Katy Milkman on how to get from where you are to where you want to be

Virgin Radio

25 Jan 2022, 14:05

Credit: katymilkman.com

Credit: katymilkman.com

Economist, professor and podcast host Katy Milkman joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about her book, How To Change.

Having been originally released in hardback last year, How To Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, is available in paperback now. In the book, Katy helps readers overcome common barriers to change. She told Chris: “I do think it’s hard, right? There are so many aspects of our personalities that work against change, from our desire for instant gratification, to the fact that we can lack confidence, and that our habits can get in the way, but there is absolutely a science to making it easier.”

In her book, Katy explains that timing can be everything when it comes to making a change. She told Chris where this notion stemmed from. “It came from an executive at Google, who asked me if there was some ideal time to encourage change among his employees, and I thought it was such a fascinating question, and naturally started thinking about New Year’s resolutions,” she said. 

“But what my collaborators and I have shown is actually there are many dates besides the New Year in our life that feel like new beginnings, that feel like we are facing a chapter break."

She continued: “When we feel like we have a chapter break in life, we get this sense that there’s a discontinuity. You can say, ‘Last year, that was the old me who wanted to quit smoking and didn't get around to it, but this is the new me, the new me can do it.’ And we get that fresh start feeling at the start of a new week, at the start of a new month, following birthdays, following certain holidays that we associate with fresh starts, and also when we make a move, or a transition at work. 

“So, any time that, to you, feels like a fresh start, it turns out the research shows you can use that feeling of change to propel you towards a new goal.”

Katy is a behavioural scientist and professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also co-directs the Behaviour For Good Change Initiative. She spoke to Chris about “temptation bundling”, explaining: “Temptation bundling is when you think of a chore that you dread, but it’s part of your goal, and you recognise you’re going to struggle to get it done if you don’t make it more fun.

"Whether it’s exercise, or studying, or getting that work report in on time, often you know you should do it - it’s good for you in the long run - in the moment, it is unpleasant. So, temptation bundling takes that recognition, that this is going to be painful, and says let’s combine something that I love with it." 

Giving an example, the author of How To Change continued: “I’m going to only let myself, for instance, binge-watch my favourite TV shows while I'm exercising at the gym, and now workouts are going to become a source of pleasure instead of pain. You’re going to look forward to seeing what happens to your favourite characters, time will fly while you’re at the gym, and you won’t even feel guilty watching whatever it is that you might normally shudder to announce to your friends.”

Giving further examples, she continued: “We can use it in all parts of our life. From popping open a favourite bottle of wine only while you’re making a fresh meal for a friend, listening to the Chris Evans show only while you’re doing household chores… pick your bundle and it can really change things.”

Katy, who also hosts the popular behavioural economics podcast Choiceology, went on to speak about certain ways to help with commitment and willpower. “There are so many things in life, like a deadline that’s important for you to hit, or quitting smoking, that require tremendous willpower, and where if you actually set out fines and constraints for yourself, it can be helpful, and can prevent you from giving into temptation in the heat of the moment.

“There’s a wonderful research study led by Dean Karlan, an economist at Northwestern University, showing that, when people who wanted to quit smoking were randomly assigned to a group where they would put money in a bank account that they would have to forfeit six months later if they failed a urine test for nicotine or cotinine, those people quit smoking at a 30 percent higher rate than another group that was simply assigned all the usual tools that you’re offered when you try to quit smoking.” 

During her half-hour conversation with Chris, Katy also spoke about routine and ritual, good habits and building habits, serial flake-outs, and watching out for the company you keep. You can listen back to the whole interview here.

How To Change: The Science Of Getting From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be is out now

For more great interviews listen to The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.