How many times have you abandoned your New Year’s Resolution or given up on a goal that seemed unattainable? Are you looking for sustainable ways to actually achieve your goals? Well, there may be some new tricks to try. In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts speaks with Katy Milkman, a behavioral psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, about her book that suggests new ways to increase the probability of making successful, long-term changes in our lives.

Milkman’s book, How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, isn’t your typical self-help book. Instead of the guru style of traditional self-help books, Milkman takes a scientific approach to find strategies that actually help us reach the different types of goals that we have. From issues like going to the gym more, eating healthier, studying more, or saving more money, Milkman gives the audience advice on how to sustainably change certain aspects of our lives. Let’s hear what you think about the process of making change. Answer our questions in the prompts below, or use them to start a conversation with friends offline.



1- Milkman challenges Nike’s notion of “Just Do It.” Do you agree with her? Instead of this “pushing through” strategy, what are the other strategies that Milkman suggests? Have you used either of these strategies yourself? How successful were they?


2- To deal with the “willpower problem,” Milkman suggests that we come up with ways to incentivize ourselves to make certain decisions. What are some of the reasons that Milkman thinks these strategies will work? What do you think about Milkman’s “fresh start effect?” Have you ever used the fresh start effect to try to make changes to your life? Has it been successful? Roberts points out that our ability to achieve a goal is often independent of technique. What do you think he means by this? What does Milkman have to say in response to this?


3-Milkman discusses some of the issues with past psychology studies that are not able to be replicated. What are two of the studies that have been able to be replicated? What example does Roberts use to illustrate the longevity of this tactic being used by humans? Can you think of any other examples of this tactic?


4- Roberts makes a suggestion on the plausibility of studies in science being incorrect but then being used as placebo effects. What does Milkman have to say about using placebo effects? Do you think her example of housekeeping is accurate?


5- Roberts makes an important point that while it is good to want to make changes to our lives for the better, there also seems to be an urge in our culture to find the life hacks and algorithms that will solve certain problem for us and that this could hinder us from considering the bigger question of how to live. Do you agree with Roberts? Milkman responds that it is important to consider whether our goals will actually benefit us. Do you think there are some goals that aren’t as important as others? Explain.