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The Secret To Making Changes That Stick

This article was based on episode 172 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get my personal notes on habit formation and behavior change when you become a member at

We can’t force our colleagues to change. In fact, we can’t even force ourselves to change! Just think of how many intentions you’ve set and how hard it is to follow through. As managers, we’re responsible for helping our team members be most effective and successful. Sometimes this means we need to help them adjust their behavior and create new, better habits. To do this, we need to encourage our employees to want to change, and then make it as easy as possible to stick with it.

I spoke with Parneet Pal, who’s both a Harvard and Columbia-trained physician and the Chief Science Officer at Wisdom Labs, where she focuses on solving stress and burnout in the workplace. When Parneet was practicing medicine, an interesting pattern would occur in her clinic: Patients would try to take on healthier habits but then inevitably revert back to their old ways. Parneet wanted to understand why this would happen. Why couldn’t the patient commit?

Through her subsequent research, Parneet realized three things must be in place in order for people to create lasting change. These are

  1. Clear intentions that align our conscious and subconscious thoughts,

  2. The necessary skills and information to change, and

  3. A supportive environment.

Here, Parneet explains ways managers can create healthier habits for themselves and encourage their employees to build new habits that actually stick.


We’re mostly just creatures of habit. Just 10% of our daily actions come from conscious decisions. There’s an evolutionary basis for that, of course. We have way too much information flying at us at all times to stop and choose every next step. But that makes changing these habits really hard to do.

Usually when we commit to a change, our motivation remains at the superficial level such as looking better, being less stressed or getting more done. Then, in trying moments it's hard to stay strong because we have competing desires that run deeper. Our brains really want four things: safety, reward, connection, and self-identity. In order to disrupt the cycle of old habits, we need to connect our motivation to change with one of those deeper incentives.

For example, let’s say you want to get more done each day. Maybe it’s because you want to position yourself for a promotion (reward), show your boss you’re an invaluable team player (safety) or because you think of yourself as someone who gets things done (self-identity). As you dig into your reasons for change, the deeper incentive appears. These deeper reasons give the brain an extra boost, motivating you to stick to a new behavior.


Mindfulness is another important tool to realign our subconscious and conscious ways of operating. True mindfulness enables us to stop and catch ourselves before we instinctively react.

To do this, we need to slow down and think about how our bodies, thoughts, and emotions are responding. Are we breathing fast or slow? Do our bodies feel energetic or heavy? What are we thinking about and feeling? We then need to consider how to respond in a way that’s the best outcome for ourselves and those around us.

To increase your mindfulness, try this: Before a meeting, take some time to center yourself with a few calm breaths. Notice during the meeting when you start to get agitated. What symptoms do you notice? For example, is your breathing rushed and shallow? Are your palms sweaty or hand fidgety? Do your own thoughts take over to the point where you’ve stopped listening? Pay attention to how you respond. Can you then consciously behave in a way that will benefit everyone?


Employees need to feel motivated to make changes. Burnout kills off that motivation, which is why we need to protect against it at work. We often think of burnout as an individual issue, but it’s actually mostly related to organizational and team factors. This means that managers can have a big impact on whether their team members keep the spark or fizzle out. Parneet breaks down burnout into six main factors. These are:

  1. Workload

Working consistently at 110% is unsustainable for anyone. Managers should have weekly discussions with their team to understand their workloads and workflows. Do they feel overworked or productive? Do they need to offload some work (through delegation or elimination) to match their capacity?

  1. Rewards

Employees need to feel rewarded both financially and emotionally for the work they do. Emotionally, are they getting the appreciation and recognition they need or are their efforts going unnoticed?

  1. Control/Autonomy

It can feel stifling to have a ton of responsibilities without the ability to make any decisions. Do your employees feel like they have some flexibility in how they perform their work? Is there a way you can delegate more authority?

  1. Sense of Fairness/Transparency

There’s a reason “it’s not fair” is a common refrain amongst children. This sentiment continues well into adulthood and office culture. Is there open communication and information flow amongst the team? Does it feel like people are included appropriately in decision-making?

  1. Community

Human connection is essential for human thriving. Do employees within your team have enough opportunities to connect on a deeper level? Can you create events that bring people together to talk about more than just work-related issues?

  1. Values And Culture Alignment

If an employee’s personal values aren’t aligned with the culture and mission of the organization, they may struggle to find motivation to get their work done. Arrange for opportunities for employees to help design and influence the team culture.

Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires us to really think through why we want the change in the first place. Which desires of connection, reward, safety, or identity would the new behavior get us? Can we become more mindful of our automatic reactions that we want to change? And in what ways is the environment at work supporting your team and their levels of energy or contributing to their burnout? By addressing the underlying thoughts, motivations, and environment, we can help our employees fight against the force of habit. Lasting, healthy new habits at work are within our reach.


Get my personal notes on habit formation and behavior change when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 172 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.



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