Have you ever struggled to change things at work? Have you ever given up on a diet, or broken a pledge to work out more frequently? Change is hard. But that’s not always the case, say Chip and Dan Heath. Other changes seem to come easily—just look at all the people buying organic foods and recycling their trash and texting each other. (Not to mention getting married and having babies.) Why are some changes easy and others hard?
When the Heath brothers published their first book Made to Stick in 2007, it hit The New York Times bestseller list, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, became an instant classic, and garnered attention from a wide range of media: NPR, the Today Show, The New York Times, Time, Harvard Business Review, and People Magazine.
Now, for their second act, they’ve written on a completely different topic with the same signature story-driven narrative that entertains as it illuminates: SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (Broadway Business; February 16, 2010; $26; 304 pages; ISBN: 978-0385528757).
Why is change so hard? Perhaps no challenge we face as human beings has been more universally baffling. Whether you want your daughter to improve her grades, your employees to cut back on their expenses, or your brother to lose weight, rational instructions rarely work. But when we stumble and fail at embracing change, it’s not because we’re lazy. The primary obstacle lies in how our brains are constructed, say the Heaths. Your brain isn’t of one mind. It’s more like a two-party system with your logical brain at constant war with your emotional animal brain. “If you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up you ex at midnight, or skipped the gym…you’ve experienced the emotional brain’s victory,” the authors write. What most people fail to realize is that the key to successfully sustaining change in our lives is to understand and satisfy both sides of our brain’s schizophrenia—the emotional side as well as the logical side.
The Heaths explore change at every level-individual, organizational and societal. Drawing from decades of scientific research from many disciplines, the Heath brothers developed a simple framework for changing behavior with three basic principles: First, give clear direction to the logical brain so people understand what’s expected of them. Second, motivate the animal brain by engaging the emotions. Third, clear the path for change—tweak the environment to make the right behaviors easier and the wrong ones harder. You’ll see these principles succeed for:
- Health researchers who found that getting people to buy 1% milk instead of whole milk was much more effective at reducing fat consumption than trying to get people to “eat healthier”
- A school counselor who got a disruptive ninth grader to stop ending up in the principal’s office
- A college student who rallied a Caribbean island to save its national bird from extinction
- A doctor whose organization helped hospitals save over 100,000 lives in 18 months
- An entrepreneur who turned a lackadaisical customer service team into customer-service zealots
- An investment research team that leapfrogged from 15th to 1st place in industry rankings
- A social worker who improved the diets of malnourished Vietnamese children by studying “bright spot” children who were healthy despite the odds
- A bureaucrat who cut through intractable red tape to reform a wide swath of the Federal Government
The reason most of our change efforts fail is that we don’t know the facts about how our brains work. Did you know that self-control is exhaustible? And that the more choices you’re offered for reaching your goal, the more paralyzed you’ll feel in reaching it? Or that change comes more easily when you stop trying to solve your problems and instead focus on reproducing the “bright spots”—the things that are already working? The more we understand these proven patterns, the better we can make changes in our lives, in the lives of others and in our communities.
At a time when the government is trying to effect massive change to our healthcare system and economy, and when millions of individuals are trying to change everything from their spending habits to their careers, this timely book will unravel the mystery of what gets people to change and why.