The Rider, the Elephant, and the Path

If you haven’t read the books by Chip and Dan Health (Switch and Made to Stick), you should.  I was reading a story they had in the Experience Life magazine by Lifetime Fitness the other day.  I pulled out a few things here to share:

“For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.”

Such a simple phrase, but it’s the key of most marketing programs.  I was talking to a friend the other day, and he asked why do people bother sending marketing pieces.  In today’s world, people know all their options so if they want to change they will.  For some people, that might be true (at least on a finite list of things that matter). 

In this article, the Health brothers talk about Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis where he argues that our emotional side is an elephant and the rational side is its rider.  We have to find the balance between the two. 

It’s interesting that they talk about the rider as wearing out easily pointing out that exerting self-control and focusing on the next thing to do can leave you worn out.  You need to create a path that makes it easier to be successful.  This is relevant around adherence.  This is relevant for addressing obesity. 

All of these articles and books on behavioral economics have fascinating studies in them.  In one story they talk about a group of maids which were split into two groups.  One group was told that all the work they did cleaning was great exercise.  The other group went upon their job as normal.  Four weeks later, the group that thought they were exercising had lost an average of 1.8 pounds compared to the other group.

Or they talk about the book Mindless Eating which shows that “people eat more when you give them a bigger container.  Period.”

They then introduce 3 surprises which can be helpful in framing messages:

  1. What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity.  Don’t say eat healthier.  Say eat more dark leafy greens.
  2. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.  Change is hard…acknowledge it.
  3. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem.  Make sure to think about their environment and support system. 
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