Book Cover
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

★ ★ ★

TL;DR: How to drive behavior change: Direct the rider. Motivate the Elephant. Shape the path.


  • Two parts of brain: emotional (instinctive) and rational (conscious)
    • Haidt: elephant and rider
    • Must move together to create change
  • Self-control is finite
  • Three parts of behavior change:
    • Direct the Rider
      • What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity
    • Motivate the elephant
      • What looks like laziness is often exhaustion
    • Shape the Path
      • What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem


  • Find the bright spots. Brain learns best what it records most
    • Solutions-focused therapy.
      • Miracle question: “Suppose you go to bed one night and in the middle of the night everything is resolved. When you wake up in th emorning, what’s the first small sign you would see that the problem is gone?”
      • Second question: Exception question. “When was the last time you saw a bit of the mircale, even just for a short time?”
      • Demonstrate that client is capable of solving their own problem
      • Recognize what needs to be done differently: “What’s working and how can we do more of it?”
      • Ex: Jerry Sternin, save the children. Fixed malnutrition in Vietnam in six months by going to homes with healthy children, observing what they were doing right, and then organizing community cooking groups
  • Script the critical moves
    • Decision paralysis: more options freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan
    • Ambiguity is the enemy. Ambiguous goals->concrete behaviors
    • Ambiguity tires the rider
    • Ex: get people to file expense reports on time
      • See what people who do file expense reports on time are doing right
      • Attach emotion: “doing me a favor”, “making my life easier”
      • Make less friction to the submission process
  • Point to the destination
    • Vivid picture of the short-term future that shows what could be possible (destination postcard)
    • Correct the tendency to get lost in analysis. Black and White goal: No cheetos. Gym every single day.


  • Find the feeling
    • See-Feel-Change
    • Ex: give developers more empathy for end users
      • Direct the rider: point to group glory of successful launch.
      • Motivate the elephant: involve developer in user testing
      • Shape the path: add to routines
    • Instill hope and optimism
  • Shrink the change
    • Placebos apply to things that are self-reported
    • Take care of smallest debt first
    • Select small wins that are 1) meaningful and 2) within immediate reach
    • Make it a matter of identity instead of consequences
      • “Am I the person who does this sort of thing?” vs. “What are the costs and benefits of doing this thing?”
      • Nursing turnover improved dramatically at Lovelace Hospital in New Mexico once the administrators realized that the best nurses tie it to their identity. Had recognitions for extraordinary nursing performance


  • Tweak the environment
    • Fundamental Attribution Error: we have an inclination to attribute people’s behavior to their character rather than their situation
    • Stanford dorm experiment
      • Two sets of people: saints and jerks
      • Two letters for canned food drive: one ambiguous, one specific (directions to drop, asking for one can of beans)
      • Ambiguous letter: 8% of saints, 0% of jerks. Specific letter: 42% of saints, 25% of jerks!!
    • Make hard behaviors impossible. i.e. keep both hands occupied outside of a machine’s danger zone
    • Haddon Matrix: focus on pre-event, event, and post-event security interventions
  • Build habits. Behavioral autopilot
    • Action trigger: pre-load the next decision with a previous one. E.g. gym clothes on->go to gym
      • Execute an action when you encounter a trigger
    • Use checklists!!
  • Rally the herd
    • Behavior is contagious
    • Obesity is contagious: 3x more likely to become obese if a close friend becomes obese (Christakis)
      • You change your idea of what is acceptable based on the people around you
  • Keep the switch going
    • Mere exposure principle: change becomes more favorable as people get used to it
      • Ex: Eiffel tower. People thought it was ugly at first (protests, etc.)