Personal Productivity

To Change Things, You Need to Appeal to Emotion

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Self-Improvement Science Entrepreneurs

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To Change Things, You Need to Appeal to Emotion

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the Heath brothers argue that if you want to change the way someone behaves (including yourself) you’ll need to appeal to both the Rider and the Elephant within that person.

The Rider and the Elephant are metaphorical figures representing two independent systems in our brain that work at the same time. The Rider is our rational side, the one that decides and analyzes things, and it looks towards the future. The Elephant is our emotional and instinctive side, the one that perceives pain and pleasure.

The Rider thinks, plans and is able to define the way toward a better future. It provides guidance, but is unable to use its strength for a long time. The Elephant provides energy and drive.

If you only appeal to the Elephant, you will get passion without guidance. You may be very excited about creating the lifestyle you wish to have, but that isn’t enough; you need a smart plan to achieve it.

If you only appeal to the Rider, you will obtain understanding but not motivation. We all understand that exercise is good for our health, but not everyone has the motivation to go to the gym every day.

Most of the time, knowing what we have to change is not enough. We know that we should go to the gym, eat healthier, stop smoking and organize ourselves effectively to make better use of our time. But we don’t do any such thing, or what we do doesn’t last long.

In such cases, the problem is that we tend to appeal only to the Rider, our rational side, not taking into account that we also need to tackle feelings in order to move the Elephant.

To avoid ambiguous and minor situations, the business world teaches us that we must set SMART goals: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound. However, this definition lacks any sort of emotional motivation.

This kind of goals works well when we are not facing change, because in such cases motivation is assumed and doesn’t need to be created. For example, “The Christmas campaign will create 100 new customers in January 2016.” If you managed to create 70 new customers in last year’s Christmas, you’ll feel highly motivated to reach this new goal. However, if you have never created a marketing campaign in your life, it is likely that a goal like that will paralyze you completely.

When facing change, it is necessary to target the emotional side of whoever must carry out the goal (in the example above, perhaps talking about generating better customer service, a new experience or creating a better product, depending on what we know that can motivate the head of the campaign).

To set emotional goals, the Heath brothers propose the creation of what they call a destination postcard, a vivid picture of a near future that shows what you can achieve. Something that, besides appealing to the Rider’s rationality, also inspires the Elephant to move. In short, an image that strikes a chord with you.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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Commented over 8 years ago Günther Lehner

Once again a valuable insight, thank you.

avatar Günther Lehner

Once again a valuable insight, thank you.

Commented over 8 years ago Francisco Sáez

Thank you so much, Günther!

avatar Francisco Sáez

Thank you so much, Günther!

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