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MangosI just finished reading the fascinating book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, which laid out a strategy for supporting positive change, whether within an organization, or within ourselves. While my hunch is many readers of this book are corporate types thinking about how to create more efficiency or productivity, I read it as a writer and coach whose work is about helping young people change their lives by creating more joy, more purpose, and more possibilites.

Towards the end of the book, the authors talk about how big change often requires many small steps. They use the example of training a monkey to ride a skateboard by breaking it down into the tiniest of steps and rewarding each and every one — in the case of the skateboarding monkey, with a chunk of mango. You don’t start by sticking a monkey on the skateboard. You first reward him with mango after simply putting the board in his cage. Then you give him mango for touching it. Then for sitting on it. And on and on and on until voila…he’s riding the board.

At the end of this section, the authors of Switch say this:


I love this sentiment, especially as it relates to making positive changes in our lives. Here’s how I break it down:

1. Changing the way you think, becoming the person you want to be, going out on a limb without freaking out, changing your major, your plan, your job…your life, can be a long journey. But the journey is where all the good stuff happens. It’s where the changes take place that will ultimately take you where you want to go.

2. Taking small steps, even baby ones, towards a goal or a change will ultimately get you where you want to be. This can be frustrating for people looking for quick transformations, but if you can stop thinking about fast results and instead focus on doing the tiny tasks you know will get you there, you’ll find the process a lot less stressful and likely with a better outcome at the end.

3. One word: rewards. Rewarding each small step with something you enjoy — a guilt-free nap, gold stars, an extra Thin Mint, a new book, a day off…perhaps mangos — works. It keeps you moving forward and helps give you momentum for those less-than-enjoyable small steps along your path.

How can you apply this principle to a change you’re looking to make in your life? Are you ready for the long journey? What are your “mangos?”