Resolutions: Making Change Easier

Happy New Year!

Sorry for being so cheery while you’re down in the trenches, recovering from the season’s excesses. But I wanted to catch you before you lingered there too long, trading in your excesses for excuses. You know, the kind that keep you from making good on your New Year’s resolutions?

Last New Year, I wrote about Mindfulness. Today, I would like to tackle a harder topic.


Specifically – how to make it easier.

Most of us fail (Do you hear me? FAIL!!!) to keep our resolutions longer than a few weeks. Nothing new there. There are many reasons why we find it hard to change. I don’t care about any of them. All I care about is making change easier.

Last month I read (and then re-read, which I seldom do) the best book I have ever come across on the topic of change. It is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

Today, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned. My inclination is to explicate my learning in the form of a rather long book report. I love this book that much – I would be willing to revert to high school drudgery just to share my excitement.

But I know you don’t want to eat the whole cake, you just want to lick the icing off the top. So instead I will give you an ADD-digestible precis of the best bits – for those of you who haven’t read it, won’t read it, or don’t read period. If you want to eat the whole cake, go get it.

The Icing

Switch dissects change and blows it wide open. It unravels the mysteries of why it is hard to change and, more importantly, how we can make change easier.

Chip and Dan tell us that the biggest reason most of us find it hard to change is this:

“Your brain isn’t of one mind”.

Basically, there are two sides to our minds:

  • The Emotional Side – The Heath’s refer to the emotional side as “the elephant”. This is the side that is emotionally-driven, runs on instincts, wants immediate gratification and gives in to desires. The elephant likes to drink pina coladas in the rain.
  • The Rational Side – This is the logical-thinking, conscious and deliberate part of the brain, the side that plans, analyzes and exerts self-control. Switch refers to it as “the rider”. The rider likes to think about drinking pina coladas, count their calories and then reschedule them for a day with a fairer forecast.

The reason we don’t change is because our “elephants” and “riders” do not gel. When they disagree, the elephant always wins. Have you ever got in the way of an elephant and his chocolate bar?

If you want to get traction on making a change, you’ve got to get your elephant and rider in sync with each other. This is crucially important if you have ADHD.  Depleted dopamine means ADDers are hardwired to seek immediate gratification and pleasurable experiences. Malfunctioning prefrontal cortexes mean poor self-control and decision-making.

Compared to other people:

Our elephants are bigger and our riders have wandered off.

Riders know that short term sacrifices are necessary to achieve long-term goals. But self-control is a limited resource, especially with ADHD. When the rider fatigues, the elephant does what he wants. After 2 or 5 or 10 days of eating well and saying no to dessert, the rider gives up and the elephant eats the cake.

(Side note – my rider starts a new diet every Monday. Every Monday – for two years now. Seems my rider has a very obstinate elephant to contend with.)

Chip and Dan tell us:

“So when you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that’s just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out.”

It would seem, then, that we need to train the rider to be stronger. Not so. It’s a common misconception to think that all we need is a better plan or to work harder.

You see, the elephant is the one with the power. If we get him on our side, change is inevitable.

When motivated, the elephant gets things done. Without the elephant on his side, the rider plans, over-analyzes and runs in circles, but doesn’t get anywhere. If we want lasting change, we have to break through to the elephant and guide the rider.

You’ve had the Icing. Now, Here’s Some Cake.

The Heath’s three-part “system” completely simplifies the process of change. If you want to know more about making change easier, I will condense the rest of the book into a sort of cake-pop for you. In order to change, you need to:

1. Direct The Rider

Change is hard because we overcomplicate it. ADDers can lack clarity by thinking too much instead of taking action. Finding the right course of action is helped by:

  • Looking for “bright spots” – imitate past successful efforts. Look for what is already working and do more of it.
  • Making positive choices easy. Create clear guidance and specific rules around your new behaviours. Take the ambiguity out of change.
  • Focussing on where, not why. Create a vivid picture of your destination in your mind.  Show the rider where he is going. If the destination is compelling enough, he will figure out how to get there.


2. Motivate the Elephant

People fail to change not because they don’t know what to do, but because they don’t feel the change’s importance. We need to feel passionate about the changes we are making. Here’s how to get our elephants passionate:

  • Focus on positive feelings. Positive feelings encourage us to broaden our interests and become open to new ideas and experiences. This is particularly important to someone with ADHD, whose brain only truly engages with concepts that interested it.
  • Don’t raise the bar, lower it. Notice the little ways in which you are already closer to achieving your goal than you think. Focusing on the progress you have made rather than how far you have to go helps you do this.
  • Aim for small improvements rather than big shifts. Just as a snowball gains girth and momentum rolling down the hill, small steps taken towards your goal will eventually spiral. Focus on small, visible goals and consistently take steps towards them – until you reach a tipping point.
  • Develop an identity around your goal. Think about the change as an important part of who you are becoming.
  • Expect failure along the way. Abilities are muscles that can be strengthened, even through set-backs. Focussing on how you are growing keeps you moving forward towards the change.


3. Shape the Path

People will usually take the easiest path. Even when your rider and elephant aren’t synchronized, changes are made possible by creating an easy path to follow.

  • Tweak your environment. Make your new behaviour easier and the ones you don’t want, harder.
  • Build Habits. Small tweaks can add up to a big difference.
  • “Rally the herd.” Behaviour is contagious, so hang out with people who are seeking the same changes you are.
  • Keep it going. Change is a process. Reinforce “good behaviours” with acceptable rewards.


So there you have the icing and the cake pop of what I have learned about change, in a condensed form. The writers of Switch don’t make false promises that their system makes change easy. But they do suggest it will make change easier. I think that’s an offer we can all be happy with.

Though I have kept my summary concise, I do suggest you go and get the book. There are so many valuable nuggets in this book, it really is worth the investment of your time. However, if you aren’t much of a reader, I suggest trying an audio book. I only really “discovered” them this year but because of them, my reading list has grown exponentially – I’m now tallying around 40 books this year alone. Thank you audio books!

Tell me what you think about this post in the comments below. What are you trying to change this year? Do you think this post will help you in any way or does it just suck? Please share!


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