User Menu

How to trick yourself into getting on at work

Making a few small changes to your behaviour could make a big difference

On the up: Put bad things far away and bring good things close, and your behaviour will change. photograph: thinkstock

Let’s face it, we all have career-limiting habits. Whether it’s a tendency to procrastinate, or good-but-not-great technical prowess, our struggle to change impedes our upward mobility.

Here are some common tactics to trick yourself into changing.

1 Manipulate distance We are especially naive about the degree to which our physical surroundings shape our choices. You can use this fact to trick yourself into changing by manipulating distance: Put bad things far away and bring good things close, and your behaviour will change.

For example, if you are trying to overcome procrastination, don’t sit in places that offer attractive distractions.

2 Change your friends You don’t get to vote on whether the people you associate with shape you. They determine the way you think, feel and dress, and they influence what you purchase, eat, study, hate and even how you vote. So spend less time with people who reinforce a bad behaviour, and spend more time with people who support a good behaviour.

3 Schedule yourself Programme defaults into your life. Don’t simply say, “I want to practise my presentation before the quarterly review.” Instead, schedule practice time on your calendar. You are far more likely to spend the hour rehearsing if you make it the default plan.

4 Train yourself We are less motivated when we feel less competent. When attempting to change your behaviour, coach yourself into it. Create structured practice opportunities to increase your competence and your motivation will follow.

5 Change your frame It is surprisingly easy to manipulate yourself by simply framing choices differently. For example, if you notice yourself resisting an uncomfortable but necessary conversation, it’s likely that you’re framing it in a way that reinforces your resistance – for example, “I’ve got to go and deal with this mess.” Change the frame by asking “Why do I want to have this conversation?” (Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016)