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How to Upgrade the Things That Aren't Working

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Last time, we talked about the importance of stopping on a regular basis to reflect and assess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If you aren’t doing that, you and your team are absolutely wasting time and energy doing on the wrong things. But after you do all of that, the next step is just as important – making changes based on your assessments. Unfortunately, most folks don’t actually put these changes into action, no matter how well intended they are. Today we’re going to talk about what to do once you know something isn’t working for you.

We’ve talked about how your talents can show up as weaknesses. To that end, many of us have Talent Themes that get stuck in thinking mode. You’re thinking and thinking about ____, but the doing part is a challenge. For example, I have Intellection and Input, both of whom are happy to just collect and sort info forever. I’ve mentioned before how easy it is for me to research and research things, but it typically takes a deadline to throw me into action. And if there is no deadline, I’m definitely guilty of over thinking and \doing absolutely nothing with the all the wonderful thoughts I’ve thunk. I’ve seen and talked to many other supervisors who do the same thing. Folks get stuck deciding how and when to do something and have trouble putting it into action. Why is that?

One of the things we talk about in the Supervisor Strengths Institute is the role of the subconscious mind in your daily life, including dealing with change. Long story short, your subconscious mind does not like change. And since your subconscious mind is driving your thoughts and actions 95-99% of the time, that means you really need to get it on board if you want to start doing things differently. Your subconscious mind thinks it already knows exactly what it’s supposed to do. To use our example from last episode, let’s say your conscious mind decides, “Hey, I don’t think this open policy thing is really helping me or my team. We need to do things differently.” Your subconscious mind gives zero BLEEPS about that. It’s kind of like trying to explain to a toddler how to do something when they’re convinced, they already know how. There’s a good chance they’re just ignoring you at first, and if you start to “help” them they lose their little minds.

I don’t want to do a deep dive into the subconscious today, but suffice to say, it’s really not down with whatever new-fangled thing you have in mind. And that’s a huge problem when your conscious mind has identified a habit or system that isn’t working well. This is why so many people will fail at changes throughout the year AND the upcoming New Year’s Resolutions.

But I want you to be successful with your New Year’s Resolutions or all the changes you’ve decided will improve your life. I’m going to talk about the things you need to take into account when making change in this episode. But we’re also doing a 5-Day Habit Upgrade Challenge the first week of January, the 2nd – 5th. You can register here and we’ll go deeper into this process.

Let’s walk through what happens in your mind as you decide something isn’t working. Again, we’ll use my example of constantly getting interrupted with your open-door policy. Because you keep getting interrupted and frustrated that you can’t get things done, your conscious mind decides, “Gee, this sure isn’t working for me. I can’t get anything done.” You even come across a solution, “You know what? I think it would be better to set up more frequent and consistent one-on-one meetings with my team. That way they know I have time set aside specifically for them. That way we can just discuss everything at once.” That’s some great assessment and problem solving going on there. But unless you actually implement the new one-on-one system, you’re going to continue to be frustrated and not get anything done. Unfortunately, that’s where most of us get stuck. Afterall, how many things do you know aren’t working and you’ve been meaning to change? As I’m walking through my open-door policy example, feel free to substitute of one of the things you’ve been meaning to change.

The real issue is that you can’t bring about lasting change unless you get your plan from your conscious to your subconscious mind. And that’s tricky because the conscious and subconscious don’t directly communicate. You can’t just talk to yourself in the mirror think harder until it seeps into your subconscious. You have to speak to the subconscious on its terms and make it as easy as possible for it to adapt your upgraded habit.

Now to keep this episode a reasonable length, I’m going to briefly talk about the different elements you need consider for your upgrade to be successful. You can call them steps if you like. Just keep in mind there’s not necessarily a specific order in which you need to do these. In fact, you might have to bounce back and forth among all five as you work through the process.


We’re going to start with emotions because even if you think of yourself as being particularly logical and rational, your decisions and actions are still driven by your emotions. Neuroscientist, Dr. Antonio Damasio studied folks who had injuries to the part of their brains that controlled emotions. What he found is that people cannot make decisions without emotions. Folks with brain injuries to their emotional centers couldn’t decide where to eat, what to wear, or what to do first on a project. Even though you may value facts and believe they’re guiding your decision, in the end it’s your emotional response to those facts that drives your decisions and behavior.

