Humans are hardwired with two distinct operating systems: a strong one that takes the path of least resistance and a smart one that looks to the future and makes hard choices. In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath name these two operating systems “The Elephant” and “The Rider.” The Elephant and The Rider often work against each other, making it hard to change self-defeating behaviors in all realms of life: relationships, health, finances, family.
The Heath brothers outline three basic principles for improving the collaboration of The Elephant and The Rider that make change a bit easier:
1) Direct the Rider
Keep the Rider focused on the journey by thinking ahead to specific behaviors that will keep you going in the right direction, celebrating and learning from victories, and keeping an eye on the very specific prize.
2) Motivate the Elephant
Keep the Elephant moving on the journey by enlisting emotions, prompting the senses, focusing on one small step at a time, and encouraging a growth mindset by adding “yet” to any self-defeating talk. (i.e. “I can’t save $500/month” becomes “I can’t save $500/month, yet.”)
3) Shape the Path
Make it harder for the Elephant to stray and the Rider to get discouraged by eliminating barriers to progress. Set guideposts to encourage you in the right direction, such as placing your gym bag by the door. Put in an intensive short-term burst of hard work to create a habit that will make changing easier. Habits, once formed, require minimal focus to keep up.
Whether you’re looking to change behaviors in yourself or leading a family or group to desired outcomes, following the Switch framework has the potential to reduce the effort required to change and maintain the results.