Book Review: Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Publication date: 2010 Date read: 2013
Source: Local library.
Recommended by: a thread on the Well-Trained Mind Forum
My rating (out of 5): ★ ★ ★ 1/2
I recommend it, but borrow it from the library.


The authors examine the common denominators in successful change (personal and corporate), telling engaging stories and giving practical, useful advice for making positive individual & group changes.

Switch develops 3 findings about change:

  1. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.
  2. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. It’s critical to engage people’s emotional side to get cooperation.
  3. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Use the environment to your advantage.

Each of these three elements is broken down into 3 ways to apply the findings:

  1. Give direction
    1. Find the Bright Spots – harness the power of what is already working.
    2. Script the Critical Moves – remove in-the-critical-moment decisions, make rules to cover temptation points; be super specific and not vague or abstract; remove thinking from the situation to change.
    3. Point to the Destination – keep eyes on the end-point goal, the why, the point.
  2. Engage emotions
    1. Find the Feeling – reach the affections; logic doesn’t motivate behavior change.
    2. Shrink the Change – baby steps build momentum and give small wins that build confidence.
    3. Grow Your People – build identity, create growth mindset.
  3. Utilize the environment
    1. Tweak the environment.
    2. Build Habits – set an action trigger, imagine it happening, practice makes it easier.
    3. Rally the Herd – provide accountability & competition; behavior is contagious.


Switch was a quick and interesting read about what we can actually do to effect change in our lives and in our groups (businesses, organizations, or even families). While there are many common assumptions about why change is difficult (like laziness, resistance, stupidity, etc.), research and case studies demonstrate that these accusations are usually incorrect. In fact, the assumptions themselves can be a road block.

The authors have a driving metaphor throughout the book, and often use shorthand expressions referring to their metaphor or to a true example story they’ve just told. That keeps it fun and light, but can make it also difficult to quote out of context. Good summary quotes, alone as a single sentence, sound kinda silly. It’s a type of jargon problem, but in the context of the book isn’t a big hurdle and does help keep the stories and the theory connected in your mind as you go.

It was very similar to Power of Habit, where true stories backed up each of his points, with a key difference: Switch is much more practical, making their points clear and easy to apply. I think this book is a good follow up to Power of Habit if you enjoyed it but found yourself unsure what to do with the knowledge after you read it.

I often feel like a conflicted sort of person. I like to boss, I like black and white, and I like to issue orders like “Buck up! Change your attitude! Just get happy!” However, that style isn’t even effective for me. As soon as I put something in black or white terms that really shouldn’t be, just to make it “simpler” or “easier on myself,” I find myself unable to respect or obey my own position. And how much more this plays out with children, once they move beyond the clear-cut toddler years! I need a way to get people on board (my own self included, but also my maturing sons who share many of my traits) willingly and even happily. This book gave me some helpful categories to think about this in and also some strategies that could easily be tweaked for a family and homeschool setting, I think.

In fact, I want to examine some of those in posts of their own, so stay tuned.

Favorite Quotes

You have to back up your destination postcard [vivid description of your vision/goal] with a good behavioral script [plan of action]. That’s a recipe for success. What you don’t need to do is anticipate every turn in the road between today and the destination. It’s not that plotting the whole journey is undesirable; it’s that it’s impossible. To think that you can plot a turn-by-turn map to the end, like a leader’s version of Mapquest, is almost certainly hubris.

When you’re at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving.

I loved this! In two short sentences, they pinpointed a key problem with planning and showed how to overcome it. You never know how things are going to play out between the now and the goal, so trying to plan out every step to the goal is a waste of time and will probably give you unneeded guilt or frustration. Detailed scope and sequence plans in the homeschool, anyone?

Small targets lead to small victories, and small victories can often trigger a positive spiral of behavior.

This is similar to Power of Habit‘s “keystone habits,” but actually a better development of the concept, I thought.

Switching Key Habits in the Home & Homeschool Series
  1. Review of the book Switch
  2. Remove Lack of Clarity with Crystal-Clear Direction
    1. Leverage the Bright Spots
    2. Practice Specific Scripts
    3. Describe the Destination
  3. Overcome Exhaustion by Engaging the Emotions
    1. Find the Feeling
    2. Shrink the Change
    3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset and Build an Identity
  4. Change the Situation, Not the People

Books to follow the bibliographic trail

(I have read Mindless Eating. It is a great book!)

Similar Books I’ve Reviewed

links are to my own reviews

Currently Reading

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2013 Reading Challenge

Mystie pledged to read 52 books this year.

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  1. Willa
    | Reply

    Hi Mystie,
    I requested this book from my library after reading your review and just finished it yesterday. I really enjoyed it. It does seem very practical and put into words a lot of my intuitions about why certain habit-changing methods don’t work. Thanks!

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