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Katy Milkman on Overcoming the Challenges of Change

Thrive Global

Why is change so hard? This is the first question Lainie Rowell of Thrive Global asked Dr. Katy Milkman, a renowned behavioral scientist and professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She hosts the popular podcast Choiceology and co-directs the Behavior Change for Good Initiative which she co-founded. Katy has worked with or advised numerous organizations on behavior change, including The White House, Google, Walmart, Humana, the U.S. Department of Defense, 24 Hour Fitness, and the American Red Cross. She is the author of the bestselling book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be and has published extensively in leading academic journals.

Katy explains that change is inherently difficult due to our evolutionary wiring and psychological barriers. “We are also generally wired to prefer instant gratification over long-term, delayed rewards,” she says, a trait that once ensured our ancestors’ survival but now complicates modern goal achievement. Additionally, any change feels like a loss, and “losses tend to loom larger than gains,” making us avoid changes that feel psychologically costly. Habits create a path of least resistance, and deviating from this path requires significant effort and motivation. “And we haven’t even touched on all the structural barriers,” Milkman adds, noting that external obstacles further complicate the process.