What’s it about?

How to Change (2021) is a simple guide to overcoming the obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goals. It diagnoses our most persistent problems, from laziness to impulsivity, and presents a number of research-backed solutions to each one.

About the author:

Katy Milkman is a researcher in the field of behavioral economics, and she holds a professorship at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. How to Change is her first book.


A new beginning can make change easier.

Are you the kind of person making resolutions for New Year? Many of us are doing that.

Every day on January 1 is virtually always a day of hope, whatever vital the night celebrations were. Something is going on in a new 12 months, and the old ringing out makes dazzling schemes appear viable, and failures from the past appear far removed.

Some people are nonetheless suspicious of the resolutions of the new year. After all, why would a diet succeed if it failed in December? Isn’t it stupid to believe you’ll instantly attain your goals by starting a new year?

Well, that question is answered.

The main point here is: in a new beginning; we can make the adjustment easier.

Imagine that it was easier to achieve our objectives in the new year than superstitious – it is factual. This guideline does not apply simply at the beginning of January, but after any milestone or new beginning – such as a birthday, beginning of a new semester, or on the Monday of a run-in week.

This was discovered by the author and his colleagues when they saw data from fitness centers on campus. Why however? Why are we so motivated by specific dates?

In a word, a new beginning transforms our outlook. It puts a gap between our prior, unsuccessful, and fresh attempts to change. It cleans the shelf.

Therefore, some dates are better than others to motivate change – the bigger the milestone, the better we feel. However, not every piece of news is positive. A new beginning can surely stimulate change – but not all changes are beneficial.

Two independent studies of gymnastics amongst undergraduate students have found that breaks might cause issues. The vacation was surely a new beginning, but the only difference was a break in the new and healthy habits of the kids.

What’s that lesson, then? It’s just straightforward. Watch out and make the most of the new beginnings such as birthdays, new semesters, and anniversaries – but be sure you don’t take back on your old patterns!


Use temptation and gratification to overcome your impulsiveness.

You attempt to change. You waited for a new beginning, and you are now struggling to make some progress – however, to some extent, things aren’t working.

Your heart is in the right place, but your ambitious ideas and projects are still in difficulty. You can reach for a phone or chocolate instead of some fruit rather than your textbook. Briefly, you become a victim of impulsiveness.

Impulsiveness is sometimes called the present bias. Instant gratification is a priority for greater long-term purposes when you behave impulsively: it encourages you to enjoy modest but direct pleasures like chocolate at the expense of significantly higher benefits, such as better health.

Fortunately, momentum can be dealt with.

Here’s the important message: beat your impulsivity through gamification and temptation bundling.

Mary Poppins taught the world in well-known music from the 1960s that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down – and the same counsel is worth listening to when dealing with impulsivity.

You see, the author labels the bundling of temptation a technique. It’s a technique to combine a nice activity with an exhausting but valuable assignment to make the job more attractive – much like Mary Poppins sweeter a little sugar with some uncomfortable medicine. For example, you might allow yourself to watch trashy TV while exercising or drink your favorite coffee when studying. 

In one research, children in Florida were playing tentacles while they were doing their arithmetic tasks – and, to their professors’ surprise, they were able to eat snacks, listen to music and sketch with Magic Markers while they were working.

But bundling temptation won’t work forever. Throughout a jog, you cannot eat burgers, and you can not sleep during your examination studies. Gratification could be a preferable response to impulsiveness in particular circumstances.

The addition of gaming-based components, such as leadership panels, points, and prizes, will make real-world chores more engaging. In Wikipedia, Jana Gallus, an economist, used gratification to stimulate a huge volunteer publisher team on the site. Top publishers can be recognized publicly on the site or collect badges next to their names based on their performance.

These few advantages cost Wikipedia nothing – yet the gratification was sufficient to prevent the voluntary publishers from becoming sidetracked. And by the next month, the participation also grew by 20%.


To overcome procrastination, use engagement devices.

Everyone procrastinates. We postpone taxes and saving for retirement; we leave studying to the night before the exam.  We realize that we probably ought to start today, but what’s another hour, another day, another week?

Not much isolated. But the time quickly becomes complicated – and finally, we are stressed again, frustrated, and poorly prepared.

It can feel like we are destined to do at our worst: we’ve often delayed it until it looks inevitable. The good news, though, is that our desire to delay and procrastinate may be overcome.

The essential message here is: Use engagement mechanisms to overcome procrastination.

Green Bank president Omar Andaya was experiencing a dilemma in the Philippines. Indeed, many banks had a problem: clients were not saving enough. Of course, they wanted to – but they made excuses, discredited, and postponed, like everyone else.

Andaya decided to adopt an extraordinary course of action after speaking with a group of academic specialists. As a test, he gave a “locked” savings account to a few hundred customers: They may put money to it, but they cannot deduct until a specific amount is achieved or a date agreed upon is reached.

In other words, this was a traditional engagement instrument — a system that restricts flexibility so that temptations may be limited. And that was an enormous achievement. The locked accounts supplied saved 80% more the next year compared with ordinary clients!

Now, in the Philippines, you can’t save with the Green Bank, but you may always utilize commitment instruments to overcome procrastination. One of the most flexible forms is cash engagement devices.

