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Changing our behavior is not always easy, as anyone who has tried to quit smoking, eat healthier, or start running in the mornings will know. So what is it that makes change so difficult?


When you want to change your behavior, three key components affect your chances of success. In this book, they call it, the elephant, the rider, and the path. The elephant, being a powerful and stubborn creature, represents your emotional side, and it looks for quick payoff rather than long-term benefits. The rider, on the other hand, represents the rational side, that knows what should be done and to some extent can control the elephant. Finally, the path represents the situation in which the change is to take place.


For example assume you wana get up at 5:30 in the morning to go running. Your inner rider has rationally analyzed the situation and thinks it is good for you. But what happens when the alarm actually goes off in the morning? If you’re like most people, your inner elephant will want to sleep just a little more, and will totally overpower your rider and you end up skipping the run. Moreover, if the weather doesn’t sound so good outside, for sure it won’t help get that elephant moving. All these three components influence whether a change will be successful or not. Creating change is like riding an elephant. You’ve got to reach both the emotional elephant side and the rational rider side. And you’ve also got to clear the way for them to succeed. From changing your own diet to influencing others’ behavior, your success will depend on your ability to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path. In this summary, I’ll share with you three key things you must do to create a long-lasting change.




First step: Direct the rider for change


We said that the rider is our rational side, but how can we direct the rider. We can do three things here.



The first way is to find the bright spots.


Instead of looking at what is not working, find out what is already working and focus on those bright spots. Figure out how the change was successful there and use that information to make the change more widespread. This is exactly what Jerry Sternin did when the government of Vietnam invited him to help fight the children’s malnutrition. His approach was a very interesting one. He didn’t look at what causes malnutrition, instead, he looked for bright spots. He found that in a small village with malnutrition problems, some children were actually well-nourished. Then he realized there were small but important differences in the way those children were being fed. He focused on teaching those techniques to other families and 6 months later, 65 percent of children in the village were better nourished. So, find the bright spots, learn from them, and spread them around.



The second way is to script the critical moves.


The rider hates making decisions, so you need to make it very clear what needs to be done for a change, otherwise, the rider will face decision paralysis and change won’t happen. Say you are trying to create a vague change, like “eat healthier.” The rational rider will try to analyze all the possible ways to do this. Eating more vegetables, eating less pasta, less salt, no oil, etc. Any one of those changes would already help, but the rider ends up doing a lot of analysis and changing nothing. The solution is to give clear directions to follow. Like instead of telling people to eat healthier, researchers in West Virginia gave the following advice. “Next time you’re buying milk, buy one percent milk instead of whole milk.” That’s it. This advice was very clear and therefore so easy to follow, that the market share of low-fat milk doubled, dramatically lowering fat consumption.



The third way is to point to the destination.


When faced with change, the rider will often obsess about which direction to move in and will waste a lot of time and energy. You can avoid this by giving a clear destination to move toward. For example, when first-grade teacher Crystal Jones wanted to motivate her students. She told them that by the end of the year, they would all be honorary third graders. This was a powerful image because it spoke to the student’s inner riders, giving them a clear goal to strive for, but it also engaged their inner elephant by promising a desirable goal, the cool third-grader status.



Second step: Motivate the elephant


While your inner rider may technically control your elephant, in the battle of wills, the rider will only be able to control the powerful beast for so long before his strength runs out and the elephant wanders in the wrong direction. This is why successful change usually demands motivating the elephant as well. There are three ways to do this.



The first way is to find the feelings.


To get the elephant moving in the right direction, a powerful emotion must be triggered. When Jon Stegner wanted to convince the leaders of the manufacturing company he worked for, that their purchasing function was out of date, he knew he needed to get their attention fast, charts and analysis would not be enough. So he focused on the inner elephant of the management team. He bought one pair of each type of glove used in the company’s various sections and he gathered 424 different types of gloves in total. He then put them on the table before the management team and this created a large emotional reaction. “Why we are buying so many different gloves? This is crazy!” Immediately, the whole management team agreed that Stegner should fix the purchasing process. You can also learn from him and evoke strong emotions if you want to get the elephant to move in the right direction.



The second way is to shrink the change.


Change often seems massive and daunting. Like if you’re in debt, it may look like you will never be able to pay it off. So to get the elephant to climb a mountain, you can lead it up a small hill first. In a study when people were told they needed ten stamps on their car wash loyalty cards to get a free wash, only 19 percent completed their cards. When another group was told they needed 12 stamps, but here is the catch, the card had already two stamps, 34 percent completed the card. That’s double. The second group was more motivated to complete the card because they felt they had already started the journey. So to motivate people, let them know that they already have made progress. This will make the change look small.



The third way is to grow your people.


In 1977, most citizens of St. Lucia couldn’t care less about their native St. Lucia parrot. And without their help, there was no way to protect this endangered bird from extinction. So officials used bumper stickers, T-shirts, and other ways to make the bird a part of their national identity. Soon, massive public support helped pass strict laws that saved this bird from extinction. This shows that to get people to embrace change, you must instill new identities in people.



Third step: Shape the path


Sometimes, change can succeed even with a confused rider and a reluctant elephant. The reason is the path they are following. A gentle downhill path will be a great help to making a change. We often underestimate the effect of situational factors but they actually play a huge part in the way people behave. There are three ways to make the path easy to follow



The first way is to tweak the environment.


We usually think the behavior of others derives from the way they are rather than the situation they are in. But the research shows that when the situation changes, behavior changes. When Amazon started the 1-click ordering campaign, the number of online orders on this website skyrocketed. Simply changing the environment and making it possible to order with just one click, caused more people to order online. Often small changes in the environment can make it way easier to change the behavior and create a successful change.



The second way is to build new habits.


Building new habits is not easy and it is vital to shape the path so that it is easier to create new habits. One way is to create action triggers in the environment. When A happens, you do B. For example, you could decide that whenever you drop your children off at school (that’s the trigger), you will immediately go to the gym (that’s the action). This passes control of your behavior to the environment. So to create change build new habits and make the environment enforce them.



The third way is to rally the herd.


Humans are herd animals. When we are not sure how to behave, we look to others for cues. That’s why behavior is contagious. When trying to change people’s behavior, you can take advantage of this tendency by showing them that the majority of people have embraced the change. We tend to follow the examples set by others. Note that this works only if the majority of people have accepted the change.



So to summarize, implementing change is like riding an elephant. You must appeal both to the rider, which is the rational side, and the elephant which is the emotional side. And you’ve also got to clear the way for them to succeed. In short, you must direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.


I’ve made a one-page infographic summary of the book, click the link below and I’ll be happy to send it to you.



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