I was just reading through a book on reading list, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip & Dan Heath. It has helped me look at my habits and I wanted to share some of the insights I’ve had with you.
Here’s the quick recap: Two parts of yourself– the Rider (the smart one who wants to go places) and the Elephant (a big reluctant animal who’s really in control if he wants to be, who seeks comfort and instant gratification, but has great power and energy if led correctly). To make change and create new habits we have to manage these two characters that live within us, and I’m exploring exactly how, based on concepts from the Switch book. I’m relating all of this to the personal change necessary to stop biting my nails. You can relate it to your own life however you see fit.
QUESTION I asked myself: How do I get this emotional, somewhat childish side of myself to get moving down the path?
The book tells me to first, find the feeling. Our Elephants are looking for something emotional to hook onto that will motivate them into action when rational facts will not. If I said to you that “x” percent of preschoolers will suffer from malnutrition this year, you’d say “that’s terrible,” but it might not push you to action. But if I showed you photos of starving children crying, you might do something about it. So in my anti nail biting efforts, I consider what emotional hook motivates me… it is more compelling to keep my nails short so they don’t break easily (a rational benefit), or is it better to imagine them long and strong like a hand model’s (an emotionally exciting idea)? Both seem to excite me 🙂
Second, shrink the change. My Elephant is looking for a fast payoff, so I want to give myself the “baby step” easy action that feels like big progress. Keeping my nail file close at hand is a good example of this.
Third, focus on GROWTH and expect failure as part of growing. I was so pleased that this book mentions one of my other favorite books, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck. Mindset explains that there are two mindsets, Fixed and Growth. Said simply, someone with a fixed mindset believes they are already set with all the talent and ability they are going to have, and someone with a growth mindset believes they can learn new abilities and gain mastery through effort, expecting that practice and failure and difficulty will be part of doing so. If my Elephant experiences its first efforts at stopping my bad habit as difficult, with a fixed mindset he might just sit right down in the middle of the path and whine, “It’s just too haaaaard.” But if my Elephant expects that difficulty is part of the process and he has learned that growth comes from making effort and that I just have to KEEP GOING… he will be less likely to give up.
You too can can motivate your Elephant by making sure there are small, quick successes, expecting challenges along the way, and making sure it’s all propelled by something emotional and even tangible rather than only a rational, calculated reason (a “must” instead of a “should”). What gets your Elephant going?

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