On Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Neil StraussNeil

Often, change is difficult at best. But understanding why it’s difficult and how to work around those roadblocks could mean the difference between stagnation and growth.

You may remember the line, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” Without the pursuit of and success with change The Game and Emergency would not exist. Change by itself though isn’t necessarily good. It must be self-directed.

…And understanding the best ways to effect self-directed change is required. Or we risk getting what we’ve always gotten.

So read up, get ready for a change, and flip the switch with Alexis’s summary…





How to change things, when change is hard…

That is a great question often unanswered.

And too many guys give up at the first sign of a setback.

Switch is a very valuable book… but it is also usable in every aspect of our lives (socially, physically, psychologically…)

It covers a bunch of personal development concepts and Chip and Dan Heath make them crystal clear to understand.

They also share helpful tips to motivate you instantly and show you how to trick yourself into success.

We all know that change is hard.

And this book is the perfect starting point to help every one of us who wants a change in his life.

For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.

They came up with “3 surprises” about change:

  1. What looks like a resistance is often a lack of clarity
  2. What looks like laziness if often exhaustion
  3. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem

From these 3 statements Heath’ Brothers, will break down the whole book.

And we are going to use this analogy: We have an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side. And we’ve also got to clear the way for them to succeed.

In short, we must do three things:

  1. Direct the Rider (rational brain) : Provide crystal-clear direction
  2. Motivate the Elephant (emotional brain) : Engage people’s emotional side
  3. Shape the path: Make it easier to have the right behavior

So, how to do that?

1. Direct the Rider

Show him where to go, how to act, what destination to pursue.

1.1 Find the Bright Spots

The question is simple here: “What is working right now and how can we do more of it ?”

But for us, weird human beings, we are wired on the negative. We see the negative side and focus on it. We have to make an intellectual effort to shift our awareness on the positive.

So investigate on what’s working already and clone it.

From my own experience, a set of very powerful coaching questions look like this:

  • What have you already tried to solve your problem and had a meaningful impact?
  • How can you do more of it?
  • How can you replicate that?

You will have aha moment from that.

These flashes of success – these bright spots – can illuminate the road map for action and spark the hope that change is possible.

Ask yourself: What I’ve already tried to solve my problem and worked? And how can I do more of it?

1.2 Script the Critical Moves

This is a key chapter and the easiest to implement.

« The more choices the rider is offered, the more exhausted the rider gets »

  • Don’t be stuck in decision paralysis.
  • More options can freeze us.
  • Ambiguity is our enemy.

Because, change brings new choices that create uncertainty, and when the road is uncertain the Elephant (emotional brain) is anxious.

When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the new way clearly. Don’t assume the new moves are obvious. Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals in to concrete behaviors.

You don’t ask them to eat healthier. You say, “Next time you’re in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, reach for a jug of 1% milk instead of a whole milk.”

So in order to avoid decision paralysis and kill ambiguity: script the critical moves.

  • Because clarity dissolves resistances.
  • Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors.
  • Behavioral goals are more effective than any other kind of goal

As Tony Schwartz says: “plan your new ritual in details”.

1.3 Point to the Destination

If you want people to change, you must provide a crystal-clear direction.

Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.

Crystal Jones joined Teach For America in 2003. She was assigned to teach the first-grade class at tan elementary school in Atlanta. At the beginning of the school year, she announced a goal for her class that she knew would captivate every student: By the end of this school year, you’re going to be third graders.

You know the feeling you get when you’re admiring the grace and power of an Olympic athlete? That’s the feeling first graders get about thirds graders. And by the end of the year 90% were reading at or above a third-grade level.

To a first grader, becoming a third grader in nine months is a gut-smacked goal.

This goal directs the rider and motivates the elephant.

“To the rider, analyzing phase is often more satisfying than the doing phase and that’s dangerous for your switch.” Anyone else feels targeted?

Goal often lacks emotional resonance.

SMART goals have become the norm. It is still a great cure for the worst sin of goal setting: ambiguity and irrelevance. But they will not fit for change behavior. If you want to motivate the elephant you can’t bank on SMART goal…

You need a gut-smacking goal, one that appeals to both Rider and Elephant.

As Jim Collins says, in Built To Last: “find your BHGA – Big Hairy Audacious Goal”

2. Motivate the Elephant

Self-control is a limited resource.

2.1 Find the Feelings

Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.

The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings. In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.

If we don’t find the feeling, the why of our change: we will never change. We will never get the desired outcomes, we will never get the girl we deserve, we will never be able to be appreciated for what we do and it will be impossible to achieve our goals.

On the other hand, if we can imagine the feeling of control and power we will have or feel the fear, anxiety or doom of our inaction, we will instantly feel motivated to change, to move away from our worst scenario, move towards our goals and take massive action.

If necessary we need to create a crisis to convince people they’re facing a catastrophe and have no choice but to move.

From what I’ve seen so far in my life: People tend to find the courage to change only after an emotional cataclysm.

There is no question that negative emotions are motivating. If we need a quick and specific action, then negative emotions might help.

I’ve seen that Tim Ferris imagine the worst case scenario if he doesn’t act, simply to find the motivation.

Positive emotions does not trigger strong emotions like: fleeing or avoiding. But positive emotions broaden and build.

So, you must provide hope and motivation.

