness Hypothesis, University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt says that our brain has two sides resembled by two characters: The emotional side resembled by an Elephant, and the rational side resembled by the Rider on top of it. The Rider can steer the Elephant and lead the way, but it’s relatively small and weak. When the Elephant and Rider disagree, the Elephant often dominates.
  • Examples of Elephant overpowering the Rider: Ignoring your alarm, Pressing Snooze, overeating, dialing up your ex at midnight, procrastination, failing to quit smoking because of a strong urge, skipped the gym despite wanting to lose weight
  • The Elephant is strong–but it’s totally lazy. It mostly acts on quick-payoffs rather than long-term rewards.
    • Side note from Stumbling on Happiness: It doesn’t have the ability to think about the future–only the present.
  • “Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.”
  • The Rider, on the other hand, has the ability to think of the future and thus steers the Elephant toward the right path whenever it gets sidetracked.
  • The Elephant (Emotion) is the one responsible for action.
  • The Rider (Rational Thought) has the weakness of overanalyzing things–leading to decision paralysis.
  • Change is hard when these two disagree, but it’s easy when they do agree.
  • Defining Change: Altering our default, day-to-day behaviors. Like steering an Elephant away from its home jungle, the farther the destination, the harder it is to guide the Elephant. Similarly, the bigger the change, the bigger the willpower required.
  • Change doesn’t happen in an event-like fashion, but rather in a gradual progression. Yet people seem to think the opposite so they go ahead and try extreme routines (e.g. Big change that require big willpower)–only to revert back to old bad habits. Chip and Dan Heath says: “Change is hard because people wear themselves out. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”
  • Perceived ability matters. A high level of motivation matters little if you don’t know exactly what steps you need to take. The motivation will eventually wane from constant ambiguity. “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”
  • “If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction.”

High-Level Summary of Chip and Dan Heath’s “Switch Framework” for Change

 To change behavior, you must Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path

  • Direct the Rider. Ambiguity easily paralyzes the Rider. Provide crystal-clear directions for change to start.
  • Motivate the Elephant. Emotion is responsible for action–thus, we have to get the Elephant on track as well.
  • Shape the Path. As BJ Fogg says, “The only way to make a radical change in behavior is to radically change your environment.” (non-verbatim)

Direct the Rider

  • Find the Bright Spots.
    • Find what’s locally working, and do more of it.
    • Efforts that are too innovative generate a lot of skepticism, as evident in the history of innovators. (Ex: Jack Ma and e-commerce before it was a thing, Steve Jobs and having a personal computer)
      • Sternin had 6 months to fight malnutrition in Vietnam for the “Save the Children” organization. Rural people in his destination were often ignorant about nutrition. Their resources, too, were suboptimal. Of course, people aren’t just going to follow some random, imported idea. So he started roaming around the village and noticed there were very, very poor kids that were far healthier than the average child. He then went to see what they were doing right and found the local solution. 
  • Script the Critical Moves.
    • Think in terms of specific behaviors. Decision paralysis disrupts decision making.
      • Dr. Donald Redelmeier and psychologist Eldar Shafir demonstrated a case study for this. When doctors were asked to choose between prescribing hip replacement surgery vs. an untried medication, 47% of them chose the medication (with the intention to save the patient from the hassle of recovery). But when they were told that the options were hip replacement, medication 1, and medication 2–only 27 percent chose either one. The addition of another option led to decision paralysis.
    • “Change begins at the level of individual decisions and behaviors, but that’s a hard place to start because that’s where the friction is.”
    • Ambiguity tires out the Rider. Turn outcomes into concrete behaviors. “Turn aspirations into actions”
    • You can aim for the same outcome–but if the behaviors are different, then the results will be, too.
    • Intuitively, we think big change comes from big efforts. This is a wrong assumption–because big change comes from the accumulation of small efforts.
  • Point to the Destination
    • Use destination postcards: “a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.”
    • “SMART goals presume the emotion; they don’t generate it.” In other words, SMART goals are better for moving forward, not for going toward the opposite direction.
    • If you can’t imagine doing a task or behavior from start to finish, you will face resistance.
    • “We’re all loophole-exploiting lawyers when it comes to our own self-control.”
      • Related to Drive by Daniel Pink: “Huge goals encourage unethical behavior.”

