Switch : How to Change Things When Change Is Hard By Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Switch : How to Change Things When Change Is Hard By Chip Heath and Dan Heath


Have you ever had a bad habit that you wanted to eliminate from your life? Do you want to learn how to make new, beneficial habits? Did you ever feel like life’s hitting you hard with all the challenges? Did you ever have problems with adapting to the environment? Truth is, every single human being would answer “yes”, on all these questions. And this is why the book “Switch” is so relevant and important for everyday, real-life situations- you can practically take everything you read and implement it to your life. Of course, if you want to change- if you don’t want to change, feel free to stop reading this summary.

The first hurdle on the path towards change is acceptance. You have to accept that the change is necessary. If you don’t accept the necessity of change, everything you do will be in complete shambles.

The book itself is based on an old metaphor. According to this old Buddhist teaching, the man consists of two parts- the Rider and the Elephant. The Rider is the cold, rational, calculative part of all human beings. It plans, makes schedules, does math, etc. On the other hand, the Elephant is much more emotional, impulsive, and hasty. Both the Elephant and the Rider have to work together in order to find the right Path. The Path is the third element in our equation, and it stands for the environment that surrounds both the Elephant and the Rider. The Heath brothers teach you that all 3 parts are extremely important in developing the potential for beneficial change.

The Rider

As already mentioned, this is the “smart” part of our being- it solves problems. However, he doesn’t do it on his own- he receives all the energy from the Elephant.

One of the biggest problems with the Rider is that he analyzes a lot. He overreacts and exaggerates the negative sides of your life. This is called negativity bias. Negativity bias was once extremely important because it practically assured our existence. In a harsh environment, it is always best to pay attention to the negative stuff, because everything around can practically kill you. But we no longer live in pre-historic times. It’s the 21st century and negativity bias actually stops you from seeing your own potentials.

So instead of overthinking and committing negativity bias, you should try to focus on bright spots. Finding the things you are particularly good at is a sure way to eliminate overthinking and negativity bias from your life.

For instance, Nikola Tesla chose to focus all his energy on only one thing-science. He actually neglected everything else, and you don’t have to resort to such extreme measures. But, what you can learn from Tesla’s example is his focus. He always knew what he wanted- by choosing one or two important things in your life, you will be able to focus on the so-called bright spots and thus eliminate overanalysis.

You can also script the crucial moves. This is another technique mentioned by Chip and Dan Heath, that can be used to “cure” decision paralysis. This kind of paralysis occurs in situations when we are overwhelmed by stress. However, if you sit down and practice the crucial moves, they will become completely automatic- in other words, you won’t succumb to the decision paralysis.

For instance, if you feel extremely anxious while speaking in public, you should learn your speech thoroughly. Secondly, you should desensitize yourself by speaking in front of people- not necessarily large crowds, but smaller groups of people. Finally, you can learn non-verbal gestures and some jokes that can be used to warm up the crowd. Best speeches are thoroughly prepared, even though they seem spontaneous.

Right Way

The Elephant

This part of our being wants it all and wants it now. It is very “heated”, impulsive, and abrupt. On the other hand, it is the source of our energy. This is why the Rider and the Elephant have to work together.

By taking emotionally-charged goals, you will get the much-needed energy from the Elephant. In short, when you do what you love, everything is sweet and sound. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and we cannot always do what we love. The Heath brothers give you a piece of good advice on how to attain these less emotionally charged goals. You should make takes these “unemotional” goals, and turn them into black and white goals. B & W goals are very specific and concrete- in other words, they are very clear. Let’s say that you want to learn how to play the guitar. You can say to yourself: “ I will start by practicing 2 hours a day.”- and this would be a perfect example of B&W goals- they are clear, transparent and easy to attain.

An example of a badly-chosen goal would be: “I will practice more.” This goal is so vague that it’s almost impossible to discern failure from success.

The Elephant often loses motivation when he sees that a lot of work has to be done. Psychologists were able to prove this. They gave loyalty card to their participants- in short, to win a bonus car wash, participants first had to buy a designated number of car washes. The first group was given a card that already had few stamps on it, while the other one received a completely empty card. Note that both groups had to buy the same number of car washes in order to get the bonus.

The results were surprising- the first group, the one that received a card that already had a few stamps on it, bought more car washes. They were motivated to buy more because it looked like the goal was at least partially attained.

In order not to demotivate yourself by choosing too challenging goals, simply start small.Separate the bigger goal into several smaller and easier ones. When first learning how to drive a car, you want to get the basics- how to change gears, how to park, etc. Only after making a lot of small steps can you take on some bigger challenge.

The Path

We often ignore the influence environment has on us. But the environment really affects the way we see the world, even if we don’t notice it that much. People you hang out with shape the way you see the world- if you change this aspect of your life, you will see just how much the environment affects us. “Cured” drug addicts who get back to their old habits often do this because all their friends are drug addicts. While they are in the clinic, everything’s fine, but as soon as they get back in their old environment, they become like their friends.

The Path can be altered in such a way so that it helps you with developing new, beneficial habits. The Heath brothers mention one particularly efficient technique- action triggers.

Action triggers are some stimuli that remind you of your new habit. For instance, if you want to start exercising, you can associate your new habit with the morning routine. This way, the word “morning” will become associated with the word “work-out”, and will remind you each day about your new habit.

There are other examples- if you want to practice mathematics, you can link this action with the post-lunch break. The end of your meal will become a trigger for the habit of mathematics.

Each time you succeed in maintaining the new beneficial habit, it would be smart to give yourself a little reward. Reinforcement is extremely important because it strengthens the link between the action trigger and the habit. For more than a century, psychologists have used reinforcement as one of their most important tools.


The most important takeaway from the book “Switch” is that all three aspects (Elephant, Rider, and Path) have to be balanced. Without balance, you won’t be able to adapt to new environments.

These are the most important ideas and techniques:

  1. Avoid negativity bias and focus on bright spots- your brain will sometimes work against you. In order to preclude this, focus on bright spots in your life.
  2. Script the crucial moves- preparation is the key. Even the people with best speeches prepare very thoroughly, even the smallest gestures are prepared and well-thought.
  3. Black and white goals- choose goals that are clear. Instead of saying “I will start exercising tomorrow”, say something like “I will exercise 1 hour per day.”
  4. Start small and separate bigger goals into smaller ones.
  5. Action triggers can be used for developing new habits.
  6. Give yourself a little treat every now and then.
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