To apply the idea : ask you why you want the desired outcomes and what is going to happen if you do not act.

2.2 Shrink the Change

Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.

One way to motivate action is to make people feel as though they’re already closer to the finish line than they might have thought.

That sense of progress is essential, because the elephant in us is easily demoralized. It’s easily spooked so it needs reassurance, even for the very first step of the journey.

Remind you what’s already been conquered.

A business cliché commands us to raise the bar. But that’s wrong if you want to motivate a reluctant elephant. The elephant hates doing thing with no immediate pay off.

Make the start easy.

Example: I’m just going to clean my room for 5 minutes. I’m just gonna run for 10 min.

Make the change small enough so you can’t help but score a victory.

Hope is precious to change effort. It’s elephant fuel.

Once people are on the path and making progress, it’s important to make their advance visible.

Small targets lead to small victories, and small victories can often trigger a positive spiral of behavior. With each step the elephant feels less scared and less reluctant, because things are working. With each step, the Elephant starts feeling the change. A journey that started with a dread is evolving toward a feeling of confidence and pride.

Important: make the start easy.

2.3 Grow your people

Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.

Inspire them to be more determinate, more ready, more motivated. And when you build people up in this way, they develop the strength to act.

If you don’t develop and grow your identity you will never change your self-image. On the other hand if you grow your personality you will trigger decisions and action that lead to your goal.

You must build a new identity.

Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed to failure. So the question is: How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequences?

At Lovelace Hospital Systems in Albuquerque the turnover rata among its nurses was terrible (30% per year). So they start to develop a new orientation program that stressed the inherently admirable nature of nursing work. They created mentorship programs to help nurses improve their knowledge and skills.

The first hint that something had changed was evident on the annual employee satisfaction survey. And then the turnover decreased and the patient satisfaction increased.

They cultivated professional pride in nurses.

Fixed Mindset VS Growth Mindset

So to change, you need to become a new you. To have a new identity, new behaviors, new habits… There is problem, though. It’s awfully hard.

As Carol Dweck said, you need to develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed-mindset. Because you can’t learn without failing. You can’t change without failing. And the elephant really hates to fail.

The answer sounds strange: you need to create the expectation of failure en route.

People with a fixed-mindset try to get it right on the first try, tend to avoid challenge and fear failure.

But the most effective team tends to adopt a “learning frame”.

If you want to reach your full potential you need a growth mindset. You will then focus on learning. All the studies in Carol Dweck’s book (Mindset) shows that successful people have a growth mindset.

The elephant has to believe that’s capable of conquering the change.

Adopt a growth mindset and learn by action.

My personal understanding of this part (if I can add my personal point of view, in the middle of the genius) is summarized by the formula: success = failure + rectifications.

And as I’m writing this summary, I just had this insight: What was “not me” must become the “new me”.

3. Shape the path

If you want people to change, you can provide clear direction (Rider) or boost their motivation or determination (Elephant). Or you can make the journey easier. Remove some friction from the trail. In short, you can shape the path.

3.1 Tweak the Environment

When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation.

Eben Pagan explains that to build his habit to drink 50cl of water every morning, he simply put the bottle in the sink of the bathroom the day before.

Example to tweak your environment:

  • Have a laptop you use only to work (no Wi-Fi, no browser)
  • Download a plugin like “StayFocusd“ to prevent you to go on specific website that kill your productivity.
  • Download GymPact on your iPhone

Make bad behavior impossible. Make the desired behavior inevitable.

Simply tweaks of the path can make dramatic changes in behavior.

To apply the idea: trick yourself to make the behavior inevitable

3.2 Build habits

  • Habits are behavioral autopilot.
  • When behavior is habitual, it’s “free”—it doesn’t tax the Rider.
  • Look for ways to encourage habits.

We are going to see 2 tools:

  • Use the humble checklist. Checklists make big screwups less likely. It just works. So use it.
  • Set Action-triggers: you will preload a decision and you will make an instant habit. I finish my dinner, I brush my tooth. She gave me 3 indicators of interest, I make her a compliment. When I remove my suit and tie, I put a short and go for a run. After a coffee break, I call 5 clients.

Action-triggers are most effective in the most difficult situations – the ones that are most draining to the Rider’s self control.

The action-trigger help make the behavior habitual.

At the end, the more instinctive a behavior becomes, the less self control from the rider it requires, and thus the more sustainable it becomes.

To apply the idea : use checklist and action-triggers

3.3 Rally the Herd

“It’s easier to persevere on a long journey when you rally the herd.”

When you are in a new place (new country, first time at church, special dinner…) , you’re not sure how to behave so you watch other people.

We all want to wear the right clothes, to say the right things, to frequent the right places, because we instantly try to fit in with our peer group, behavior is contagious. (That’s why barista seed the tip jar before opening)

  • The Elephant constantly looks to the herd for cues about how to behave.
  • Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.

To implement the idea: you can hang out with people who already reached your goal, join a club or have a mentor/coach.

Keep the switch going

To sum up, paraphrase and be clear:

  1. Set specific behavioral goals
  2. Find your why and make the start easy
  3. Set up your environment so you can help but succeed

The book is full of examples in the real world. And full of tricks, techniques and strategies to change for the long run.

Use them to get the change you want in your social, professional and personal life.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard