How Removing Ambiguity And Clear Goals Helps Break The Overthinking Habit Of The Rational Brain

12 December 2022

[Video Transcript]

Remove Ambiguity For Clearer Actions

Insights from 'Switch' by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

As we’ve already discussed,  the rational brain – or the rider – is quick to spot problems, and then it tries to solve them.

Now, that triggers a cycle of overthinking -- often leading to decision paralysis.

Well, the Heath brothers have a solution to prevent this overthinking: present the rider with clear directions.

Now, they give the example of two professors at West Virginia University who made a compelling case for a healthy diet.

Now, to drive the message home, they trained the spotlight on what most Americans drink: milk!

It is a great source of calcium but also the largest source of saturated fat in the American diet.

Now, the professors knew that Americans could cut down fat by switching from whole milk to low-fat or 1% milk.

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So, they ran a punchy media campaign highlighting the monstrous amount of fat even in a glass of whole milk.

That is equivalent to five strips of bacon! The market share of 1% milk jumped from 18% to 35%.

Instead of a vague message “Eat healthier”, the researchers removed ambiguity and scripted the critical move: Switch to 1% milk! And the West Virginians did.

A black-and-white goal gives a concrete vision of the future.

Instead of “I’ll be healthier this year”, try saying, “I’ll go to the gym every day!”

No wiggle room for the Rider.

So for you to be able to initiate change, the rational side of your brain needs clear direction, a map of the moves, and a knowledge of its goal – of where it is headed.

The Heaths call it a destination postcard.

Now how to provide a destination postcard.

A first-grade teacher in an Atlanta elementary school, Crystal Jones tried it.

For many of her students, this was their first formal education outing.

Evidently, there were skill gaps.

But how does one motivate first-graders who don't know their alphabet or numbers?

Well, Jones posted an ambitious goal that thrilled the kids: By the end of this school year, you will have the skills of third-graders!

And which first-grader doesn't aspire to be like a way-cooler, way-smarter third-grader?

The kids were hooked.

By spring, their test scores had reached a second-grade level, and by the end of the promised term, over 90% of them were at or above a third-grade level.

The Switch took just nine months and an imaginative teacher to happen.

Now your takeaway: To capture the rational rider’s attention, remove ambiguity and give a clear goal for the future.

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