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Brilliant Ways to Create Positive Change

Our research turned up an astonishing variety of methods proven effective in helping people successfully create positive change — and for making the most of the key factors at play in most change scenarios. Here are just a few of the tips featured in our book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

Find the bright spots.
The Rider loves to contemplate and analyze, but his analysis is almost always directed at problems rather than bright spots. (You can probably recall a conversation with a friend who agonized for hours over a particular relationship problem. But can you remember an instance when a friend spent even a few minutes analyzing why something was working so well?) And when the Rider sees problems everywhere, “analysis paralysis” often kicks in. That’s why, to make progress on a change, it helps to point out what is going right in a given process or relationship — and then encourage yourself or your team to replicate those right moves.

Shrink the change.
A business cliché commands us to “raise the bar.” But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant. You need to lower the bar, or at least break the process of getting over that bar into more-doable baby steps. In other words, you need to shrink the size of the change.
Shrinking the change is how the maids succeeded in losing weight. When they found out they were already exercising, the gap in their minds between being a nonexerciser and an exerciser became much smaller, and the step between their normal workday routine and doing just a little bit more became way easier to make. With less distance to travel, the maids were able to make the journey easily. The Elephant needs to believe a change is possible before he’s willing to take a single committed step, and if you can help the Elephant to see he’s already partway there, so much the better.

Tweak the environment.
The popcorn study is a classic example of how shifting the environment (the size of the bucket) can affect change (how much popcorn the moviegoers ate). Tweaking the environment can also be one of the simplest ways to foster change. Want to eat less? Use smaller plates and bowls. Going to the mall but don’t want to overspend? Take out as much cash as you have budgeted for your shopping trip and leave your credit and debit cards at home. Trying to go to the gym after work? Keep your workout clothes and shoes in the front passenger seat of your car. Determined to eat healthier? Clear the junk out of your cupboards.

Rally the herd.
Behavior is contagious. This is why laugh tracks are sometimes used in TV shows: When you see or hear someone laughing, you laugh, too. You can use this knowledge to your advantage when you want to make change. Ask your family, friends or coworkers to send you helpful signals. Trying to stop checking your smartphone during dinner? Ask your dinner companions to give you a disapproving glance if you reach for the device. Want to change a policy at your corporate workplace? Find other like-minded workers to go with you when you approach the company policymakers. Going as a group will signal that there is support for this particular change.

This article was excerpted from the No. 1 New York Times bestseller Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Broadway, 2010) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Chip Heath is a professor of organizational behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He received his PhD in psychology from Stanford. Dan Heath is a columnist for Fast Company magazine. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School. The Heaths’ first best-selling book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007), was selected as one of the best 100 business books of all time. For details on how to win one of 10 free copies, go to

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+ add your own
5:30PM PST on Dec 15, 2012

Great article...thankyou!! Interesting metaphor.

8:12PM PDT on May 21, 2012

this is a great metaphor to work with. I am going to keep it in mind and use it to affect the positive changes in the future

3:22AM PST on Nov 22, 2011

Thank you! I'll be keeping hold of this one.

10:41PM PDT on Oct 9, 2011


8:14PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011

I enjoyed visualing the rider and elephant...

2:12AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Yup - very nicely presented and some good ideas in there I wouldn't have automatically thought about.
Thank you.

11:13AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

Thank you for this article, Megan. :-)

9:30AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

Excellent! One of the best articles provided on this website. Thank you.

3:54AM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

Great article!! Enjoyed reading it and I've heard a few of these points, but not so well presented and linked. Thanks... will spread the word to my friends. We all need to manifest positive change :)

2:48AM PDT on Aug 2, 2011


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