'Shape a Path' for Change

Small tweaks to your environment can help you make big changes.

April 19, 2011
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What’s a destination postcard?

A destination postcard is a clear and vivid picture of the place you’re headed. So for a dieter, it might be a picture that shows the way you looked before you gained 20 pounds.

For an executive, it might be a vision of where change could lead. In the book, for instance, we talk about a woman who founded a new breast-care clinic. Her vision was that a woman could walk in the clinic in the morning and leave with her results that afternoon—and, if necessary, a treatment plan.

What’s something you changed in your own behavior using these principles?

I’ve learned the power of the environment. When we were working on the book, I’d get annoyed at how often I’d check e-mail or get sidetracked on the web. It was frustrating. It was a constant temptation.

Then I took my own medicine from Switch—I changed my environment. I took an old beater laptop and deleted its browsers and wireless drivers. Basically, I turned it into a typewriter.

And when I knew I had to focus, I’d take this “Wayback Machine” to the library or to a coffee shop. Presto—distraction problem solved. It was a good lesson for me: The right environment made all of those moment-to-moment struggles irrelevant.

What’s one habit that we could apply to your framework to start changing right away?

We can take a tip from a home-organization expert called the FlyLady, who found a way to take the dread out of housecleaning. It’s called the five-minute room rescue.

Set a timer for five minutes and go to that spot in your house—the garage, the kid’s playroom, your desk—that’s been causing trouble and clean for five minutes. When the timer goes off, you’re done: no need for guilt.

What you’ll find is that once you get started it’s easy to keep going. It’s the dread of starting that’s the big gap.

One fitness magazine editor does a “one-song workout” on days when she dreads working out. She listens to her iPod and when one song is done, she can stop.

But, just like the five-minute room rescue, by the time the song is over, her mood has shifted and she can keep going.

The principle here is that if there’s a kind of change you dread—but know would be good for you—you’ve got to shrink it.

If your child hates spelling tests, tackle two words a night. If you hate giving employees feedback, script a single sentence for a single employee and give it before lunch.

Dan Heath is the co-author of "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard." He’ll bring his insights about change to the America’s Credit Union Conference in San Antonio, June 19-22.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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