Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

Switch is about how to change behavior, whether of individuals or organizations or societies.  The book is full of research and case studies to help you do just that.  It’s well worth a read; I know I’ll read it again.

They use Jonathon Haidt’s metaphor (which he in turn took from the Buddha) of the elephant (our emotions) and the rider (our reason) to represent the tremendous inertia involved in accomplishing change.

Change in behavior requires three things: clearly state the desired behavior (direct the rider); engage the emotions (motivate the elephant); change a hard problem (teaching people to think differently) into an easy problem (give them smaller popcorn buckets), i.e., change the situation by shaping the path.  The trick is to accomplish all three simultaneously.

In order to direct the rider, we need to learn to look for behaviors that lead to positive outcomes.  They point to research that indicates human nature tends to do just the opposite: we focus on behavior that leads to negative outcomes.  Looking for positive behaviors is itself a learned behavior that requires some practice.

We need to clearly describe for the rider what the critical moves are in order to accomplish the positive behavior.  The most successful goals are behavioral goals, not outcomes.  Until you can describe an idea for change as a behavior, you’re not ready to change.

Show the rider his destination in a way that captures his imagination.  In other words, show the rider how changing his behavior will change his identity.

The elephant has all the inertia.  That inertia is the embodied feelings of the elephant.  To move the elephant you have to move it emotionally; visually, sensually, or via a story.  Numbers won’t move the elephant.

Another way to motivate the elephant is to make it think it’s almost there, that the destination is close.  Break a large task into small steps, and get the elephant to move one step at a time.  Make the change small enough they can’t help but score a victory.

We adopt identities throughout our lives.  Make your change a matter of identity rather than consequences.

Harness Infinity in your Practice

We tend to think of infinity as a REALLY big number.  But pick any number you want, even say a googolplex, and that number is finite.  It is limited.  A googolplex plus one is still greater than a googolplex.

Infinity is unlimited or unbounded.

Infinity is less of a thing than it is a process.

The natural numbers are just the counting numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4,…  We know that there are infinitely many of them, because if you assume there are only finitely many, then there must be a largest number, say N.  But N+1 is greater than N, and if N is a natural number then so is N+1.  This contradicts our assumption that there are only finitely many.  Hence there are infinitely many natural numbers.

It is by this process of adding one that we come to infinity.  As soon as we stop adding one, we know that no matter how big the number is, it is still finite.

So how do we harness this concept of infinity into our practice?  By doing our practice every day.  This is what takes us from N to N+1, from the finite to the infinite.

The brain is a very plastic organ.  When we do something again and again, particularly at the same time and place every day, that activity will eventually cease to be something we consciously choose, and will eventually become nearly autonomous, like the beating of our hearts.

Our practice becomes truly powerful when we no longer waste any emotional energy on choosing whether or not to do it. At this point our practice transcends habit; it becomes part of our very nature.

N+1 follows N as night follows day.