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A Book

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

By Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Switch highlights the reasons that change can be so difficult. Crucially, though, Switch explains that change does not have to be complicated if you focus on success rather than obstacles. By observing others’ success, implementing habits, and utilizing emotion, you can encourage change in anybody. The key is to treat each person and environment as unique and adjust your approach accordingly.
A book that seeks to demystify change. To make effective changes, you have to appeal to both sides of your brain: the elephant and the rider. To make change easier, you need to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. A great psychology book with actionable insights based on scientific facts.
The brain has two independent systems at work at all times:
• The Elephant: the emotional side. It’s instinctive and feels pain and pleasure. Without a clear path, the Elephant will stand in your way and you will make little to no change
• The Rider: the rational side of the brain, and it provides direction and does the planning

Dan Heath’s Perspective

Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports social entrepreneurs. Previously, Dan worked as a researcher and case writer for Harvard Business School. In the late 1990s, Dan co-founded an innovative publishing company called Thinkwell. For almost 25 years, Thinkwell produced a line of online college textbooks that feature video lectures from some of the country’s top professors.

Dan has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the Plan II Honors Program from the University of Texas at Austin.

Top 20 Insights


1. There are three surprises about change.

2. Change often fails because our emotional side (The Elephant) and our rational side (The Rider) can’t cooperate long enough for the desired change to occur.

3. Another reason change often fails is because of our surrounding environment. This is known as the “Path.”

4. So, to change a behavior, you need to direct The Rider, motivate The Elephant and shape The Path

5. Change isn’t easy, but with the right framework, it becomes easier.

6. There are three surprises about change:

  • What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

  • What look like laziness is often exhaustion.

  • What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity.

7. The brain has two independent systems at work at all times. First, there’s the emotional side. It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure. Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.

8. Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination. If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both The Rider and The Elephant. The former provides the planning and direction, and the latter provides the energy.

9. In tough times, the Rider sees problems everywhere, and “analysis paralysis” often kicks in. The Rider will spin his wheels indefinitely unless he’s given clear direction. That’s why to make progress on a change, you need ways to direct the Rider. Show him where to go, how to act, what destination to pursue.

10. Ambiguity is exhausting to the Rider because the Rider is tugging on the reins of the Elephant, trying to direct the Elephant down a new path. But when the road is uncertain, the Elephant will insist on taking the default path, the most familiar path, just as the doctors did. Why? Because uncertainty makes the Elephant anxious.

11. The Rider’s strengths are substantial, and his flaws can be mitigated. When you appeal to the Rider inside yourself or inside others you are trying to influence, your game plan should be simple.

12. In almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.

13. If you need quick and specific action, then negative emotions might help.

14. The value of the miracle scale is that it focuses attention on small milestones that are attainable and visible rather than on the eventual destination, which may seem very remote.

15. If you want people to change, you can provide clear direction (Rider) or boost their motivation and determination (Elephant). Alternatively, you can simply make the journey easier. Create a steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove some friction from the trail. Scatter around lots of signs to tell them they’re getting close. In short, you can shape the Path.

16. According to one study of people making changes in their lives, 36 percent of the successful changes were associated with a move to a new location, and only 13 percent of unsuccessful changes involved a move.

17. A good change leader never thinks, “Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.” A change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”

18. If you want to change things, you have to pay close attention to social signals, because they can either guarantee a change effort or doom it.

19. When people make choices, they tend to rely on one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model or the identity model.

20. The consequences model assumes that when we have a decision to make, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options and make the choice that maximizes our satisfaction. It’s a rational, analytical approach.

In the identity model of decision making, we essentially ask ourselves three questions when we have a decision to make: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?

Key Takeaways

Learn From the Bright Spots

Description: Bright Spots | Class Teaching

The authors describe your mind as being an inner rider. It is generally a terrific thinker and planner. However, it is also prone to overanalyzing challenges and potential difficulties that could crop up in the future. Overanalysis gets you nowhere. As an alternative, you should give the mind a clear direction. Specifically, the authors recommend you find your bright spots and focus on these instead.

Bright spots are situations where change has already succeeded. Analyze these circumstances and identify how this change was effectively achieved. You can learn from this type of analysis and implement it into your life so that change can become more widespread. The authors provide an example of the effective use of bright spots. In 1990, Jerry Sternin had to solve the problem of child malnutrition in Vietnam. The government had contacted him to solve this pervasive issue. This is an issue that several governments have attempted to solve. However, it is effectively unsolvable at this point. Therefore, Sternin took a different approach by focusing on the bright spots. He observed local villages that were well-nourished and identified the differences between these local villages and the struggling villages.

