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How to Change (Science-based Edition): Katy Milkman on PYP 477

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Katy Milkman's book, How to Change, is a love letter to science, a friendly reminder of human frailty and magnificence, and a kickass self-help book.

Trained as an engineer and computer scientist, Milkman approaches the “ooey-gooey” nature of human complexity as an engineering problem.

She reframes our bad habits and dysfunctional tendencies as “features” that we can turn to our advantage much of the time.

Lazy? Milkman thinks that's one of our best qualities. It prevents us from wasting time doing unnecessary stuff in unnecessarily arduous ways.

How to exploit our natural instinct to preserve energy: create defaults so that doing the right thing is the path of least resistance.

We can't use that strategy in every situation, but we can use it a lot more than we think.

Conforming? Everyone tells us to “be ourselves,” and parents warn against the risks of peer pressure by asking if we would jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it too.

Exploit that impulse by surrounding yourself with emulable (not a word; thanks, little red dots in my editor) people and deliberately try to “copy and paste” their effective strategies and tactics.

Impulsive? Tie your challenging work to pleasure: listen to Harry Potter and Alex Cross when you work out (but only when you work out).

And so on.

The only fatal flaw in Milkman's universe, it seems, is hubris – a refusal to acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations, which then prevents us from acting to counter them.

In our conversation, we actually covered very little of How to Change, which is fine because you're going to get the book and read or listen to it yourself (on the treadmill is fine).

Instead, we talked about the nature of scientific research: the joy of discovery, the stepwise and unglamorous nature of progress, the benefits and challenges of increasing diversity and inclusion in the social sciences, and how scientists can disarm their own tendencies toward confirmation bias once they've woven particular theories into their identities.

We did spend some time on the tactic Milkman has dubbed “temptation bundling” – that trick where you take a task you're likely to procrastinate and combine it with a treat (audiobook, social time with friends, wine, etc.).

I love that it works, and I had several knee-jerk moral objections to it, all of which Milkman handled with ease. So my mind is changed, even though I'd prefer a world in which my prejudices were correct.

We talked about the one line in emails that dramatically boosted rates of vaccination in recipients, and the fact that we really don't know why it worked.

We covered the reexamination of the dogma (which I believed until this conversation) that external rewards suppress intrinsic motivation. (It turns out that this is almost certainly an artifact of the laboratory conditions of the studies that first proposed this theory – sorry, Alfie Kohn).

And we talked about Milkman's work on racial and gender bias, and how a very substantial and solid body of scientific evidence about what works to reduce bias has been collected, even as the public discourse remains polarized and moralistic rather than empirical.

You'll love this conversation if you love science, behavior change, and laughter.


How to Change

The Choiceology Podcast

The Person You Mean to Be, by Dolly Chugh

Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD

What Works: Gender Equality by Design, by Iris Bohnet

Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn

Looking for Transformational Change?

You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?

That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.

But I've added Memory Reconsolidation work to my own coaching, and can attest to its amazing efficacy. So much so, that I'm devoting the next year to mastering it, studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, and then introducing it into health coaching through my trainings.

Right now, I want to triple my coaching practice to get more and more opportunities to do this work. And I'm lowering my fees – a lot – to make it easier for people to work with me.

If you're interested in working with me (and willing to commit to a minimum of 2 months), click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab and I'll get back to you within 3 business days.

Yes, I'm interested in Memory Reconsolidation Coaching.

You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight

Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.

It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂

Tip Jar

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.


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