Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Switch

I just finished "reading" Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard as an audiobook, and was blown away by the simple and powerful model of successful change. The authors use a really "sticky" image of a man riding an elephant as a metaphor for the forces that have to be managed in order for a person to make a change. The rider is our rational mind, the part of us that responds well to reason. The elephant is our emotional side, the part of us that is driven by impulses and emotion.

Of course, I can think of lots of ways that the model applies in business, but as a weight-loss blogger, I thought even more of how this model explains why weight loss is so difficult. I am especially thinking of this in relation to a weight-loss website I tried out recently.

The focus of this website is all about education: If we knew what to do, we'd lose weight. So they send out all of these informational and educational emails... what a serving size of each food group is, what kinds of substitutions to make for high-fat products, how much exercise to do. My rider is feeling a little annoyed by all of this information: I know all this, but what am I supposed to do about it? I can't control this stupid elephant!

According to the Heath brothers, willpower is a limited and exhaustible resource. Change can happen on pure willpower for a while, but when we're tired or emotional, we tend to "forget" all of our good intentions. Our elephant wins out over the smaller, weaker rider.

I don't need more lowfat recipes, I have thousands of cookbooks full. What I need, and what a lot of us need, is a way to get our elephants on board with this change. How do we motivate ourselves to make the change we want? And how do we keep that motivation going when we're tired, bored, angry, hungry, hurt, sad...

Besides the elephant and the rider, the authors ask us to look at the path they are on: Is it set up for success? Can we find ways to make the environment more friendly to the change we are trying to create? Can we build new healthy habits that take the place of our old unhealthy ones? Can we find ways to become part of a "herd" of other motivated people?

At first with the new website, I was highly motivated by the "herd" of other people trying to make similar changes. But the group participation sort of fizzled out and I realized I was posting a lot but not a lot of other people were, and I started to feel silly. I stopped posting, and stopped visiting the site. I still get the educational emails, but I don't even open them most of the time.

My favorite tip from the book was to "Avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error." That means that instead of blaming the person who has not successfully made the change (yet) as someone who is incapable or unwilling to change, we should focus on reshaping the situation to make success more likely.

One of the reasons I set up my "30 in 30" Challenge was to try to create an environment for success for myself and the other readers of this blog. I focused on one critical move: Get more activity. I made it more concrete and do-able by focusing in on one specific goal: Thirty minutes of activity a day for thirty days. I tried to shrink the change by defining it in terms that I thought could be fit into most people's schedule: Something more active than your typical daily activity, which could be something like running or just an intensive 30-minute housecleaning session. I figured that by doing it for 30 days, we could all build a new habit that would make it easier to continue on a more active path. So far it has really helped me to have a new "herd" working on this with me.

I highly recommend this book and would not be surprised to see a special weight-loss-oriented Switch book in next January's new releases, but I don't see any reason that a creative person couldn't figure out how to apply the concepts that are here to weight loss or any other personal change project. The authors also cite Brian Wansink's studies on mindless eating as an example of how people can make changes just by reshaping their environments, which makes me want to revisit his site for some ideas on what to do next.

One of the cool things is that once you've read the book, there are some great free resources available for download to help reinforce the lessons of the book. That's nice for audiobook "readers" like me. There are a few podcasts which might make good workout fodder... I plan to download them soon.



  1. This sounds really interesting,and a good way to occupy my brain while I'm commuting. I can't concentrate that well on printed material of the "how to change" variety. Thanks for the recommendation and details why you like it.

  2. Fantastic review Jen. I think your 30 day challenge is such a goodun - do-able and not plain nutty like so many of these online challenges seem to be. great example of a helpful herd :)


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07