Change or Die by Alan Deutschman was referred to me by a physician who is using its ideas to help her patients make life changes (thanks, Deb Friesen). It was an ideal read to usher in a new year, a new decade and a new phase in my career. Many of the change ideas were familiar to me, but the book runs them through a wide range of applications — from criminal rehabilitation to the social media revolution.

change bookThe main point: Fear, facts and force are the favored approach for those who want to facilitate change, but they never work. Doctors know that even the threat of death is not enough to influence eight out of nine heart attack patients to change their lifestyles. Instead, successful change agents rely on a mixture of:

  • Relate — Establish a new, emotional connection with a person or community that fosters hope.
  • Repeat — Use this new relationship to learn and practice the new skills and behaviors you need to sustain change.
  • Reframe — Allow this new relationship to help you see your situation and the world in a new light.

Good doctors have the first one down. To reframe, they need to help patients see the benefits of healthy changes today — healthy food can be delicious, exercise can give them more energy, meditation can reduce their stress symptoms. And they need to help them savor short-term wins so that they will repeat the behavior over and over until it becomes their new habit.

Best part about this book: The writing. Deutschman is a magazine writer (Fortune, GQ, Fast Company) and book author (The Second Coming of Steve Jobs) who has a raft of stories at his disposal. He never tells, he shows. He has spent quality time with the change leaders he profiles — so much so that you find out, for example, that 35 years into her successful program to rehabilitate criminals at San Francisco’s Delancy Street, Mimi Silbert still has days when she doesn’t have that fire in the belly. Her solution: act “as if” she does, and eventually the fire comes back.

Favorite quote:

I don’t think a leader can accomplish major change without being willing to slice yourself open and become part of the change. I say, ‘You guys force me to be my best self because I live in a glass house.’ — Mimi Silbert

Bits that stuck:

  • Quick wins reward the hard work of change, nourish the faith and keep critics at bay.
  • When stuck with a problem I haven’t been able to solve myself, the first step is to seek out a new relationship with someone or some group that has had success in this area.
  • When the spirit flags, “fake it until you make it.” Act “as if” you have the spirit and it will come to you.

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