How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, Katy Milkman, 2021

The Gist

Katy Milkman is an economist who has written a self-help book.

In the normal course of things, I wouldn’t go near the world of self-help and try to avoid the thoughts of celebrities and C-listers who write books on the topic. However, this book piqued my curiosity because it claims to be based on published research. It does talk about ending bad habits, but goes beyond worthy endearments. It’s set out as a series of chapters of case studies each with strategies: Getting Started, Impulsivity, Time Wasting, Laziness and Confidence to act are just some of the topics covered.

What’s Good

This is a very readable book. You can get through it in an evening. Its practical and persuasive. She has crunched the data!


Rigid habits work well, but can also go to zero when disrupted; flexible habits are more robust. And being amongst a high-achieving peer group can motivate us, but if they’re too far ahead of us with nobody in the middle zone, we tend to give up.

Something to Try

“Fresh starts” help a lot. The idea of a reset has been a feature of organisations emerging from lockdown. Pick a milestone date with a clear before and after, like New Year’s Day or your birthday, to make change more likely to stick. 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail, but that 20% success rate is still higher than any other time you could pick.