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This book will show you how to stop thinking and start doing

Why is change so hard for most people? That’s the question this book will answer. The battle most people go through every day can be compared to riding an elephant.

Our habits and behavior is the elephant, a big powerful and stubborn creature always looking for quick payoff instead of long-term benefits. [learn more about quick payoff and enjoyment]

When we consciously make a decision to start doing something, to make change, what happens often is that when the moment comes we just surrender to the elephant. For example, say you decide to start going to the gym on Monday. But once Monday has arrived, you look for excuses to not go, the first excuse will do the job and you end up as usual on the couch watching Netflix.

Look for solutions, not problems

Find the “bright spots.” Our inner rider, elephant rider, is a terrific planner and thinker. The problem is that he often overanalyzes every aspect of potential change which leads to inaction. Instead of analyzing he should start riding. But how to start taking direction? By following the bright spots.

This approach was employed by Jerry Sternin in 1990 when the Vietnamese government invited him to help fight children’s malnutrition. Instead of doing what most development efforts do, bringing resources from the outside, he looked for solutions from within the affected communities.

Instead of looking for all the problems, he noticed that some children in one of the affected areas were in fact well-nourished. So he started analyzing those families to see what they did differently. Soon he found that the mothers in those families were going out every day to nearby rice paddies and collecting tiny shrimps and crabs which they used together with sweet-potatoes for their children’s meals.

By examining the behavior of these people, the positive deviants in the community, we hoped to find local strategies for combating malnutrition.

And that’s exactly what we did find. It turned out that the mothers in those families were going out every day to nearby rice paddies and collecting tiny shrimps and crabs, which they were adding, along with sweet-potato greens, to their children’s meals.

By observing the light spots, Sternin was able to identify a possible solution for the malnutrition problem. In fact, within two years, 80% of the children participating in the project were no longer malnourished.

Overcome decision paralysis with a clear plan

When we are faced with too many options, we often succumb to decision paralysis. For example, say you want to start eating healthier. Your rider will now try to analyze the myriad of possible ways to implement this new path: Eating more vegetables, eating less meat, eating less processed foods, using less salt, frying less and with a different oil, etc.

Any of those changes would already be beneficial, but instead of implementing them, your rider ends up doing a lot of analysis and doing nothing.

Studies have shown that the more choices we have, the less able we are to make a decision. We may now come to the conclusion that many options are bad. But the real problem is a lack of clarity on what to do next.

The solution is to give the rider clear directions to follow. Once there is a map for the ride, decisions will follow easily.

Sometimes strong emotions are necessary to produce change

While your inner rider technically holds reins of your elephant, his willpower often veers off with the time if he has to battle with his elephant. Strong emotions can help to motivate the elephant so that there is a mutual interest. That emotion can either be positive or negative, reward or punishment.

For example, you may procrastinate with your diet until you hear a comment from someone about your weight which really upsets or hurts you. From that moment on you make a promise to yourself to have 10 kg less by the end of the year. Emotions can have a strong motivational effect on the elephant.

Climb the mountain step by step

Often change and goals seem dauntingly huge and unattainable. So much so that we get discouraged and doubt that we can climb the mountain. The solution is to climb a small hill first. Once you showed the elephant that progress is possible, he will be more motivated to climb the mountain.

Instill a different identity to produce change

In 1977 Paul Butler was tasked to protect the turquoise and lime-green bird from extinction. In that time most citizens of St. Lucia cared little about native and gravely endangered parrots. Having no economic arguments to sway in favor of protection, Paul targeted national identity. He managed to identify people with the bird by producing bumper stickers, T-shirts, and volunteer action. Soon enough public support helped pass strict laws that saved the magnificent bird from extinction.

To achieve change, people often need to identify themselves with the change. Once citizens identify themselves as “concerned citizens” it is more likely that they behave as such and take action.

Adopt a growth mindset

If you think growth is impossible, you will create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, adopt a growth mindset. Believe that you can change and improve, and improving you will.

Situational factors play a huge role in our behavior

Often people underestimate the power our environment has on us, especially when trying to explain the behavior of others. This is known as the fundamental attribution error.

Consider this study where college students were asked to categorize their peers in two groups, “Saints” or “jerks,” according to their charitableness.

Next, the students were mailed letters asking them to contribute food to charity. Half of them received a very basic letter while the other half received a detailed letter. With the basic letter, 8% of Saints donated and none of the jerks. In the detailed letter, however, 25% of jerks donated, 3 times more than the Saints who got the basic letter.

Our environment has more invisible influence on our decisions than we think.

Create positive habits

Habits are elephants on autopilot. Once we establish a habit, it is very easy to get a free ride, without using much willpower from the rider. A good way to achieve habit is using triggers. Habits have a trigger, a routine, and a reward. Or more simply, when A happens, you do B. You could start doing exercises whenever your alarm clock rings during a certain time of the day for example.

In short, when you learn how to trick and put your elephant on autopilot and the right path, you are going to change successfully.

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Also published on Medium.