Book Review: Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Scott CostelloAll, Blog, Books 3 Comments

I’m off to a great start this year with my goal of reading one book per month.  I’ve actually just finished reading my 5th book so I am one ahead of the game.  It has been much easier then I could have expected, as I’m really enjoying shutting off the TV and popping open a book.

The book I just finished is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  It was recommended by Pat Flynn from one a couple of his blog posts so I had to go out a get it.  This book explains how the mind works when it comes to trying to make a major change in our lives or in the actions of other people.  Change is never easy, but if we understand how our mind works in conjunction with our emotions it is very possible to alter our actions and create new habits.

Many books talk about goal setting as a way to motivate and direct yourself in order to achieve all you want in life.  This can be an ingredient to success, but as this book explains there are some very important factors that will get in the way and prevent you from fulfilling even your most desired goals.

This book review is going to be more then just a review as Switch really struck a cord in me and made me realize why I’ve failed in the past at getting myself to change as well as getting other people to change.  In our brains their are two distinct parts that must work together if we have any hopes of our end goal.  There is the rational side that will think a process through, analyze everything and come up with a plan.  The book calls this side The Rider (you’ll understand why in a second).  The other part of the brain is the emotional side, this is were your passion, intensity and energy comes from.  It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.  This is called your Elephant!

This makes perfect sense if you think about the Rider on top of the Elephant controlling it’s movements and directions.  Our rational side of the brain is the one that controls our emotions right?  When you get into a heated argument, your rational side (Rider) will take a hold of  your emotional reigns (the elephant) to settle you down.  The Rider is good at foregoing instant gratification in order to focus on a larger future prize.  The Elephant on the other hand wants action and instant gratification and will put it’s head down with disregard for the ramifications.

One big problem however!  It’s exhausting for the Rider to control the Elephant and eventually he will tire and lose out.  A great example of this is going to the gym.  Sure in the beginning it’s fairly easy to get yourself up off the couch and get to the gym that first week.  Come the second and third weeks you find it harder and harder to get yourself out the door to the gym.  Then one day that couch is just too comfortable or that TV show is too interesting and you skip the gym.  What happened in this scenario is your rational side of the brain got worn out and your laziness won.  You see, being lazy is instantly gratifying to your elephant.  Going to the gym is a long term goal and the results aren’t seen for a long time which doesn’t please the elephant and is the reason you must constant battle with yourself to get to exercise.

So you are wondering how can you overcome this battle?  Good question!  You have to motivate the elephant by finding that trigger, that feeling of emotion.  Think back to when you first decided to go to the gym, what did you see, hear or experience that gave you that will power?  That is what got you to the gym and working hard for that first week, the two sides of your brain agreed that it was a good idea.  Only problem is that you lost no weight the first week and your need for instant gratification quickly went away a yearned for sitting on that enjoyable, relaxing couch.

If you can continually find that motivation to go to the gym eventually it will form a habit.  A habit is something that is second nature, and does not require the Rider to pull and tug on the elephants reigns, thus becoming effortlessly.  I know this is heavy stuff, but if you break it down and put it up against your own life I bet you will see that the theory is right on.

Now lets get into how to actually make one of those hard changes.  There are tricks to reaching both parts of your brain…

Direct the Rider:

For newbie real estate investors, the rider is the one to blame for analysis paralysis.  With so much information out there and so many choices the Rider needs some direction.  To make a change you must be convinced that it’s a good idea first.  Sometimes this is simple, while other times not so much.  As real estate investors we all at one point had to convince ourselves that being an investor was a better option than what we had been doing previously.  So how to direct  the Rider?

Follow The Bright Spots: Seek out someone who is a successful investor and mimic what they do.  I’m sure you’ve heard this advice many times before like I have.  Now you know why it’s important, because it shows us investing can work and how we should proceed.

Script the Critical Moves:  This is not your business plan, it involves a specific behavior.  As a real estate investor, I’m going to go to an REIA meeting once a month.  Scripting your moves is about giving direction to the rider at the start or you will get confused and eventually give up.  It’s the first step.

Point to the Destination: Last but not least is setting a goal.  Change is easier if you know where you are going and why you want to get there.

Motivate the Elephant

For some of us the motivation is family, for others it was the experience of near foreclosure that is the motivation.  You ever get that nervous feeling in your stomach when you have a large task in front of you?  That’s your elephant trying to turn around for the couch and TV.  Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to accomplish a daunting task when you are inspired by others who are working towards a similar goal?  The Heath brothers outline three methods for motivating the elephant to look past the short term and work towards that long term goal.

Find the Feeling: Emotion is a powerful thing that can get you over the hump.  Finding the feeling refers to figuring out what motivates you.  For me it’s spending more time with my family and not turning into my dad who at the age of 68 is working harder then ever.  Anytime I think about giving up, I think of my dad and it keeps me moving forward.

Shrink the Change: Any change can be broken down to smaller achievements which will feel less daunting and will be much quicker and easier to accomplish.  Shrinking the change is a way to trick the elephant and build momentum.  Once you accomplish a few smaller successes, you will be well on your way to a full change.

Grow Your People: Have you ever noticed how emotional people get about something they are passionate about?  The reason for this is because it is their identity, it’s the way they define themselves and how they measure up to other people.  It’s all about pride.  If you can develop a sense of pride towards your goal, change will be that much easier.

Shape the Path

Shaping the path is how you guarantee success.   We all get side tracked by something on television, checking our email 25 times a day or anything else that is a constant interruption.  All these things distract you from changing and tempt the elephant to abandon the path.  There are ways to keep focus and to greatly improve your ability to completely and successfully change.

Tweak the Environment: If you continually check your email, turn off the notifications.  If watching TV has become a problem and takes up hours of your day, cancel your cable.  By changing small things in your everyday environment it can have huge positive results in keeping you on path.

Build Habits: Once a habit is formed you no longer have to exhaust valuable energy trying to control the elephant.   For some people going to the gym is easy, and the reason is because it is habit.  As real estate investors we have to create habits in order to be successful.  Form habits to call people back right away, keep your word and do your due diligence.

Rally the Heard: Behavior is contagious. The best way to rally yourself is to put yourself in a situation where other people are succeeding.  The good feelings will transfer to you.  Avoid opposite minded people as they will bring you down.  Encourage others and be encouraged by others.


Whether you are changing yourself or a group of people, change is very hard.  This book does a wonderful job at making sense of why people fail and what has to be done in order to be successful.  As you can tell I loved this book and recommend that everyone read it.  I’ve been trying to apply it’s teachings to everything I do, from my JOB to going to the gym.  I’m going to leave you with a few quotes from the book…

  • “The weakness of the Elephant, our emotional and instinctive side, is clear: It’s lazy and skittish, often looking for the quick payoff over the long-term payoff.”
  • “For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.  Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your team.  Picture that person.”
  • “The Problem is this:  Often the heart and mind disagree. Fervently.”

Purchase Here: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link)

Scott Costello
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Comments 3

  1. You are too kind Carey. There was so much information I wanted to share about this book that I found it very hard to cram it into a post.

  2. Pingback: Probate Monday: Goals and other thoughts | Struggling to Get Started

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