How to make a change: A conversation with “Switch” authors

In the last two weeks, we have explored highlights from our July Page to Practice™ feature: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Join us for an excerpt of a conversation with authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath with special thanks to Fortier Public Relations.

Fortier: What was the most surprising discovery you made about change behavior?

Heath Brothers: That self-control is exhaustible, like a muscle. We’ve all experienced this—you have a stressful day at work, and you come home and you snap at your partner, or you have one drink too many. You burned up your self-control at work. And this is critical for change, because all change requires self-control. Not just in the sense of resisting a temptation, like a cookie or a drink, but in the sense that you have to manage your behavior deliberately. So one implication of this is that you shouldn’t pile on too much change at once—don’t pick six New Year’s resolutions, and don’t overhaul every aspect of people’s routines at once at work.

Fortier: In the book, you say we often overcomplicate change. What do you mean by that?

Heath Brothers: When change doesn’t happen, we almost always blame it on the people—people who are too “resistant” or “lazy.” But what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. For instance, we tell the story of a manager named Amanda Tucker, who got poor ratings on “communication” from her employees. The problem was that, when they’d come in her office, she’d often get distracted by email and try to multitask while they were sitting there. Is Tucker a bad manager? A poor communicator? Well, no. She rearranged her office one afternoon, so that she couldn’t see her monitor, meaning that she wouldn’t be distracted. And—poof—her communication scores went way up. It wasn’t a problem with Amanda, it was a problem with her environment. And the environment was a lot easier to fix.

Fortier: What do you mean by “shaping the path” for change?

Heath Brothers: Small tweaks to the environment can have a big impact. Think about Amazon’s one-click-order button. They have “shaped the path” to an order, making it as easy as humanly possible. Many of us are blind to how much our situations actually shape our behavior. Our surroundings have been carefully designed to make us act in a particular fashion. Traffic engineers want us to drive in a predictable, safe way, so they paint lane markers and install stoplights and signs. Banks got tired of us leaving our ATM cards in the machine, so we have to remove them before we can get cash. We can also act as our own engineers, tweaking the environment so that the right behaviors are easier. A friend of ours lays out his jogging clothes before he goes to bed, so it’ll be just a bit easier to get started the next day.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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