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Switch CoverSwitch (audiobook) is an amazing book about the process of change (of all sorts), written by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It is one of the best books ever written about the structure and process of change, and gives you a process for change that you take and apply right away – to anything you want in life. Here’s our review and notes.

Some Deep Ideas

Switch doesn’t pull any punches. It provides some very deep insight and ideas into human nature and the nature of change in modern society. Here are some of our favorites:

  • People problems are situational problems. Fairly self-explanatory, and goes hand-in-hand with the idea that humans almost always operate within a larger framework (a system), and that human beings are usually the weakest or most unpredictable aspects of any system. What this means for change is that you need to address both the people and the system they belong to, and that it is possible to structure a system to induce change in people.
  • Assume that humans are not rational. Again, self-explanatory and obvious once it’s been spelled out, yet most people don’t recognize this (and have a hard time recognizing this). Humans cannot be counted on to make rational decisions because we have these things called emotions. As you’ll see below, you need to address both rationality and emotionality in creating change.
  • Self-control is an exhaustible resource. This is a concept that we’ve talked about quite a bit at Asian Efficiency. It is an absolutely amazing insight and if anything, take away this – you need to renew your self-control. How? That’s easy – just give in to your impulses every now and then. Ever notice how if you skip a day of work you’re super-productive the next day…
  • Clarity is everything. The more clarity you have around any problem in your life, the easier it is to correct or change it. Simple, but profound.

The Notes: The Switch Process

I love reading books like Switch. They don’t require a second round of analysis or deep thought to implement – it’s pretty much told as-it-is, and immediately implementable. I’ll keep these notes purposely brief – you should really read the book for an in-depth look at each part.

The first aspect of change in the Switch process in rationality or logic. The Chip Heath and Dan Heath call this “Directing the Rider”. It basically means:

  • See what already works and follow it. This is the old, obvious concept popularized by Tony Robbins also known as “success leaves clues”. Model people who have done what you want to do, or who have changed what you want to change.
  • Script the critical moves. We’ve talked about this multiple times in reference to habits at Asian Efficiency. Also known as creating rituals. By scripting the important (and only the important) pieces, we remove any questions about what absolutely must be done to effect a change. For example, drinking 500mL of water upon waking up and eating a full breakfast would be critical moves to starting your day energized.
  • Have a clear outcome in mind. They call this the “destination postcard”. It is about having a crystal clear vision (clarity) as to what the outcome is.

The second part of the Switch process is about addressing emotions. Human beings are emotional creatures and we often (re)act differently in the face of instinct, especially when a multitude of emotions are involved. The Heath brothers call this “Motivating the Elephant”. It involves:

  • Finding the motivating emotion. This is the idea that everyone has an emotional trigger that sets them off. Find it, and use it for yourself. If you’ve read some Tony Robbins, he simplifies this to pain and pleasure – note that most people would prefer to avoid pain than pursue pleasure.
  • Use momentum. Aka Solar Flaring. Aka Pomodoros. Whatever you want to call it, use a tiny bit of starting momentum to carry you through the completion of a task, or an entire process of change.
  • Engage identity. Thanh talked about this in a past newsletter. He basically explained how our self-images determines who we become. If we work to eliminate words, thoughts, actions and behaviors that don’t match the identity we want, and adopt words, thoughts, actions and behaviors that do match the identity we want, we change.
  • Growth mindset. Everyone reading this already has this mindset – it’s why you’re reading Asian Efficiency! Keep in mind that you are among a rare 1% of people in the world. Most people have problems growing, because they don’t like to or want to change.

The final part of the Switch process is about structuring the environment, or “Shaping the Path”. I personally think it is the most powerful part of the Switch process, because it helps to guide all the other logical levels of change. It is about:

  • Tweaking the environment. This means setting up an environment that is conducive to achieving your goals. This may be a pleasant workspace, the removal of distractions, or creating constant reminders of your goals. It is about making the achievement of your goals inevitable through structuring.
  • Habits. The formula they provide in Switch is “do X then automatically do Y after”. There are however, many other ways to create and solidify habits. You can use simple reminders, checklists, schedules, or even good old-fashioned discipline. Simply put, the more you do something, the easier and more automatic it becomes. Once habits are formed, they will always be accessible to you – you can’t “lose” habits so to speak.
  • Spread behaviors. Also known as the mastermind effect. Basically, you are the average of the 5 people closest to you. There aren’t any concrete suggestions provided in the book as how to implement this, but it is about surrounding yourself with people who are how you want to be. We’ve discussed this somewhat in our article on forming international mastermind groups. The reason it works, is because of peer pressure (which can be a good thing), and because our image/ego and identity as presented to others is an incredibly strong motivator.


Buy this book (audiobook). Seriously. Thanh and I call it “self development on steroids”, because it shortcuts everything you need to know about creating personal and organizational change into a short, compact and very accessible format. Start with our notes and the summary of the Switch process in the back of the book, then read the chapters for examples and further explanation.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Was trying to find Thanh’s newsletter article referred to after “Engage Identity” point but the link only goes to the home newsletter page. Can you point me to the article/newsletter issue referred to?

    1. Hi Ed this was a past newsletter that we have available. Just sign up for our newsletter and I’ll send it to you shortly.

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