" If you want to develop good habits, or to replace bad habits with better ones, you’ll be well-served to deliberately and repeatedly drill them, like a firefighter training to do the right thing in a high-pressure environment. ”

How to Change, Katy Milkman, 2021


“But to give yourself the best chance at success, it’s critical to size up your opponent and develop a strategy tailored to overcome the particular challenges you face. The surest path to success is not one-size-fits-all. Instead, you must match your approach to your opponent.”

If you’ve struggled to change your lifestyle for the better, end that smoking habit, join the gym and actually go, start something new or give up your box set habit this book will help. Its more than a self-help book and goodness knows there’s an industry of those. It’s a book built on scientific research. Its well-structured, easy to read, carefully referenced and practical. It’s not particularly original but what is offers is substantiated by interesting, often quirky research.

So What? 

“It turns out that the leading cause of premature death isn’t poor health care, difficult social circumstances, bad genes, or environmental toxins. Instead, an estimated 40 percent of premature deaths are the result of personal behaviours we can change.”

Katy Milkman is an economist who is a Professor at The University of Pennsylvania. She is the cofounder and co-director of the Behaviour Change for Good Initiative, a research centre with the mission of advancing the science of lasting behaviour change. The book is set out as a series of chapters comprising simple case studies each with a set of strategies. Getting Started, Impulsivity, Time Wasting, Laziness and Confidence to act are just some of the topics covered. She is convinced that the capacity to change unhelpful habits can save lives, our own and those of others. Simple examples such as writing to voters comparing their voting patterns with their near neighbours boost poll day attendance. An opt out button on a computerised order form shifted orders from 17% generic medicines (the cheaper ones) to 74% overnight.

Now What?

Try some of her solutions.

  • “Fresh starts” help a lot. Pick a milestone date with a clear before and after, like Jan 1 or your birthday, to make change more likely to stick
  • By ‘temptation bundling’. Allow yourself to indulge in guilty pleasures, but only when one is pursuing a virtuous or valuable activity that one usually tends to procrastinate.
  • Anticipate temptation and create constraints. These constraints termed “commitment devices” break the cycle of procrastination. Creating a “locked” savings bank account where no withdrawal is permissible until a certain level of savings is achieved
  • Taking “soft pledges” to end procrastination by taking the pledge and making it public
  • asking a person who is going through tough times to ‘render’ advice to another who might be going through a similar adverse phase improves decision making skills immensely

This is a very readable book. You can get through it in an evening – that’s if you can get into the habit of avoiding the distractions.

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