'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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