• Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: How To Change by Katy Milkman

Updated: Jul 6


How To Change Katy Milkman
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⭐ Toby's Rating: 5/10 - Recommended For: Coaches


3 Big Ideas


The big ideas from How to Change by Katy Milkman summarised:

  • Change is easier when you adopt the right strategy. Most people fail to change because they adopt the wrong strategies and tactics.

  • There is no one size fits all approach to behaviour change. Different problems need to be tackled with different tactics.

  • Once you understand the common traps that prevent change, you can more easily overcome them.

2 Most Tweetable Quotes


The best quotes from How to Change by Katy Milkman:


Transformative behaviour change is more like treating a chronic disease than curing a rash.
The closer you are to someone, and the more their situation resembles your own, the more likely you are to be influenced by their behaviour.


1 Top Takeaway


Katy's How to Change book is a good reminder of key behaviour change principles. For example, habit bundling, combining a new habit with an old one. For example, watching Netflix whilst exercising. For fans of behaviour change, there are no dramatically new ideas. However, I really did like how Katy examines the obstacles to change. The book is focused on the outcomes, stopping procrastination, and the antidotes to overcome it.


Finally, the big reinforcement was that behaviour change is a continuous activity, not a one-time event. I've found the most challenging aspect of change is consistency. Most change takes months and years not days and weeks. Katy explores this challenge. We tend to favour short term rewards over our long term goals. With the principles and tactics shared in the book, you can make a change that sticks.


Book Summary: How To Change


Below I share the 8 traps explored in How to Change by Katy Milkman. For each trap, I share their cause, antidotes and a quote.


  1. Not Getting Started

  2. Short Term Thinking

  3. Impulsivity

  4. Procrastination

  5. Forgetfulness

  6. Laziness

  7. Confidence

  8. Conformity


Habit Traps and Antidotes

Not Getting Started


Cause:

When faced with a new change we can be overwhelmed. Changes often don't naturally fit into our existing routines and schedules. There is a high amount of mental and physical friction to get started.


Antidote:

Start with a blank slate. Examples include starting a new job, moving to a new city, meeting a new partner. One approach everyone can use is starting on specific dates. New Years Resolutions and Mondays are good times to start change.


Quote:

We’re more likely to pursue change on dates that feel like new beginnings because these moments help us overcome a common obstacle to goal initiation: the sense that we’ve failed before and will, thus, fail again.

Short Term Thinking


Cause:

We treat behaviour change as a temporary effort. Once we change from y to x the change is done.


Antidote:

Think about change as a continuous effort that is never done. Once you develop new habits you'll need to continuously reinforce and reward the behaviours you want to maintain. You'll also need to manage your environment to avoid picking up bad habits.


Quote:

“When we diagnose someone with diabetes, we don’t put them on insulin for a month, take them off of it, and expect them to be cured.” In medicine, doctors recognize that chronic diseases require a lifetime of treatment. Why do we assume that behaviour change is any different?

Impulsivity


Cause:

We favour instantly gratifying temptations over larger long-term rewards “present bias,” though its common name is “impulsivity,” and it’s unfortunately universal.


Antidote:

Temptation Bundling - Combining an existing habit with a new habit. For example, watching Netflix whilst running on the treadmill.


Quote:

Mary Poppins has it right. When goal pursuit is made instantly gratifying by adding “an element of fun,” present bias can be overcome.

Procrastination


Cause:

Present Bias causes people to favour short term rewards, distractions over long term goals.


Antidote:

Create Commitment Devices that constrain our ability to prioritise short term pleasure over long term goals. An example is a “locked” savings account that prevents you from accessing your money until you’ve reached your savings goal.


Quote:

The costs we can impose on ourselves to help with goal achievement range from soft penalties (such as announcing goals or deadlines publicly) to hard penalties (such as having to hand over cash should we fail). There are also soft restrictions (such as eating from a smaller plate) and hard restrictions (such as putting our money in a locked savings account). The softer the penalty or restriction, the less likely it is to help with change, but the more palatable it is to adopt.
Power of Habit

Read the Power of Habit

Forgetfulness


Cause:

Our existing habits lead us to live on auto-pilot. When we are changing behaviour we'll often forget to do the new thing and do our default behaviour instead.


Antidote:

Forming cue-based plans is another way to combat forgetting. These plans link a plan of action with a cue and take the form “When ___ happens, I’ll do ___.” Cues can be anything that triggers your memory, from a specific time or location to an object you expect to encounter. An example of a cue-based plan is, “Whenever I get a raise, I’ll increase my monthly retirement savings contribution.” The more distinctive the cue, the more likely it is to trigger recall.


Quote:

Timely reminders, which prompt you to do something right before you’re meant to do it, can effectively combat forgetting. Reminders that aren’t as timely have far smaller benefits.

Laziness


Cause:

People have a preference to follow the path of least resistance. When faced with two competing options we will favour the one that takes the least effort. (Law of least effort)


Antidote:

Too much rigidity is the enemy of a good habit. Instead, build flexibility into your habits. Commitment to the smallest possible change that is easy, to begin with, and build from there. One daily push up against the wall rather than 10 push-ups. If you do 10 celebrate but if you only do 1 celebrate too.


Quote:

By allowing for flexibility in your routines, your autopilot can become flexible, too. You will find you respond consistently even under unideal circumstances. Overall, you’ll build “stickier,” more lasting habits.

Confidence


Cause:

Self-doubt can keep you from making progress on your goals or prevent you from setting goals in the first place.


Antidote:

Teach others. Find people who are also on the journey to implement similar changes. You'll gain extra confidence that others are struggling too. You'll also get the opportunity to share what you've learned. This will increase your confidence.


Quote:

Adopting a “growth mindset”—recognizing that abilities, including intelligence, are not fixed and that effort influences a person potential—can help you bounce back from setbacks.

Conformity


Cause:

Humans are imitation machines. We tend to copy the behaviours of others. Especially people close to us or in power.


Antidote:

Use social dynamics to your advantage. Do this by watching peers who have managed to achieve whatever goal you hope to achieve and then copying and pasting their methods.


Quote:

The closer you are to someone, and the more their situation resembles your own, the more likely you are to be influenced by their behaviour.

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