A cash engagement gadget is really simple: you put your money in your mouth by making it pricey. To achieve this, choose a friend to monitor and discuss with her your aims – if she sees that you have protruded, she may finalize an agreed sum for you.

Don’t worry, if you don’t know if you can spare the money. Public commitments are less expensive but unexpectedly effective. By communicating to your friends and family, you generate a great motivation to continue working hard – after all, it would be humiliating not to provide the outcome.


Good habits enable you to break down your laziness patterns.

Laziness is a common fault – so prevalent that we bring proverbs and tales to youngsters about the hazards of laziness and the importance of plain old-fashioned hard labor.

Take, for example, the Ant and Grasshopper or Little Red Hen fable — these are aimed to educate the youngsters that hard effort is worthwhile while sloth is problematic.

Despite these warnings, though, most of us are nonetheless lazy. Indeed, one of the greatest hurdles we encounter when we try to change is our normal desire to go away from it easily.

Habits come in here.

The main idea here is: good habits can enable you to overcome facilities.

If you get up early in the morning, you will likely have a schedule which you will unthinkably follow. You could have a shower, dress, and brew some coffee. You probably don’t think about what you do because of the force of habit — it occurs naturally.

But morning rituals are not governed by habits. When you are smart about it, you can be as automated as your 8:00 am routine pieces, including strenuous exercises or intensive study sessions.

It’s not only a hunch. The more ingrained a habit, the less we rely on the elements of our brain that are involved in reasoning, like the prefrontal cortex, the more we rely on those sections of the brain responsible for action and motor monitoring.

So, how can you use this information to make change easier? This is easy: a continuous and conscious effort must be made to make good conduct a habit.

Tell us that after years of hunching painfully at your desk, you want to start sitting up. What are you doing?  Well, you’re beginning with practice.

Day after day, work out better until you get second nature.  And don’t forget that linking the action to something pleasant will help bring about the same behavior in the future.

When your actions are automatic, laziness cannot take hold – and change begins to feel much easier.


Advise other people so you can boost your confidence.

The psychologist and researcher Lauren Eskreis-Winkler had noticed something odd: everybody she spoke to was full of advice. Everybody had advice and opinions on how best to proceed, whether the topic was losing weight, saving less, or saving more.

It was a puzzle for Eskreis-Winkler. Some people who told her how to spend less had themselves accumulated enormous debt. Some who shared advice about saving money had no money even set aside for a rainy day. But Eskreis-Winkler was most confused that many of these individuals’ advice was good. Why haven’t they only followed it, therefore themselves?

She realized the answer was that people lack confidence.

The key message is: advise other people to boost your confidence.

We human beings like mutual support. When we see someone fighting, we try and give them a hand – and our help takes on the form of advice very often. We offer tips on family care and diet, friendships, and partner-finding. It’s well-meant – but often, it fires back.

In examining the psychology of advice given and received by Eskreis-Winkler, she found that unwanted tips and guidance can prove to be serious barriers. Whether or not we understand this, giving somebody unwanted advice informs them that they cannot change themselves – at the worst time possible, a serious blow to their faith in themselves.

Fortunately, not all of its bad news – Eskreis-research Winkler’s has a helpful flip side. Just as the advice can blow our trust, advice can strengthen our trust in our ability to change. The author discovered this when she and Eskreis-Winkler joined forces to study the relationship between advice and academic performance in high school. Asking the students to work for their younger colleagues for only a few minutes led to significant increases in their degrees at the end of the term.

So how can you make use in your own life of that understanding? Then think about forming ‘advisory clubs’ with friends or colleagues. Paradoxically, offering requested guidance will boost your trust in your skills. If you face some challenges and feel that it is a dead-end, try imagining those obstacles happening with someone else and acting how you’d advise this person. 


Your peers are changing you – so carefully choose them.

If they offer you unwanted advice, your friends can unintentionally hinder your progress. However, that doesn’t mean that changing your social circle is always a problem. Indeed, if you know how to use it properly, your friend group can be one of the greatest resources.

One reason why we people are so sensitive to social stress is that we humans are naturally susceptible to our society. This is presented in most cases as a failure – do you remember being urged to resist peer pressure as a child? This is just half of the story, however.

You see, you can do bad social pressure. But if you have the right friends, you can be straight and narrow as well.

Your peers change you, so you choose carefully. The key message is here.

Scott Carrell, an economist of the UC Davis, attended the American Air Force Academy and was surprised to find that the grades of his twin brother in many areas exceeded his grades. Back in high school, Carrell was the best student, but when the twins arrived at the school, something had changed, and his brother slowly got forward.

Years later, Carrell chose to test his hunch. He thought his new peer group was the decisive factor in the good grades of his brother. Being surrounded by hardworking and scholarly cadets was powerful enough to get his brother to hit books, as he never had before. It was a strong social influence.

By examining the academic performance of more than 3,500 young cadets, Carrell decided to crunch numbers. What was found was that a cadet’s own GPA increased by 0.4-grade points on a 4.0 scale for every 100-point growth in the average verbal satellite score of a squadron.

Be aware of these social influences when choosing who to spend time with; your peers influence your own achievement, whether you recognize it or not.

Social influences don’t have to be left to chance. If a friend you want to emulate is present, then first imitate her strategies. Ask her what she did that enabled her or her parent to master three languages patiently or cook such delicious vegan dinners. You can also frequently copy your success by “copy and paste” the methods of someone.