How to Change for Good
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

How to Change for Good

Improvement that sticks

For the How to Help newsletter, I like using titles that have multiple meanings. It's true this week, too. Did you read this as "Change for Good" meaning permanently, or "Change for Good" meaning improvement? It's important to think about both.

Most of our efforts to help others are stuck in the short-term. We make a one-time donation. We listen to a friend who's weighed down. We drive someone to the airport. There's nothing wrong with these efforts. The short-term help matters. Momentary relief matters.

But change is a long-term thing. It takes a long time to stick. It needs persistent effort. And it means that we see farther down the road than just a few steps ahead.

To that end, I have another excellent book to recommend, a new one by Wharton professor Katy Milkman. The book is called How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Prof. Milkman co-directs the UPenn Behavior Change for Good Initiative, along with Angela Duckworth, the well-known author of Grit.

I won’t recite much of the book’s contents, other than to highlight a clear and compelling theme that runs throughout: intentions are not enough to lead to lasting change. I know this isn’t a groundbreaking observation. After all, every one of us has intended to establish a new good habit or break a bad one, only to be stymied by our own stubborn patterns. In fact, I wrote about this before in a previous post, Quitter’s Day.

Changing, as people, requires the right environment, practices, connections with others. Prof. Milkman does an expert job surveying the current best science on sustainable change and lays it out in an exceptionally clear and useful way. (She also uses an approach and structure that I wish most nonfiction books used.)

I now consider How to Change required reading for anyone who wants to help people. I can't wait to put it to work.

Things to Read

Globalization and the Expanding Moral Circle

A decade old, but new to me. The more globalized the country, the more likely people are to expand their circle of care.

Individualism Predicts More Generosity, not Less

Research results and a NYT Op-Ed from Abigail Marsh, my podcast guest from How to Help ep.2 - The Neuroscience of Altruism.

Cynicism ≠ Intelligence

Another study, this one showing that while cynical people are generally viewed as being more intelligent, they actually score lower on cognitive tests.

Impact Highlight

The strongest predictor for graduating high school is regular attendance. While this seems obvious, absenteeism persists because students lack the support they need to keep showing up.

Kinvolved engages entire communities in reducing school absenteeism by using a smartphone app, text messaging, and human connections to get kids attending school consistently. Their software and services have been shown to increase graduation rates by 11%, and the positive effects are especially pronounced among English Language Learners. Read more about the impact in their 2020 Impact Report.

Promotional Stuff

Are you as creative as you want to be?

Only 1/3 of adults consider themselves to be "very" creative. This is a tragedy! Everyone is creative in some way or another. I'm not an artist, but I've learned I can see new products, programs, or ventures before they exist. There's a way you're especially creative, too.

But creativity is a skill that needs nurturing. In this week's episode of the How to Help Podcast, you'll learn how to expand and explore your creativity and our guide will be Andrew Maxfield—composer, entrepreneur, and idea factory. He's the most deliberately creative person I know and an excellent teacher. Give it a listen!

How to Help Podcast • Creativity • Andrew Maxfield


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Written by

Aaron Miller

Aaron Miller

Provo, UT