Bring your best self to work

Harness the potential of habits at work

How can we make behavioural change stick?


June 2019


Nicolai Moltke-Leth

The article was originally co-authored by Pernille Koch Erichsen.

Today, there is a gap between what neuroscience says and what business does. We need to bridge this gap if we want to improve productivity, performance, engagement and well-being in organisations. But how?

If we want a more human-centric approach to our work and want to reshape our perspectives on progress, we must start applying new habits, new ways of working and new behaviours and start learning more about how we can adopt intrinsic motivation in organisations.

We believe it’s crucial to bridge the gap between business and neuroscience. Habits, behaviour and motivation are the key to achieving the best results in organisations, and when working with these factors, we have a huge potential to transform resistance into cooperation in change projects and initiatives. This makes bridging the gap a particularly essential point for organisations investing in change management – an area where we often neglect behavioural and habitual change.

Build habits that matter

Habits. We all have them, both good and bad. They are ingrained behaviours that we do, often without even thinking. But how can we make our good habits emerge naturally and our unwanted habits fade away so that we can be the best version of ourselves at work?

In June 2019, we invited New York Times best-selling author James Clear to help us explore how we can build habits that matter and make behavioural change stick. In his best-seller “Atomic Habits”, James Clear offers a guide on how you can design a system for building meaningful habits and keep behavioural change on track – a system which enables you to bring your best self to work.

Building habits means building a lifestyle

According to James Clear, habits are “the compound interest of self-improvement”. They are tiny changes that aggregate and lead to big gains. In other words, habits are a lifestyle – not something you can simply check off your to-do list, but something you will work with on a lifelong basis.

James Clear designed a system that caters to the stages of habit formation and makes habit building easy and rewarding.

Source: James Clear
1. Cue up your habits

When you build a new habit, the first step is to make the habit obvious by embedding cues in your physical environment.

So, if you want to make drinking water instead of sugary drinks part of your routine at work, increase the prevalence of water in your physical environment. For example, you could replace soft drinks with water in all the fridges at the office.

2. Predict your actions

In the second step, you want to make the habit stick. To do this, you have to make it attractive by being aware of your cravings and predicting your actions. You can do this by using “commitment devices”. These are choices that you make in the present moment to lock in your future behaviour .

For example, if you want to break the habit of checking your phone and looking at your work emails as soon as you wake up, put your phone in another room the night before.

3. Get started with your habits

In the third stage of habit formation, you make it as easy as possible to actually perform your habit.

Let’s say your goal is to take notes during meetings. By having paper and pens easily available (either in your bag or in meeting rooms), you have already completed the entrance ramp to your bigger routine.

4. Make habits rewarding

In the last step you solidify your new habit – and here, it is all about the reward.

For example, you could track your habit, so you have a visual representation of how you are building success.

Identity-based habits

Our habits and behaviours are echoes and reflections of our identities. So, if you want to make behavioural change stick, you need to start actually believing new things about yourself. In other words, when you change your habits and behaviour, it’s intertwined with changing your identity.

When you are building habits, it isn’t just about doing it – it’s about embracing it, embodying it and being it. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, your true goal should be to become a runner .

Each small action you take is a building block towards being the type of person you wish to become.

James Clear bio

Creator of the Habits Academy, James Clear uncovers the latest scientific research around habits, decision-making and human potential. He is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies, and his work is used by teams and athletes in the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

His book, the New York Times best-seller “Atomic Habits”, offers a framework for getting 1% better every day and a guide on how to design a system for good habits to emerge naturally and unwanted habits to fade away.