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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

It Takes Change to Make Change!

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

I started to have a much deeper understanding of how to make lasting changes in my life after reading Chip and Dan Heath’s entertaining and educational book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The Heath brothers elaborate on fundamental principles of human psychology and condense them into succinct recommendations for bringing about change. The first psychological principle that they describe is the fact that our brains have two separate systems for decision making. They utilize a metaphor of the human psyche that is borrowed from Johnathan Haidt’s work in The Happiness Hypothesis. They refer to the two systems in our brains as the “elephant” and the “rider.”


The elephant represents the emotional and instinctive part of our brain whereas the rider represents our logical and rational side. The elephant seeks the easiest path and looks for immediate gratification while the rider sets goals and looks toward the long-term benefits and rewards. The rider provides the planning and direction for the elephant, but he gets quickly exhausted when trying to move the elephant in a direction it does not want to go. On the other hand, the elephant has an enormous amount of energy, but tends to stick to a familiar path. Changes typically fail because the rider can’t keep the elephant on the right path long enough to reach the desired destination. Therefore, it is imperative to create a path that appeals to both!


Following that metaphor, the Heath brothers explain that to bring about change we must direct the rider by providing crystal clear direction, motivate the elephant by engaging the emotional side and shape the path by altering the surrounding environment. These three steps are further expanded into nine specific actions that influence how we respond to change. I will use the next three blogs to further explain how we can direct your rider, motivate your elephant and shape your path!





P.S. I highly recommend reading this book! The Heath Brothers are wonderful teachers and storytellers.


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