Jun 10

“How to Change” by Katy Milkman

Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman‘s new book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be has scored a slew of solid and glowing reviews.

Why? Elizabeth Weingarten, BehavioralScientist.org:

…Milkman offers simple yet profound insights about why better understanding our own internal obstacles—such as laziness, procrastination, forgetfulness, or our tendency to favor instant gratification over long-term rewards—is key to changing ourselves for good. Too often, books deliver one-size-fits-all approaches to common goals, like getting in shape or eating healthier. But since the internal forces preventing me from starting a new habit might be different from those preventing you from starting the same one, that doesn’t really work. That’s why it’s essential to tailor the science to our own barriers, picking and choosing strategies where they fit the internal opponent we’re up against, says Milkman.

As reported by Elise Hu, NPR, “A decade ago, Milkman saw a statistic she calls ‘completely mind-boggling’: 40% of premature deaths are due to behaviors that can be changed. That’s one reason she wanted to share her findings widely, she says.”

The following are selected quotes from Weingarten’s interview with Milkman:

I think there’s an overemphasis on big goals. It’s not that goals aren’t useful. There’s tons of research showing that having a certain kind of goal—a clear, concrete, achievable goal, or a stretch goal—really is valuable. But it’s not solving a problem.

It’s inevitable that we slip up in the course of trying to achieve anything worth achieving. We need to understand better how to deal with that falling off the wagon phenomenon.

The key lesson of my career studying behavior change was that the flashy shots, the big shiny goal, or one-size-fits-all thing we reach for—that’s not how you achieve it. It’s the smart, strategic, who’s your opponent, who are you up against, let’s tailor the strategy approach that really works.

And here are selected quotes directly taken from How to Change:

It turns out that the leading cause of premature death isn’t poor health care, difficult social circumstances, bad genes, or environmental toxins. Instead, an estimated 40 percent of premature deaths are the result of personal behaviors we can change. I’m talking about daily, seemingly small decisions about eating, drinking, exercise, smoking, sex, and vehicle safety. These decisions add up, producing hundreds of thousands of fatal cancers, heart attacks, and accidents each year.

Being at odds with yourself, which psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” is a surprisingly powerful force first studied by Leon Festinger in the 1950s. People often go to great lengths to avoid reckoning with their internal contradictions. Cognitive dissonance can help explain why cults are so hard to leave (after you’ve joined and invested so much of yourself, it’s difficult to admit that you’re unhappy) and why smokers often underestimate the health effects.

You’ll learn that making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important.