How to Change Things When Change is Hard

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Nothing fuels me up more than reading these sorts of books coming into a new year. And as I approached my 40th birthday this is exactly what I needed. Here are the footnotes:


Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

That’s the first surprise about change, What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

All change efforts have something in common: For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently. Your brother has got to stay out of the casino; your employees have got to start booking coach fares. Ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: Can you get people to start behaving in a new way?



To change someone’s behavior, you’ve got to change that person’s situation.

For individuals’ behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds.



The unavoidable conclusion is this: Your brain isn’t made of one mind.

The conventional wisdom in psychology, in fact, is that the brain has two independent systems at work at all times. First, there’s what we called the emotional side. It’s part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure. Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.

Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime a six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.



Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.

Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource.



Change is hard because people wear themselves out.

And that’s the second surprise about change: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.


Once you break through the feeling, though, things change.



What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.

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

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



There’s a good reason why change can be difficult: The world doesn’t always want what you want.

More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan.



As Barry Schwartz puts in his book The Paradox of Choice, as we face more and more options, “we become overloaded. Choice no longer liberates, it debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.”

What tires out the Rider – and puts change efforts at risk – is ambiguity.



If you are leading a change effort, you need to remove the ambiguity from your vision of change.

The more successful change transformations were more likely to set behavioral goals.



Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch. To create movement, you’ve got to be specific and be concrete. 

What looks like stubbornness or opposition may actually be a lack of clarity.



Clarity dissolves resistance.

When change works, it’s because leaders are speaking to the Elephant as well as the Rider.



In almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.

When it comes time to change the behavior of other people, our first instinct is to teach them something. We speak to the Rider when we should be speaking to the Elephant.



Why can’t we simply think our way into new behavior? The answer is that, in some cases, we really can’t trust our own thinking.

People are reluctant to alter habits that have been successful in the past. “In the absence of dire threat, employees will keep doing what they’ve always done.” “Turnaround leaders must convince people that the organization is truly on its deathbed-or at the very least that radical changes are required if the organization is to survive and thrive.”



People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one.

If you want a reluctant Elephant to get moving, you need to shrink the change.

Mandy Zelinka is the former Digital Marketing Manager for KEVIN.MURPHY International and owned one of the largest award-winning salons in Portland, Oregon. She was also Voted Best Hairstylist in Portland in 2016 by The Portland Fashion + Style Awards. 

But she’s best known for tobogganing down the Great Wall of China as a United States Diplomat and First Lady of a City. 

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