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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

Facilitating Change by Directing the Rider

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

Let's return to our previous human psyche metaphor using the rider and the elephant. To effectively direct the rider, you need skills to influence and manipulate your thoughts. The rider is your conscious thinker and planner. However, if given too many choices, the rider becomes paralyzed and takes no action at all. Ambiguity causes the rider to fatigue. You can help the rider avoid this decision paralysis by being more clear and concise regarding how to act. The best way to provide the necessary direction is to script the critical moves and think in terms of actual behaviors.


Of the nine actions described in Switch, scripting the critical moves was the one that benefited me the most with my weight loss. Influence gurus focus on critical moves called vital behaviors, because altering a few strategic activities can drive a considerable amount of change. Fortunately, vital behaviors for effective weight loss have already been identified through the efforts of the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). The NWCR was developed to further study the characteristics of individuals who succeeded at long term weight loss. The registry includes over 10,000 people who have lost at least thirty pounds and have maintained a weight loss of at least thirty pounds for over a year. The average person on the registry has lost sixty-six pounds and kept it off for over five years. Three vital behaviors have been described by the NWCR: eating breakfast every morning, regular exercise and frequent self-monitoring of weight. All three of these vital behaviors will be further detailed throughout the book, as they are paramount to effective long-term weight loss. I can not overemphasize how important all three vital behaviors were to my personal weight loss success!


Another useful way to direct the rider is to find the bright spots. It is much easier to duplicate success rather than trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. The NWCR can be considered a bright spot. Another bright spot is the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial (WLMT) that was funded by the National Heart, Brain and Lung Institute. The WLMT was a multi-institution research project that studied a group of over 1600 obese people. The study participants were asked to concentrate on writing down everything they ate. Although food journaling was awkward at first, many started doing it daily. Six months into the project, those who wrote in their journal daily had lost twice as much weight. Food journaling is a subtype of self-monitoring that will be further detailed later. On a personal level, you can think back to your previous successful weight loss efforts and duplicate things that worked previously.


The third suggestion to direct the rider is to point to the destination. Remember, the rider prefers concrete information to abstract thoughts. Many participants in the NWCR acknowledge that they envisioned a specific reward for sticking to their diet plan, such as a swimsuit they wanted to wear. I found it useful to visualize being thin and to occasionally look at older photos taken when I was thinner. I also benefitted by reviewing my personalized list of reasons for why I wanted to lose weight. Likewise, it is helpful to review the general long-term health benefits of weight loss, including having more energy and less joint pains.



With our next discussion, we will continue our education on change and learn how to motivate the elephant!

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