The only constant | Book Review – How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be By Katy Milkman

Change is something we always fear and therefore prefer the status quo. It can come from rudimentary things like exercising regularly or saving for the future. Although these goals seem logical and quite simple, they are difficult to follow. This is the heart of Katy Milkman’s book, How to change, where she tells us how to overcome the obstacles that stand in our way to achieve these rather simple goals.

The book is based on simple principles of psychology, which the author combines with his experience with businesses as well as experiences. Companies, for example, offer several facilities as well as health schedules to keep employees in good shape. This could be not only gymnasiums, but also provisions for vaccine injections. Yet the response is never encouraging. So what are the issues here? She gives seven obstacles that must be overcome in order for us to achieve our goals. To start, it is important to start. How to get out of the routine and start a new diet or savings life? Often, we make New Year’s resolutions, which is a “date” from which we decide to turn a new page. It can also be his birthday or the crossing of an age threshold. It can happen when something affects you or your family and the latest can be Covid where one can suddenly become health conscious and start doing the right thing. A London Underground strike caused a drastic change in several lives as people walked more and it became a habit.

One obstacle we can all identify with is procrastination, as we prefer the present to the future. By deferring the present to the future, we buy time, but at some point it becomes too late to change when our monetary situation is weak or our health fails irrevocably. She gives the example of a locked savings account that requires saving. It’s more like the provident fund we have, which is forced saving whether we like it or not.

Another obstacle that we all encounter is forgetfulness, which afflicts us at different times. The author recommends making a written plan preferably and following it so as not to collapse despite our intentions. This is what we observe in elections where people commit to a party but “collapse” at the critical moment, which often disturbs the calculations. Therefore, she recommends breaking the plans into small chunks sequentially to follow them piecemeal, which is easier to stick to.

The tendency to follow the path of least resistance is an obstacle to change. Doctors normally follow standard procedure and never really think about further examination before giving medication. Therefore, often during the outbreak, doctors suspect Covid and put the patient on a drug regimen which may not be necessary. The so-called standard operating practice that is now a habit makes it an easy decision but has costs.

Milkman gives the example of a public hospital in the United States where doctors blindly prescribed drugs that weren’t even needed. When asked, they admitted that they could have reduced the dose or given cheaper alternatives that would have saved the healthcare system a lot of money.

In this way, the author overcomes all the obstacles that prevent us from becoming resistant to change and urges readers to make a real attempt. A simple experiment was conducted in a hotel where half of the staff had their blood pressure and other health parameters monitored daily after being informed. The other half was not. Those who were told their health was being monitored tended to become more conscious in their attempt to stay healthy through diet and walks compared to those who were not told. Therefore, small signals like these can make the difference.

Peer pressure, for example, is another technique that can be used to bring about change. Seeing other people exercising in your apartment complex or co-workers eating healthy meals can also be a change. One of his experiments consisted of informing the inhabitants of a locality each month about the electricity consumption of all households. As long as people saw these numbers, they tended to save. Once that was stopped, people went back to their old ways.

The author warns that due to deeply rooted mindsets, it is not easy to effect change. According to the author, transformation is a slow process and it is like treating a chronic disease, which requires patience, endurance and determination. It is not just the start of the new regime that is important. Maintaining it will make a difference and it must therefore be reminded regularly.

It is a useful book because it helps bring about changes in the way we live our lives. What is needed is to identify our objectives and show resolve in implementing the plan.

Madan Sabnavis is Chief Economist of Bank of Baroda

How to change: the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be
Katy Milkman
Random penguin house
249 pages, 599 rupees

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