‘Switch’ points out the path to change

We all have something we would like to change. It could be about ourselves or someone around us; it could be a policy at our school or place of work. It could be anything. The problem, though, is that change is hard. It’s more difficult and more terrifying than other things necessary to survival like food or air. Luckily for us, Chip and Dan Heath have written “Switch: How to Make a Change When Change Is Hard.”

If it sounds like a self-help book, that’s because it is one. However, it’s low on the weepy emotions and cheap gimmicks common to many books of this type. “Switch” is an intellectual look at how and why changes (like many New Year’s resolutions) fail and how to get around these problems.

The Heath brothers divide their findings into three sections, based on an unfortunately cheesy metaphor in which our emotional motivation is an elephant and our logical thinking is a human rider. The “elephant” must want to move in the same direction as the rider, or the rider will be powerless to keep it going in the long run. This is why it’s hard to resist a plate of cookies in front of you; the “rider” tires out and gives in to the “elephant’s” hunger.

The second section is about the rational mind, or the “rider.” The “rider” has to have a clear path and avoid confusion in order to direct the “elephant” to an ultimate destination. This is why vague ideas like “eat healthier” are difficult to keep to; there are innumerable definitions of this behavior. Something simpler like “switch to low-fat milk” is a much more attainable goal.

The third part of the book refers to the “path,” or the situation. As psychologists have been studying for decades, small changes to situations can alter behavior significantly. Making the path clearer and providing fewer distractions makes the change you are trying to effect much easier to accomplish. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, not buying foods you know are triggers for overeating will help you because you will not have them around to eat.

It isn’t a perfect book. Some of the examples are very corporate and difficult to imagine applying to private life. Many of the “workshops” offered at the end of chapters are tedious and I confess I skipped them after the first few. Still, many of the stories in the book are inspiring and eye-opening.

I learned a lot about change and the human psyche from this book. Psychology buffs may already know a lot on this topic, but I think there is still much to be gained from the examples found within. Some are the results of interesting psychology experiments, but others come from real-life situations in companies, service organizations, or daily life.

This is a book all members of the 21st-century world community should become familiar with. It offers valuable insights into the things that hold us back and how we can push forward. Members of the Transylvania community can (and should) read it for free by borrowing it from our library.

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