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Switch Summary

Here’s the Switch summary. The full title of the book is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Learn how to effect a change by understanding how our minds work.


Switch authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain why it is hard to make lasting changes in our personal lives and environment. They also explain how our rational and emotional minds work.

They use the counterintuitive results from decades of psychology and sociology research. They also show that successful changes follow a specific pattern. You can use it to implement changes in your own lives and to others.

About the Authors

Chip Heath teaches courses in business strategy and organizations at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He has consulted with Google, Gap, American Heart Association, and other organizations.

Dan Heath founded Change Academy that helps social sector leaders boost their impact. He has also worked as a case writer and researcher for Harvard Business School.

Main takeaways: Switch Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from their book:

  1. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
  2. Self-control is an exhaustible resource.
  3. Make yourself feel closer to the finish line.

What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem

Yes. Environment influences us more than we think. For example, if there is always an ice cream in our refrigerator, our tendency is to consume more ice cream. It will make our diet efforts go to waste.

Even if we have a strong motivation to eat less, the presence of sweet foods will derail our efforts. It works the same way with other situations other than dieting.

For example it is common in malls and movie theaters. You will often see large buckets of popcorn. What’s the obvious result? People will eat more popcorn. But with a smaller bucket the tendency is to eat less.

It is hard to persuade people to eat less popcorn if all they have is a large bucket. The environment and the situation affects how we behave.

So before implementing a change, try to change the situation or problem first. For example if it is inconvenient for you to write a blog post each day, make it easy for you. One way you can do this is by putting just one icon on your desktop screen. Whenever you turn on your computer, you will see the MS Word on the screen. You will think of writing first thing you turn on your computer.

You can also do that if you’re trying to exercise more. You can put your running shoes and jogging pants beside or in front of the door. This way each morning after you wake up, those shoes and jogging pants will remind you to exercise.

Self-control is an exhaustible resource

We don’t have limitless willpower. Our self-control gets weak as we encounter different situations. It doesn’t matter much whether we have a strong a motivation to do something or not. If our self-control gets depleted, it’s hard to implement or sustain the change.

That is one of the reasons we fall into temptations late at night. We feel tired. Our self-control has been already depleted. We don’t have the energy to resist the temptations. The result is we eat more and do other destructive actions.

We burn up a lot of self-control because we always respond to situations. We always cope with fears. We always try to control our spending. We also get stressed about different choices.

What do we do then? The solution is mentioned earlier. Modify your environment and situation first. That will make it easier for you to follow through your wanted change.

Modifying the environment and the situation also makes it harder for you to do destructive habits. If your refrigerator is empty, it becomes a struggle for you to buy an ice cream at the store. You will think twice before getting an ice cream. There’s a good chance that you will just sleep.

Make yourself feel closer to the finish line

This is real. We’re built for instant gratification. We need rewards to continuously reinforce us. If we don’t get the rewards fast, we lose hope. We become demoralized.

Rewards don’t often come in the form of money. It could just be a feeling of accomplishment. If we feel closer to the finish line, we get more motivated.

The authors used The Elephant and The Rider metaphor. The elephant is the one who does the action. It’s what it is. The elephant requires a tremendous amount of effort to do something. We feel the same way. If we feel that we’re not receiving any gratification from our efforts, we become demoralized. Everything becomes a tasks that requires much effort.

Make yourself feel closer to the finish line if you want to stay on track. It’s much better to receive little rewards along the way than to have that one big payback at the end of a long arduous journey.

You’ve learned that changing our environment can effect a lasting change. You’ve also learned that making yourself feel closer to the finish line will motivate you more. Aside from those, you’ll also learn the following from the Switch book:

  • Why you should adopt a growth mindset
  • Why you should prefer installing good habits instead of fighting the bad habits with your willpower
  • How to motivate the elephant by finding the feeling, shrinking the change, and growing your people
  • Why knowledge is not enough to change a behavior
  • Big problems are often solved by a sequence of small solutions

My personal takeaways

It’s hard to change. That’s because we always rely on our self-control to do it. We think that if we’re just motivated. Or if we just have the iron discipline of that businessman. However, it’s not all about our self-control or discipline.

Modifying the environment is much easier. This way we can just default to our desired behaviors or habits. It also makes doing destructive actions hard or impossible.

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