Sternin noticed the families in the bright spot were feeding their children slightly differently. The families in the bright spot did not have more food, but the children received smaller portions at more frequent intervals. Sternin managed to spread these behaviors to other families, who accepted them more readily because they came from their own community, not from outsiders. By focusing on bright spots, Sternin was able to make a significant difference. Within just six months, 65 percent of the village had improved nutrition. The lesson from this success is to aim to spread the bright spots.

Prepare For Change

Description: decision paralysis - Marketoonist | Tom Fishburne

The authors describe a concept called decision paralysis. Essentially, change situations have the ability to paralyze individuals. With various routes available to solve a problem, people tend to choose none of them. The authors describe studies that suggest humans are less able to make decisions, the more options given. Confusion drives this inability to decide.

The most effective way of challenging confusion is to make things incredibly clear. The authors call these directions for your rider. These directions come in the form of behavioral goals and instructions. Firstly, you need to think about the situations crucial for change to occur. Once you have identified these situations, you need to script the actions required for these situations to occur. Suppose you have the behavioral goal of quitting smoking. One of the critical moves to successfully implement this change would be to stop buying cigarettes.

Explicit instruction is the approach adopted by health researchers. The authors introduce a study where health researchers were aiming to improve the diets of West Virginians. They understood that merely telling people to eat healthier was too ambiguous. This advice would provide too many options, leading to decision paralysis. Instead, they chose to provide clearly defined changes that West Virginians could execute. For example, they would suggest a simple swap for an unhealthy option. One option that had a significant impact was swapping out whole milk for low-fat milk. Due to its simplicity, this advice had a significant impact. The market share of low-fat milk doubled, and fat consumption significantly reduced within West Virginians’ diets.

Choose a Direction to Avoid Analysis Paralysis

Description: Does Your Business Have A Clear Direction? | AGILIS CA

Another form of paralysis frequently associated with decisions associated with change is analysis paralysis. This paralysis prevents change but also wastes your energy. The authors highlight the key to avoiding this analysis paralysis is to provide your rider with a clear direction. The authors provide an example of Crystal Jones to explain this point. Crystal Jones was a first-grade teacher. She motivated her students by providing them with a clear destination: they would all be honorary third-graders by the end of the year. The students were internally motivated by this destination and the clarity of this goal.

The authors call this direction the destination postcard. Crucially, this destination postcard should align with the changes you are hoping to encourage in the short-term.

Use Emotions to Control Your Inner Elephant

Description: How to Get In Touch with Your Emotions | Integrity Counseling & Wellness

Your inner elephant is your impulsive and emotional side. Your inner ride is in charge of your inner elephant, but it is continuously in a struggle to control this side of you. Therefore, to make genuine, sustainable change in your life, you also have to focus on motivating your inner elephant.

You cannot motivate your inner elephant in the same way you motivate your inner driver. Instead of using rationality, you must utilize powerful emotions. The authors provide an example of Jon Stegner to outline how emotions can effectively motivate your inner elephant. Stegner was aiming to convince the leaders of his manufacturing company that their purchasing approaches were hugely inefficient. In this instance, logical approaches, like statistical analysis, just wouldn’t work. He knew their inner elephants were driving these leaders. Subsequently, to encourage a change in their opinions, Stegner developed a presentation that tapped into the management’s emotions. He collected one pair of each type of glove the company sold. Subsequently, he just piled them on top of each other, one after the next, in front of the management. Immediately, their response was one of shock. The management team knew they had to change their purchasing process.

Utilizing motivation to encourage change relies on these emotions being strong. You can effectively use both positive and negative emotions to produce change. For example, fear can be used to enhance a sense of urgency for change. The authors argue, though, that positive emotions are generally more productive for bringing about change.

Play Down the Severity of Change

The authors explain that significant change is equivalent to getting an elephant to climb a mountain. It is unlikely that an elephant is going to agree to climb a mountain. However, suppose you can convince the elephant to walk up a small hill with you first. In that case, you can help move it towards accepting bigger hills.