Motivate the Elephant

  • Find the Feeling
    • Knowledge isn’t enough. Make people feel something. Self-improvement junkies and productivity porn addicts are great examples.
    • Appealing to the emotional brain makes people want to change.
    • In BJ Fogg’s words, one of the three things that make behavior change possible is “having an epiphany”. Usually, this happens during critical transitions in our lives: Graduating from school, moving to a new house, getting a new job.
  • Shrink the Change
    • To get a reluctant Elephant moving, you have to lower the bar–shrink the change. Make the behavior easy.
    • The Elephant dislikes doing things without quick rewards. Shrinking the change helps you gain a sense of accomplishment quickly–it’s like Elephant fuel.
    • To shrink the change, lower the investment. In relation to the sunk cost bias, the three commitment currencies are time, money, and energy. Make these investments small to make lasting change.
    • “When a task feels too big, the Elephant will resist.” If personal investments are too big, your emotional brain will constantly resist.
  • Grow Your People
    • Make change a matter of identity. Our identity governs our behaviors and decisions.
    • Aspire to be the kind of person who would make [your desired behaviors] happen
      • When Brasilata launched their employee-innovation program, they weren’t just launching your typical corporate program. They also innovated the identities of the employees. From then on, employees of Brasilata became known as “inventors” and were asked to sign an “innovation contract.” In 2008 alone, each “inventor” were able to produce an average of 145.2 ideas–that’s almost 135 thousand ideas per year. None of them were really “inventors”, but living up to that identity as a source of pride gave Brasilata the change they wanted.
    • We are receptive to developing new identities–these grow from small beginnings. [From Atomic Habits: “Each action is a vote for a desired identity.”
    • Effort changes the brain. Like a muscle, it can be improved with practice. Adopting an identity of someone with a Growth Mindset has a profound effect on changing your attitude towards obstacles.
    • Shrinking the change and growing your people increases the expectancy of finishing a task, making you less likely to procrastinate.

Shape the Path

  • Tweak the Environment
    • Fundamental Attribution Error: When we attribute the action to the personality of the person rather than his situation
    • Change is easy if you eliminate friction and turn an uphill battle into a downward slope; you won’t need a lot of motivation to create progress.
    • Tweaking the Environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.
      • ex: Amazon’s 1-Click ordering. In less than a second, you can buy any item from their store. Precisely what Amazon wants: easier checkouts mean easier purchases.
      • On the other hand, because banks were tired of people leaving their ATM cards in the machine, they redesigned it such that you remove the card before you can get the money.
  • Build Habits
    • You can create “instant habits” using implementation intentions: “I will [behavior] at [time/place]”.
      • “Action triggers [implementation intentions] can have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do.”
    • Implementation intentions triple your goal completion rate.
      • Peter Gollwitzer, a psychologist from New York University, analyzed people’s success in using implementation intentions when trying to reach “easy” goals or “hard” goals. People who had easy goals didn’t seem to benefit much from implementation intentions. But when people had hard goals, their goal completion rate almost tripled–from 22% to 62%. 
    • Habits are “free progress.” If you have a habit of reading, you’re essentially automating yourself to make progress with your reading goals. And it doesn’t feel like you’re exerting any effort at all.
    • Habits eliminate the need for motivation.
  • Rally the Herd
    • (Pluralistic Ignorance) Behavior is contagious. In an uncertain situation (like an earthquake or a burning building), we tend to look to others for cues about how to interpret an event.
      • Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School followed 12,067 people for 32 years and found that when someone became obese, their close mutual friends are three times more likely to become obese as well. And, proximity didn’t seem to matter. Your perception of an acceptable body type, says Dr. Christakis, “changes by looking at the people around you.”
    • “When you’re leading an Elephant toward an unfamiliar path, chances are it’s going to follow the herd.”
    • Put another way, the people around us (e.g. Close friends and family, the majority of people we see, the people we look up to) highly influence our behaviors and attitudes.

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