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If you’re like me, your eyes glaze over the second you see a book review.  I personally have no interest in a book report without a diorama or at the very least a coat hanger mobile.

Well, crap.  I’m about to do a book review, but only because I liked this book a whole bunch.  And no, I’m not being paid.  How dare you question my objectivity.

Without further ado:

My Diorama-less Switch Book Report

By Larn

October 4, 2010

Switch Change is hard.  Like rocks.  Hence the necessity of a whole book on how to make change happen.  While the co-authors, Chip and Dan Heath, of Switch focus on change in general, I found their methods particularly applicable to people who want to realize change in their financial lives. 

Budgeting is hard.  Cutting back on spending is hard.  Figuring out how, where, and just how much of your cash to stash is hard. Why is everything so darned hard?

 

The Elephant & The Rider

“Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.”

The Elephant signifies your emotional side, the Rider your rational side.  Freud called them the id and the superego.  I like the Switch analogy better because elephants can make almost anything fun.  Freud is so out of touch.

The Elephant:

Pros 

  • Physically strong – carries the rider.  
  • Can accomplish more than the rider when properly motivated. 

Cons 

  • Physically strong – can carry the rider in a direction they don’t want to travel.
  • Requires motivation to cooperate with the rider, especially when traveling in new directions.

The Rider:

Pros

  • Analytical & rational. 
  • Ability to plan and consider future needs.

Cons

  • Weak physically – can only tug the Elephant in one direction for so long.  
  • Paralyzed by too many choices.

 

How many people understand rationally that they need to get their finances on track?  And how many of these people are unable to make a move due to lack of Rider-Elephant cohesion?  The Rider and the Elephant are inseparable.  They are glued together.  Teamwork is crucial.

Making Change Happen

Help Out Your Rider

Scientists put two bowls on a table: one filled with radishes, the other with freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.  They then led hungry subjects into the room and instructed half to eat a couple of cookies but no radishes and the other half to do just the opposite.  Each subject was then left alone in the room to resist the temptation of either the radishes or the cookies.  

The radishes weren’t hard to resist.  But the cookies on the other hand…

After this exercise, the researchers administered a series of puzzles that were actually impossible to solve (unbeknownst to the subjects).  The cookie-eaters, who hadn’t had to exert much self-control, spent 19 minutes on the puzzles before giving up.  The radish-eaters, however, quit after just 8 minutes.  

The conclusion: “In studies like this one, psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource.  It’s like doing bench presses at the gym.  The first one is easy, when your muscles are fresh.  But with each additional repetition, your muscles get more exhausted until you can’t lift the bar again.”

Self-control is a Rider job.  It’s reasonable, it’s adult, and it’s difficult at times.  

 

The Heath’s suggest two methods for keeping your Rider in control:  

1. “Follow the bright spots.”  Bright spots are things that work.  Not everyone can be a financial guru, but chances are there is at least one area in your life where you excel.  Focus on your strengths and incorporate them into your financial plan.  

Say you are a creative person.  Budgets don’t always have to be boring spreadsheets (though I do love a good spreadsheet).  Set up jars for each of your budget items and fill them with your monthly allowances; when one jar is empty, no more spending in that category.  Needless to say, you can get creative with it.

2. “Give direction to the rider.”  Indecision kills.  The Rider is much more effective when he isn’t wasting time overanalyzing every single option.  

Set goals for your finances.  Map out specifically how you are going to achieve them.  

Goal: Get out of debt.

How I’m Going to Achieve My Goal: Save 25% of my monthly income.

 

Motivate Your Elephant

Emotions can make you behave in ways that are both ridiculous and detrimental to your well-being.  I certainly didn’t look sane that time I cried over a bad haircut and it really isn’t reasonable to keep spending money when you’re already in debt.  

One of the reasons Dave Ramsey has been so successful is that he understands just how important of a role emotions play in personal finance.  Ramsey’s Debt Snowball method has helped many people get out of debt by paying off their smallest debts first.

“[If the] smallest debt was a past-due utility bill, Ramsey still [advises] to pay it off before tackling credit card bills, which may have interest rates of 20 percent or above.

This advice makes the average financial adviser cringe.  After all, simple math tells us that we’re financially better-off if we pay down high-interest debt first.”

What is the advantage of paying small bills first?  The Heath’s call it shrinking the change – “sometimes motivation is more important than math.”  

How effective would it be to drag a resistant Elephant across the jungle?  More than likely the Rider would be too exhausted to accomplish even a couple of feet.  

 

Make Life Easier for Both Your Rider & the Elephant

This is what the Heath’s call “shaping the path.”  One of my favorite stories in the book involved this concept.

In an irrational eating study, scientists offered movie-goers free popcorn if they agreed to answer some questions after the film.  Some participants were given medium buckets, some large buckets.  All were filled (and pre-weighed) with 5-day-old, stale popcorn.  

After the movie the scientists weighed the buckets again and found some surprising results.  The people with the large buckets ate 53% more of the icky popcorn than those with the smaller buckets.

What’s the point?  Say you want to eat less.  You have your rational reasons like becoming healthier.  Then you have your emotional reasons like getting in shape for your high school reunion.  Even when both the Rider and the Elephant are heading in the same direction, the goal becomes easier to achieve when the path is clear of obstacles; like extra large popcorn buckets.  

You want to get out of debt.  Your Rider knows that you need to start saving for retirement.  Your Elephant wants to provide a better life for your family.  Clearing the path can mean removing temptation by cutting up your credit cards or keeping your Elephant motivated by taping a net-worth-tracking-chart to the fridge.

 

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