By Chip and Dan Heath
I read this book because I’m eager to make some important changes in my own behavior and to be the change I want to see in the world. It’s an easy read, with loads of practical suggestions to promote change. It also answers a big question. Why is it that we know certain behaviors are completely destructive, yet we do not stop them? Doctors surely know that smoking and obesity are likely to lead to early death, yet still there are plenty of fat doctors who chain smoke. The Heath brothers explain that it’s not an information gap that keeps us stuck in our ways, failing to change.
Right off in Chapter 1 we learn why we resist change. It’s because the heart and the mind often fervently disagree. We are offered an explanation first hypothesized by psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. Our emotional side, Haidt says, is like an elephant. Our rational side is the rider of the elephant. Whenever the rider and the elephant disagree on a direction, the elephant wins. The Heath brothers then continue, chapter by chapter, to offer solutions to win over the elephant, our emotional and instinctive side, and make sure both rider and elephant travel in the right direction. It’s not always an easy battle, and often what looks like laziness or indecisiveness or extreme resistance is something else entirely, like exhaustion or a bad situation.
You may not relate to all of the examples and case studies described in this rather wordy book. I wasn’t interested in all of the corporate scenarios, and so I skimmed them.
However, many of the studies are fun to read. In the first part of the book, a popcorn study describes movie goers who ate vast amounts of stale popcorn even thought it was wretched; it was five days old and squeaked when chewed. Some received moderate portions of popcorn, and others were given an enormous bucket. Those who got bigger buckets couldn’t possibly eat the entire amount, yet they consistently ate more than those who got smaller portions. (You can read more about this in Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink.)
Another scenario in the chapter “Shrink the Change” describes a study of hotel maids who did not recognize that cleaning rooms was exercise. One group of maids was told that, in terms of exercise, they were superstars. This group was given statistics about how many calories they burned for various cleaning activities. The other group wasn’t given any statistics, nor told that their work involved exercise. Four weeks, later, the group that had learned that they were exercise superstars had lost an average of nearly two pounds. The other group of maids hadn’t lost any weight.
By the time you finish Switch, you’ll have been exposed to a number of methods that can help you to make keep the rider and the elephant headed for a better life. I suggest that you read this book and become the change that you want to see in the world.