Making Changes One Small Habit at a Time

I’ve been reading a book titled small change: Little Things Make a Big Difference and have enjoyed it tremendously. The book is written in a conversational style, with a couple as narrators.

The book focuses on the Japanese concept of kaizen, although they don’t really talk about kaizen very much. The idea is that we should make one small change each month, and do this on a regular basis. With a small change, it becomes a habit and can have a dramatic effect on the rest of our lives.

As an example, let’s say one changes from a soda a day to a glass of water every day. If you have a 12oz. soda (at US$1) each day – and switch to visiting the bubbler – then you will save US$365 in one year, and US$1825 in five years. What would you do with all that money?

Taking the same switch as an example, you would also save 140 calories each day – or 51,100 calories a year – or 255,500 calories in five years.

When you try to do too much, you can become overwhelmed and your attempts then suffer across the board. You find that you are failing in one area, and the negative reaction spills into all of the other habits you are trying to create – and none are successfully created.

Also, when you have several habits going at once, you may find that you are improving slightly – across the board – but not in any one area. None of the habits take, because you keep switching one habit for another and never completely creating a new habit.

When you succeed in one habit, the drive will propel you to succeed in another – and another.

Jason Thomas wrote an article in Lifehacker titled Practice Your Personal Kaizen which covers some of these areas. Leo Babauta in his book Less also covers the concept of changing just one habit each month. A related book (which I want to read) is One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer.

What new habit are you going to create this month?

A Review: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Switch is a book by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, about changing and how to get others to change.

I started this book with some skepticism, having heard of the book Change or Die and its basic thesis: Change or Die tells about those people who were told (truthfully) that either you change your life or you will die. According to the book, 95% of the people in that study could not change. (I still have to read that book!)

If we can’t change with that kind of ultimate rational choice, what will make us change? Dan and Chip weave together a lot of anecdotes as well as many studies that showed different parts of what makes us change.

The brothers introduce us to the concept of the Elephant (our emotional side) and the Rider (our rational and reasoning side) – a concept originated by Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis. The book goes in depth into how to get both the Elephant and its Rider pointed in the same direction, and to draw them towards change.

The three major portions of the book relate to the Rider (“Direct the Rider”), the Elephant (“Motivate the Elephant”), and the Path taken (“Shape the Path”). The chapters are replete with anecdotes and studies backing up what the authors are presenting as a way to make change happen.

This book also draws from two of my favorite authors, Maria Cilley (the “FlyLady”), author of Sink Reflections, and David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. Both espouse a sort of “shrinking” of change to make it easier, simpler. Both Cilley and Allen talk about doing something simple to start with on the way to something much grander.

The book distills things down to simple elements, but sometimes seems to degrade slightly into allegory and similes instead of concrete memory aids. As long as you understand the simile, it works – but to “make it stick” you might want something more specific.

This book will change how you look at change, and perhaps will change your life. It can change how you approach getting a new project going at work, and can help you present radical change in way that will make things happen.

15 Books That Changed Me

Since a lot of folks are talking about the books that influenced them, I thought I’d add my own take…

  1. The Practice of System and Network Administration, by Thomas A. Limoncelli and Christine Hogan. This book is perhaps the first to put the practice of system administration all together into one book; something for everyone to learn.
  2. Programming Ruby, by Dave Thomas. It was this book that introduced me to the joys of programming in Ruby – finally an object-oriented scripting language that was easy and fun and everywhere.
  3. OpenVMS System Management Guide, by Lawrence L. Baldwin, Jr., Steve Hoffman, and David Miller. Through this book I learned OpenVMS administration, and indirectly, found HoffmanLabs.
  4. Starting FORTH and Thinking FORTH, both by Leo Brodie. I learned FORTH through these books and never stopped loving it.
  5. The Towers of February by Tonke Dragt. I read this book in middle school (age 11 perhaps?) and never stopped looking for it since. I now have a copy (after 30 plus years looking for it). It’s a beautiful science-fiction book about alternate worlds written as a diary.
  6. Learn Any Language by Barry Farber. Foreign languages can be fun and help you to expand your mind. I’m still working on French and Russian.
  7. Code Complete by Steve McConnell. This book shows you how to write understandable – and maintainable code. Every programmer should be required to read this book.
  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This novel cemented my love for 19th century classics…
  9. Re-imagine! by Tom Peters. Who knew that a business book could be beautiful and pithy? This is a wonderful book, and is a lesson in business as well as an example of excellent graphic design. Business was never this fun!
  10. Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything by David Allen. These books really show you how to get it done – and can change your life.
  11. The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Not only did I fall in love with Jim diGriz (the “Stainless Steel Rat”) but it was through these books that I was first introduced to Esperanto. Learn it!
  12. Quick and Easy Math by Isaac Asimov. This book is a delightful and easy read (like all of Isaac’s books) but also shows you how to do math in your head. Best reading on the subject in my opinion.
  13. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. Optimism never appeared so critical. Martin’s experiments show you exactly how costly pessimism can be in all areas (well, except one….).
  14. The Memory Book by Harry Lorrayne and Jerry Lucas. This is one of the books I’ve owned the longest. It covers a lot of memorization techniques and applications as introduced by the two authors through an interview they had with each other. This is a delightful book.
  15. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. After you read this book, you will never look at checklists in the same way again.

A Book Review: “Green IT”

The book Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line by Velte, Velte, and Elsenpeter is extremely interesting. Unlike some other books that might go in this direction, this is not a book of theory, nor of political change, nor of persuasion. This is a book for IT staff about how to create a “green” data center and more.

Because of the nature of IT, going “green” can mostly be summed up in one word: electricity. A vast amount of what makes an IT department “green” consists of using less electricity wherever possible. This includes such areas as the corporate data center, the corporate desktops, and much more.

However, the book also gives significant attention to the other big environmental impact of computing: paper. There are a lot of ways to reduce paper use, and this book seems to cover all of them.

The book is in five parts: part I explains why to implement conservation in IT; part II talks about consumption; part III discusses what we as IT users can do individually to help the environment; part IV covers several corporate case studies; and part V expounds on the process of becoming “green” and how to stay that way.

It would have been nice to see more information about how the authors exemplified their suggestions during the creation of the book. The only hint of any environmentally sound practices is the recycled paper logo on the back cover (100% post-consumer fiber). That leaves more questions: did they use thin clients? Did they work from home? Did they use soy ink? Perhaps lastly, where is the e-book?

There is a web site that is set up for the book, but the current breadth of the site is disappointingly anemic. Some of the best web sites for Green IT would be Dell Earth, Intel, as well as IBM’s Green IT and Energy, the Environment, and IBM web sites.

It was interesting to note that HP’s Eco Solutions web site is “heavy” compared to the others – that is, it requires much more processing power to display, and requires a lot more time to download – which translates into more power consumption to view the web site. In addition, IBM and HP are the #1 and #2 in Computerworld’s list of Top Green-IT Vendors – whereas Dell is #6… HP also topped Newsweek’s 2009 list of Greenest Big Companies in America (along with IBM, Intel, and Dell in the top 5).