Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Review: Switch: How to change when change is hard

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Switch: How to change things when change is hard
Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Broadway Books (book)
Random House (audiobook)

I seem to be all about change these days. I’ve got external, life generated changes like graduating children (college and high school), aging parents, and my own physical “mid life” changes. I have internal self improvement changes on the radar, like eating better and staying on the path of regular exercise. There are changes to be made at work, in my home environment and in my community.

All this change is what drew me to the book Switch: How to change things when change is hard by the brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  I pre-ordered the book on Switch has now been on the New York Times best-seller list for 28 weeks. Because of the changes in my life this year, my first “reading” of Switch was as an audio book during, what else, a change episode: caravanning with my youngest daughter to college five states away. During the trip I was also able to “read” the brothers Heath best seller Made to Stick.

Fast forward a month, I’ve recommended the book to many friends, put my copy of the audio book in circulation and drafted a preliminary blog review of Switch. As luck would have it, I was able to hear Chip Heath in person just last night. Heath is as compelling a speaker as the concepts in the book.

Lizzard with Chip Heath author of the New York Times bestselling book Switch.
Switch is a book about change, change process and change theory. Yes, people must change themselves and change can be hard, but Switch notes that successful changes follow similar patterns. The book explains the dichotomy between the rational mind and the emotional mind, and the role that physical circumstances plays in shaping both. The framework outlined for effecting successful change is to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and clear the path.

Directing the rider refers to our cognitive control over ourselves. This is the part where we use will and self discipline to make a change. The problem with directing the rider is that the rider gets tired, and, well, the elephant does have a size advantage. Motivating the elephant refers to creating the emotional desire for change. Clearing the path refers to creating the structure for change or, perhaps better, a structure where the change is built in.

Take, for example, my desire to become a lifelong exerciser (i.e. a person who will still be moving in the year 2040). Directing the rider is easy. I know that to still be moving when I’m 75 means I need to remain mobile now, preferable 4 – 6 times a week (for me.) Directing the rider, while easy to do, is not easy to maintain. The rider, my cognitive ability to self-discipline, gets worn out and tired. And when my cognitive self-disciplined self gets tired, my emotional self, my elephant, takes over and can run amok.

In the book Switch, the cognitive mind is likened to a rider and the emotional mind the elephant.
I motivated my elephant to stay with the program by tapping into the positive emotional side. I love people and shared activity. That’s fun for me. So, I sought out and joined a training group of positive women with similar goals. (shout-out here to the Fitbirds). I also participate in other groups such as the local tri club and running clubs where a training activity becomes a mini adventure because of location or a fun social outing coupled with, for example, brews and burgers after. (shout-out to the FreshChix, YaYos, Happy’s, Varsity Running, Baton Rouge Tri, Baton Rouge Bike Club, and Fleet Feet Running! To name a few!) Just being around these women and other athletes, even when I’m not at their level of athleticism (and, trust me, I’m NOT), helps me view myself as an active person and keeps me motivated. Once I’ve made the emotional connection, I am reluctant to disappoint my buds. I’m less likely to skip exercise with a social group than if I were exercising alone.

Speaking of exercise dates, the final component of the framework is scripting the critical moves or clearing the path to change. I’ve found that setting out my clothes the night before clears the path for my exercise. I wake up in the morning, roll out and my clothes are there. Knowing my weekly training schedule in advance is another way I adapt my environment. As a wife, mother, employee, caregiver, and community volunteer, time is my most precious asset. Even if I don’t follow a training plan as written, knowing my training schedule plan helps form and increases the chances for my compliance. Switch refers to this advance planning as a “pre-loaded decision” or “action triggers.” According to the data in the book, these triggers triple our chance at success! Now that’s good planning.

“Action triggers” is just one of the book’s concepts that can benefit the 2040 Project Posse. The book is chocked full of additional examples, concepts, studies and statistics demonstrating an effective framework for change. The concepts in the book are scalable. The framework applies to changes of all shapes and sizes. Whether the change is to eat healthier, exercise more, correct a negative behavior in animals or children, or to make lasting community or systemic change, Switch provides a new lens from which to view the framework for making positive change.
A training schedule acts as a "preloaded decision" and increases the chances that I'll exercise.
Reading Switch won't make change occur automatically just like having a carbon fiber bike won't make you a faster rider. But like that sweet bike, the information in Switch may be the tool to help you reach your change goals faster.


  1. Can't wait to read/listen to the book!

  2. Very excited to read the book. In this world we need to be able to turn on a dime graciously!

    I have a Giveaway from the French Basketeer I think you will love!

    Art by Karena