Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

About six weeks ago I came across a video in the Crossfit Journal by a nutritionist, Dr. John Berardi where he talked about the differences in knowing what to do and doing the right thing. He was inspired by change psychology and discussed some really simple things people can do to lose weight. The first thing was to eat slowly. I have always been a very fast eater and I've known that that is a problem with my eating habits. I once tried eating with chopsticks as a way for me to slow down my eating and instead I just got really good at eating quickly with chopsticks.

Nonetheless, I really tried to focus on slowing down my eating and being aware of my actual hunger levels. I'll eat because there's something tasty around, even if I'm not hungry. This is especially true at my parents where they always seem to have delicious junk food that I don't buy.

The result has been a loss of almost ten pounds. I haven't really been paying attention to the numbers, just to what I'm eating, when I'm eating it, and how fast I'm eating. So that's been going well.

Dr. Berardi recommended some books on change psychology, one of which was this book, Switch by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. They also wrote Made to Stick which I seem to recall reading but was either unimpressed with it or I actually didn't read it (I'm 75/25 sure it's the former).

I really liked Switch. Although it related more to businesses, there is some individual application to be found. The essence of the book is that changes rely on three things which they label The Elephant, The Rider and The Path.

The Elephant is your emotional side. It's the part that craves the junk food or the Coach purse or says that we've always it done it this way so we'll keep doing it this way. The Rider is the rational side of you. It wants the healthy body to live longer. It wants to innovate. It sees the long-term picture.

The Heaths use the two terms because the rational side is in charge of the emotional side, as best as a person riding an elephant can be. It's hard. One of the reason why it's hard is that there is often little concern about external influences or The Path. Say I crave food. My mind is trying to control my belly but my belly wants to be satiated. How can I change my path? Maybe not visiting my parents would be an example. Or for most people, staying away from buffets. I go to buffets and I always joke that I have yet to see a supermodel at one of them. Coincidence? Or, a scientifically proven example, use a smaller plate at meal time. With a small plate, you don't put as much food on it and you tend to eat less.

Fooling with the path is also good because it lets your Rider use its wits to affect the Elephant with its own emotions. The Heaths use an example of getting a business to change their habits in filing expense reports by appealing to workers on an emotional level to make things easier for the well-liked HR person.

There are a lot of good tips, many of them common sense, like shrinking the change. Instead of focusing on losing fifty pounds, focus on losing five. Then once you hit that, go for five more. Etcetera.

Despite my examples, the book has very little to do with individual change. It is definitely a book geared to businesses and one I think should be essential reading for any business. It is primarily case studies and not a whole lot of "how-to". Given the business focus and the lack of practical implementation ideas on an individual level, I'm giving the book one star.

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