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

The other day, I posted a review of ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business’ by Charles Duhigg. The main theme of the book is how to reprogram your habits, from quitting smoking to starting exercise at the habitual level. Another great book about sustainable change is ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

Instead of the ‘Cue – Routine – Reward’ cycle that introduced in ‘The Power of Habit,’ the author of this book proposes another trinity – Rider, Elephant, and Path. It seems three is the magic number in the world of change.

Let’s picture a change as a mahout on an elephant. The goal of the game is to move them from their current point A to a new point B. In order to make this change happen, you need to get all of these three elements aligned – Rider, Elephant, and Path.

The Rider

The Rider symbolizes rational, or your mind that logically understands the importance of the required change. First of all, the Rider needs to be convinced that a change is needed. This is the easy part if you try to change yourself. You want a change because you are logically convinced. You know smoking is bad for your health and quitting it is a reasonable choice. This may not be so easy if you try to change someone else. That’s why the society has a lot of educational programs. Smoking will increase the risk of lung cancer by X%. Drinking and driving killed Y people last year. Twenty-minute of moderate exercise burns Z calories. You know all those things.

The Elephant

You still might say, ‘yeah, I knew I had to do exercise, but other things happen in my life and I am too busy to go to the gym.’

The second element, the Elephant, is emotion. The Rider, with a strong will power, can drive the Elephant to a certain point, but his energy can quickly drain after putting so much effort to move the massive Elephant. The Rider cannot lead the Elephant for a long distance to the point B unless the Elephant also wants to move. The change is not sustainable unless people are emotionally sold.

The grotesque picture of the lung cancer printed on the cigarette package is for this purpose. People logically know that smoking is not goof for the health (the Rider) and that picture convinces people emotionally (the Elephant.) Take out the newly bought bikini that you wanted to ware in the next summer from the closet and hang it on the wall of your bed room, and the Rider will be able to drive the Elephant easily. Or, buying a new cool-looking training ware will make you want to go for the gym. 

The Path

After convincing the Rider and energizing the Elephant, the last element to be taken care of is the Path. You need to make the Path easy for the Rider and the Elephant to walk through.

By keeping your training ware in a bag before you sleep, you will be able to head for the gym when you wake up, reducing your time for second thought and excuse. Or, packing another set of training gear in the car will make it much easier. Reduction of decision making steps (which T-shirt to ware? where are my sneakers?) will definitely help the Rider and the Elephant go to the point B straight.   

Today’s Lesson

Once you master the magic three of the sustainable change – Rider, Elephant, and Path, – changing your world is as easy as one, two, three.

2 Replies to “‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath”

  1. Hi Shinobu, I think this analogy is great and was explored in detail in Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis which is a bit more about the conflict between your own inner Rider and Elephant.

    ‘Made to Stick’ by the Heath brothers was also a fascinating book about how ideas actually grow and ‘stick’ with people, whether it be an urban myth or a company vision statement.

    Keep posting please!!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Stephen, and I’m encouraged to continue my book review. But please limit your new recommendation to one book at a time. I haven’t even finished the 4-hour Work Week that you recommended previously yet!

      I’ll probably go with the Made to Stick next, as that one has been in my wish list for a while. The other one, the Happiness Hypothesis, sounds interesting, too, though. Or I should read a book about speed reading before you recommend four more books.

      – Shinobu

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