By David Jahr

Helping people change occupies Dr. Daniel Amen’s profession. As a brain health expert, two-time board certified psychiatrist, best-selling author and owner of The Amen Clinics, Dr. Amen has helped thousands of people answer the question “How can I change?” But he’s still learning. Recently, Dr. Amen read three popular books about change, and each one had powerful insights as well as a common missing element.

“Change or Die The New Science of Personal Success”
To effectively change, these three actions have to take place, according to the book: Relate, Repeat and Re-frame.

  • Relate — “You have to relate to someone, thing or concept that motivates you to change,” said Dr. Amen. “For example, Pastor Rick had two powerful motivators; first his brother died due to poor health, and second, while baptizing 800 people one day, he said he realized the church was getting bigger and so was he. “People relate to Pastor Rick so he’s leading the change in the church, community and eventually the world to become healthy.”
  • Repeat — “The concept of ‘repeat’ is to learn the skills you need, like eat right, exercise, manage your stress, and do it over and over again,” Dr. Amen said. “That’s why the 52 weeks is so important, because The Daniel Plan is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.”
  • Re-Frame — “This concept trains your brain to see yourself as a different person,” Dr. Amen said. “You have to start acting, or pretending, as if you are a healthy person.”

“Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard”
One of the primary concepts in the book “Switch,” is about The Elephant and the Rider.

  • The Rider — “The ‘rider” is the part of you that directs your behavior,” Dr. Amen said.
  • The Elephant — “The ‘elephant’ is far more powerful because it’s what motivates you to move,” he said.

Dr. Amen says that to change, it’s very important to strengthen the rider so you can get the elephant going in the same direction.  “So you have to ask yourself, ‘what is working with your health?’ ‘What can be improved?’ But don’t give the rider too many choices, when the rider has too many choices, they get confused and they don’t make the right choices,” he said.

Then you have to motivate the elephant. “Do you want to be healthy so you can enjoy your kids, a more active lifestyle, what is it that will motivate the elephant to move?” Dr. Amen said.

Dr. Amen likes to break down the motivating factors into two areas: Positive reasons to change your health, and negative reasons. Dr. Amen shared his viewpoints with how to motivate Pastor Rick to change. They are:

  • 6 positive reasons to get and stay truly healthy
    1. It is God’s clear instruction
    2. It will give me energy to do more of God’s work
    3. I will protect my brain
    4. I will be a role model for the congregation(s) that I love
    5. I will be protecting my health for the future
    6. The Daniel Plan has the potential to make a worldwide difference and I need to be healthy to be a credible leader
  • 6 negative reasons to get and stay truly healthy
    1. If I don’t I am being disobedient
    2. If I don’t I will be sicker, sadder, and dumber
    3. If I don’t I am damaging my brain and my ability to have the best influence
    4. If I don’t my sermons will be longer and less effective, which also messes up the parking situation
    5. If I don’t I will be a poor role model to those I love
    6. The Daniel Plan will be less successful if I am not successful

Then, Dr. Amen says to create a vivid vision of how it will feel if you are successful in one, five and 10 years. And what it will feel like if you don’t. Creating that motivation will help the rider direct the elephant along the right path.

“Change Anything, The New Science of Personal Success”
“Changing behaviors is more about skill than will power,” Dr. Amen said. Below are highlights from his personal notes from the book, “Change Anything.”

Escape the willpower trap — When people cannot change, it is rarely because they lack will.  It is usually because they are blind and outnumbered by all the influences in society (donuts and vending machines at church).

Be the scientist and the subject – Always be curious about your own behavior.

Love what you hate – The only way to sustain change is to change what brings you pleasure.

Do what you can’t – If change is taking too much will, it is probably because you do not have enough skill. You may need deliberate practice to build the skills you need. Don’t get disappointed, instead turn bad days into good data.

Turn accomplices into friends — Friends, mentors or coaches are people who support your positive behaviors, ask for their help. Accomplices are people who encourage your negative behaviors … or they are complicit with your negative behavior. If you want to change your behavior, you need to change your friends or turn accomplices into friends. Many accomplices can change into friends, if you have crucial conversations with them.  

Invert the economy – You can use your own irrational thinking in a positive way by inverting this economy.

  • Use incentives
  • Goals need to be short term, rewards need to matter to you.
  • You can use reverse incentives by bribing yourself to change – and it works.
  • Loss aversion — you can also reverse costs by raising the price of bad behavior.

Control your space – If you want to take control of your life, you have to take control of your surroundings. Learn to use distance, cues, and tools in your favor and you enlist the environment as a powerful, constant, sleepless ally.

  • Build fences that keep good things in and bad things out.  Clean out the kitchen.
  • Put fruit bowl on the table.
  • Shop outside edges of the grocery store, where the fresh foods are, and avoid the internal isles as much as possible, because that is where the packaged foods are.
  • Put a mental fence across the middle of most restaurant menus where the high calorie appetizers and alcoholic drinks are.  
  •  Manage distance.  Make exercise equipment closer. Bad food far away.  Move TV into spare room.
  • Use cues to jolt us out of routine.  Personal saying, such as “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”  Active photos?
  • Use tools.  Try The Amen Solution (, pedometers, apps for tracking calories. Paper calendar in the bathroom to track your weight. Smaller pans, servings bowls and plates to decrease your portions.

The Missing Links
Dr. Amen noticed a few missing elements for change from each of these books. Change requires a healthy computer — or your brain. “If you brain is not right, you’re not right,” he said.

“If you’ve been working the plan and not seeing results, you may have a brain health problem,” Dr. Amen said. “Testing and taking care of your brain is a critical part to being well.”

Additionally, successful change requires typical Daniel Plan concepts like, adequate sleep, balanced blood sugar and exercise.

“If you’re not eating right, getting proper rest and exercising, you are prone to make bad decisions, so taking care of your physical and brain health is a prerequisite to making and sustaining change,” Dr. Amen said.

Books About Change

  • Change Anything, The New Science of Personal Success
  • Change or Die, The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life
  • Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard