No matter who you are and where you come from, chances are you want to implement some sort of change in yourself or others. We all strive to be better versions of ourselves as well as we want the best for our loved ones. But change can be hard. If it wasn’t all of us would be exercising, eating healthy, working enough but not too much, et cetera. We are very used to our ways and it is truly difficult to establish new habits. However, even though change is hard it is not unattainable.
Dan and Chip Heath, authors of “the Switch” have developed a great analogy for implementing change. In order to grasp it, first you have to distinguish two voices in the human brain. The Elephant and The Rider. The first one is the emotional side. It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and strives for pleasure. Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reasoning or conscious system. It’s the part of you that elaborately and looks into the future. Now that you have the basic understanding of these brain systems, consider the 3 steps to change any behavior:
– Direct the Rider
– Motivate the Elephant
– Shape the Path
I will separately examine all of the above to further explain this analogy.
Direct the Rider
Point to the Destination . I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Define what your goal is and remember to make it SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely). Make it your priority. It helps to write down the goal in your notebook, or on your mirror, or to make it your phone wallpaper.
Scrip the Critical Moves. People who want to eat healthily that also get a meal plan from a nutritionists are far more likely to stick with their new diet than those who just decide that “from now on I’m not eating junk food”. It is hard to self-control because we are busy creatures and at the end of the day we go back to our old habits. That’s why change is so hard. Humans are set in their ways. So when you’ve set your goal, make a plan and make sure it is easy to follow. Focus on preparing for the situations when you might be tempted to get back to your old ways. For example if you want to stop snacking at night, make sure you had a big and satisfying dinner in the evening.
Find the Bright Spots. Imagine that you are someone who wants to improve their relationship with their spouse. You’re sick of constantly fighting and competing to win the conversation. Try to find and focus on those times when you didn’t fight. What makes those situations different? Why there was no conflicts on your vacation? Maybe it was the fact that you didn’t think about work and gave all of your attention to your partner.
Ask yourself the simple question “what works and how can I recreate it?” Here is the philosophy of a the Bright Spot in one question.
Motivate the Elephant
Find the Feeling. There are two ways to do that. Either find the fear of what’s going to happen if you don’t change or inspire yourself by imagine what will happen if you succeed. The second option will create more of a long-term encouragement but fear is great if you want to trigger a burst of instant motivation. Ideally you want to do both.
Shrink the Change. A good way to decrease the feeling of uncomfortable novelty of change is to replace one habit with the other. For example if you want to quit watching so much TV you can replace this habit with reading. Every time you feel the urge to grab the remote you go and grab a book instead .
Furthermore, it is important to focus on the small victories and on what you’ve already achieved. Reward yourself every time you stick with your new habits because each time you do, you move closer to the person you want to become.
Grow your People. This is all about creating a sense of belonging and acting like the person you want to become. Imagine a middle aged woman who wants to be more fit. After going to the gym for a couple of weeks she has to fill in a sheet during a visit to the doctor. There’s a question: “How often do you exercise?”. The woman realizes that she qualifies as an “athlete”. She thinks “hey! I am an athlete!” and from now on that’s how she perceives herself. Next time when she has to go train she won’t question it because this is what an “athlete does”.
Shape the Path
Make the journey to your goal as frictionless as it can possibly be. Prepare the gym clothes the day before, throw out all the chips and meal prep healthy meals to take to work, or install a time blockade on your phone. Self-control is hard so we shouldn’t rely on it with something as important as creating the life we want and shaping new habits.
And that’s the recipe! There are small changes and bigger ones but there is a pattern in successfully implementing all of them. If this article intrigued you I would recommend thoroughly reading “The Switch” as it contains a lot of inspiring stories and psychological research.
You now have the tools you need. The only question that remains is: what do you want to change?