Change is daunting. Therefore, you need to shrink the change before introducing it. For example, you could demonstrate to those you seek to convince that progress has been made before. The authors provide an example of a study that highlights the effectiveness of highlighting progress. In this study, participants were told they needed ten stamps on a car wash loyalty card to get a free wash. In this instance, only 19 percent of people completed their cards. Comparatively, another group was told they needed 12 stamps, but the card already had two stamps on it. In both circumstances, participants needed to collect ten stamps. However, the completion rate in the second group was 34 percent. The only difference between the two groups is observing progress.

Another way of shrinking the change is to split the change into smaller milestones. The authors call these milestones’ small wins’. The small wins towards more remarkable change offer people hope that complete change is possible. This type of motivation is one that fuels the elephant. Subsequently, as these small wins accumulate, any change will become a self-sustaining effect.

Adopt a Growth Mindset to Overcome Failure

Description: Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset: How To Shift To A Path Of Learning And  Growth - TechTello

“Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.” – Chip Heath

Failure is part of life and can provide an obstacle to change. The authors suggest adopting a growth mindset to overcome failure. One way to overcome failure is to accept that these experiences are inevitable and beneficial. You can improve yourself once you accept these two facts. The authors highlight our brains and abilities are not static. Instead, they are muscles that can be trained to become stronger. A growth mindset, whereby failures are considered opportunities, will help you become better at all you do.

Reduce Attribution Error by Providing an Easy Path

“And that’s the first surprise about change: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” – Chip Heath

Change is possible even with a confused rider and reluctant elephant. However, change then requires they are on a path that includes situational and environmental factors that affect this person’s behavior. If you can shape the path to be a gentle, pleasant downhill stroll, then you can help anybody engage with change.

Situational factors have a significant influence on our behaviors. However, humans tend to underestimate the impact of these factors. The authors call this underestimation the fundamental attribution error. This error assumes that individual behavior is a consequence of the way people are rather than their situation.

Research Supports the Importance of Situational Factors

Description: Situational Factors Ppt PowerPoint Presentation Example - PowerPoint  Templates

Research suggests that situational factors have a significant impact on our behaviors. The authors introduce a study where friends rated each other on their innate charitableness. The top half was labeled as saints, while the bottom half was labeled as jerks. After this part of the study, the students were mailed letters asking them to contribute food to charity. The independent variable in this study was situational factors. Half of the participants were given a basic letter that asked them to bring food to a well-known spot on campus. In comparison, the other half received detailed instructions that requested a can of beans and provided a map of the exact donation location. The first half was associated with terrible charitableness. Only 8% of the saints donated, while none of the jerks donated. Comparatively, one-quarter of the jerks from the second group donated. This highlights that situational factors are often more important than innate tendencies.

The moral of this story is you can utilize situational factors to encourage change. This is true for even the least likely individuals.

Build Habits to Make Change a Breeze

Building habits allows change to become part of an individual’s routine. However, building habits is not straightforward. Hence, the authors argue you must alter the environment to make habits simple to implement. One way to effectively alter the environment in favor of habit building is to establish action triggers. These triggers should be associated with the habit you are aiming to build. The authors use the example of dropping your children off at school (the trigger) before going to the gym (a habit).

The authors offer an example of the importance of the environment in maintaining habits. Specifically, they focus on a harmful habit that was not retained after a change in the environment. During the Vietnam War, 20 percent of the troops developed a heroin addiction. Subsequently, the US government was anxious about the number of drug-dependent troops that would be returning to their country. However, after one year of returning, only one percent of veterans were still addicted to heroin. The availability of heroin in Vietnam had offered an environment where they could easily maintain this bad habit. However, the familiar home environment and reduced access to heroin broke the habit.

Another way to effectively build habits is to utilize what the authors call the humble checklist. Step-by-step checklists help you to execute a habit as intended. These checklists will prevent you from getting sloppy with your habits, like cutting corners. Pilots utilize these checklists to avoid risky shortcuts in their work routine.

The importance of habits is we have little control over these behaviors. Habits are our inner riders on autopilot. Hence, if we can build an environment that encourages a desired change in your habits, you will develop low-effort success.

Positive Change Is Contagious

In an environment lacking cues, we generally follow the majority. Subsequently, the authors describe behavior as contagious. Crucially, you can take advantage of this human nature by highlighting that most people adopt a specific change. However, it may not always be the case that your desired change has a majority. Comparatively, your choice of change may have an oppositional majority.

In the case of an oppositional majority, it is your job to identify the minority willing to help strengthen the case for change. For example, discussing the benefits that this change brought to their lives.

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