Flipping the Switch to a Happier Life

Electric Switch ONbigstock_Light_Bulb_459906
Lately I’ve been happily devouring Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The Heaths’ advice is enlightening on many levels, and has added some gangbuster techniques to my coaching tools. See how you like this one.

The Heaths suggest that it’s crucial to look for “bright spots” where we’re already succeeding, then replicate those results in other areas. Most of us look for “dark spots,” in our own lives, in our loved ones’ lives, in the world generally. As you may know, the reptile portion of our brains is tuned to danger, and the storytelling brain area takes ANY evidence of danger and perpetuates it through our personal Top Ten Tunes o’ Terror.

I’m a danger-story champion, but today I’m following the Heaths’ advice, so every time a dark spot turns up in my own mind, I’ll find a corresponding “bright spot” to replace it (or at least balance it). I’ll call this “Flipping the Switch.”

Step 1: Flip the Switch By Finding Brights to Balance Darks
Dark Thought: This morning, I didn’t get through to the woman I was coaching.
Bright Spot: But I got through to her husband.

Dark Thought: I barely talked to my son while I drove him to his workout.
Bright Spot: Adam thrives on silence, and he’s psychic, so he knows I love him.

Dark Thought: There are so many new technologies, and I can barely send email.
Bright Spot: I did eventually learn how to email.

Dark Thought: I haven’t finished my book.
Bright Spot: But yesterday I wrote 11 pages.

Step 2: Replicate the Bright Spots
Now my job is to replicate the conditions that caused the bright spots to occur. I’ll see what led to my successes, then extrapolate to other situations, which I basically manage by saying “Hmm…” Like this:

• I got through to my male client because I put very little pressure on him. Hmm: Put less pressure on clients.

• Adam’s psychic, so he knows I love him. Hmm: I sort of believe almost everyone can sense love at a distance. Hmm: Try just beaming love to my many adored ones, and see if they feel it.

• I learned how to email because I made a friend who preferred communicating that way. Hmm: When I want to learn a computer skill, I’ll get a friend who wants to learn it with me.

• I wrote 11 pages yesterday because I set an “action trigger”: while at the gym I pictured walking home, drinking a smoothie, and then writing. Hmm: Action triggers (visualized sequences of behavior) work. I’ll set another one to get me working on my book today. Let’s see…I’ll eat some Key Lime pie, sing along with three feisty Sheryl Crow songs, then write.

Having done this exercise, I’ve stopped brooding about my failures and begun seeing spots-bright spots. I feel way more motivated already. See if “flipping the switch” like this can work for you!

  1. Beauty Bets
    Beauty Bets says:

    M – I feel like I just had a lightbulb moment with this approach! All I do is beat myself up for the negative and completely negate the positive—as if it were all about luck, not a skill I can re-apply. How do you keep yourself from flipping the switch back?

  2. Joy >i
    Joy >i says:

    Martha ~ this is such a great idea, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
    Many blessings,
    Joy >i<

  3. simone dale
    simone dale says:

    Love this idea! Definately going to get flipin’! Also made me realise why I avoid certain things (like learning all the new tools in the latest office suite) – because it’s just another lonely task! Learning it with a friend, now THAT sounds like fun! Thanks martha! 🙂

  4. Barbara Lazarony aka Blaz
    Barbara Lazarony aka Blaz says:

    Dark Thought: I will never see the sun again through this soupy fog that has lingered on for days.

    Bright Spot: The sun is always up there, I have to trust and believe that….even if it is invisible to me right now. In addition, the fruits and veggies are soaking up all of this coastal fog, thus making them yummy and fresh at the local farmer’s markets.

  5. María
    María says:

    I needed to read something like this today. Great advise. I’m going to put it to good use right away. Glad to see that you got enough rest.

  6. Tina
    Tina says:

    Great stuff, but when is it appropriate to deal with situations that need to be handled? How do you know when it’s in that category of “must fix this, not just put a happy light on it”? A toothache can be bright-spotted (at least I HAVE teeth), or it can be fixed by a dentist. Hey wait, maybe that IS the bright light! “I have a toothache, and fortunately for me, I can go to the dentist and get it fixed!”

  7. christina
    christina says:

    Your advice has been a great help to me for years. I’m happy to return the favor if you ever want any help with this mastering technology quest.

  8. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I love this! I started out this weekend with my kids around my Sabbath table Friday night, and made a request that we all substitute a positive statement for every negative comment we are about to make. I think it worked for about ten minutes. But it definitely set the tone for replacing the dark spots with bright ones.
    Here here to the brights! Spot on!!

  9. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    Actually, Martha, I started reading that book too recently and thought of you. They mention a study that seems – and tell me where I’m wrong (no I’m not being snarky, I’d truly love to hear your thoughts) – to contradict an idea you posited in The Four Day Win. You suggest that, if one stocks up on gargantuan quantities of the treats they desire, they will feel the too-muchness of it all and most likely limit themselves to one or two portions; whereas, if they limit themselves to one or two portions outright, they’ll be more compelled to raid their cupboards looking for more. But the Heath brothers cite opposite findings from Brian Wansik, detailed in his book “Mindless Eating,” wherein Wansik discusses an experiment in which one group of people was given a medium bucket of bad popcorn in a movie theater and another group was given large tubs of bad popcorn. Though the popcorn was barely edible, the people in the latter group ate 53% more popcorn. From this study, Wansik and, by extension, the Heaths concluded: “People eat more when you give them a bigger container. Period.” Do you agree?

    Thanks, Martha. For the record, I love your work and read it for inspiration every day!

    Brooklyn, NY

  10. Carolee
    Carolee says:

    Thanks for sharing this tool, Martha, and showing how you analyzed your bright spots so you could replicate them. What a great exercise to balance my “beat-myself-up” thoughts!

  11. Linda
    Linda says:


    This teaching of “flipping a switch” has brought me to the happy place where I am today. I have always lived an authentic life of humor and joy until a dark period where my husband left me with our five children. Because of the close friends who have supported, loved and laughed with me, it didn’t take long to flip that switch and move forward. Despite the financial poverty I was left with after the divorce, many of my closest friends and acquaintances would probably affirm that I live my life as though I were the richest person on earth. Aside from what one might see in my budget, I do indeed feel extremely prosperous and live as though each day is my last. No, I do not have a fatal disease that would make me live in such a manner, but when I flipped the switch, I realized that within me lies the option of having a life that is fulfilled each and every day.

    By flipping the switch, we not only affect our own life, but it ripples through the lives of all who are in our little worlds. Starting today, ask yourself how you can right now flip a switch to make a difference that will be noticeable and effective?

  12. Debra Duncan
    Debra Duncan says:

    I heard Chip Heath interviewed by Moira Gunn on Tech Nation recently and have the book on my night stand ready to start this evening. Can’t wait to get to bed and get started! Thanks, Martha!

  13. Michelle Mitchell
    Michelle Mitchell says:

    This is such a cool concept, I love it. And I loved the image of you and Adam driving to the gym and then you feeling badly about not talking much to him.

    It makes me think of mindfulness, or lack thereof. I can’t count the number of times I’m driving somewhere and when I arrive I realize I have no recollection of driving there. On the occasions when Hudson is in the car with me I too feel guilty for not talking to him or even noticing that we were in the car together. Bright spot – Hudson had time alone to play with his little fingers making new discoveries!