And because your choices are determined by your emotions, you need to understand which emotions are keeping you stuck in the status quo. Look at it from two levels. There’s the big picture; so, the emotions you’re feeling that made you realize that doing _____ wasn’t working. That might look like anger, frustration, etc. But there’s also a micro-level; the emotions that are feeding this behavior. What do I mean by that? Well back to our open-door policy. You may be frustrated by the policy as a whole, but how do you feel with each interaction? Do you feel happy or excited when you solve someone’s problem? If so, your Restorative, Strategic, or similar Talent Theme is getting an emotional hit from that situation. Do you feel love or value when you help someone? If so, your Empathy, Significance, or similar Talent Theme is getting an emotional hit from that situation. You’re absolutely getting something out of the status quo. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be stuck there. You need to understand what these emotions are, before you can get the new plan implemented.

Once you’ve established which emotions are driving your current behavior, you need to decide how you’ll feel in this new activity or process. Why? Again, emotions drive your subconscious mind. You need to pair an emotion with the new habit or system. So again, looking at both the big picture and the micro-level, how will you feel when you have consistent one-on-ones and all those interruptions stop? Instead of being frustrated, will you feel at peace or empowered? Now think about those interactions. How will your Talent Themes feel? Now these emotions might very well be similar. After all, you’re still going to be solving problems and helping people. It’s just going to be in a different way. And what’s especially important on this end of the equation is you need to actually FEEL the emotions, not just think about them theoretically. You can’t just think, “Oh, it makes sense that I’ll feel less stressed and empowered if I did _____.” You need to imagine yourself successfully implementing this new system and FEEL that empowerment or peace. Remember, you need the emotion because that’s what’s going to drive your subconscious to action.


Once you’ve done your emotions work, you need to address the stories – or limiting beliefs – that have been reinforcing the old emotions and thus the old habit or system. We’ve talked about stories a ton in the podcast, so I’m not going to do a long explanation here. But as a reminder, stories echo the programs that are running in your subconscious. Say you decide people constantly interrupting you isn’t working. You think, “I need a better system.” A story is going to pop into your head to keep you in the status quo. Maybe something like, “No, we can’t do that. My team/students will think I don’t care about them if I set up any barriers between us.” Or maybe, “That’s impossible. I don’t have time to set all those one-on-one meetings!” Basically, when a story like this pops up, it’s your subconscious telling you to get in line. It’s telling you the status quo is the way to go. And hopefully you can see how each of those stories sets off an emotional reaction.

Now just to clarify, you do have stories that reinforce things you do want to do. But as long as those stories are helping you get to where you want to go, they’re serving you. And if you work with your subconscious, you’re eventually going to have new stories that support this upgraded habit or system. Stories like, “Meeting with my staff on a consistent basis helps everyone be more productive. I’m not constantly interrupted, so I can get things done. Consistent one-on-ones increases communication and trust between me and my team.” But before that can happen, you have to identify which stories are currently getting in your way.

You need to think about the stories that have kept you stuck in the status quo. I’ve given you a few examples, but it’s going to be different for everyone based on your talent and your experience. If you have Empathy, a story might be, “If I tell a team member or student they need to come back later, it will hurt their feelings/cause them more distress.” Or if you have Activator, you might think, “It’s always better to do things now. I don’t want to hold up anyone or have to remember to do this later.” Remember, a story is just that – a story. As much as it may feel that way, it isn’t objectively true. It’s just one perspective; one that’s based on limited information and could be completely wrong. It’s a story that is getting in the way of the changes you know you need to make, so it needs to be upgraded too.

Once you’ve uncovered some of your current stories, you’ll need to construct a new story. This upgraded story should move you toward your upgraded habit or system. To craft this new story, first ask yourself why is this change important for you and/or your team? Think about how you, your team, and/or your students will benefit? For our open-door/one-on-one situation, you might say, “Setting consistent one-on-ones with my team would let me be there for my team AND get my work done during business hours.” Couple that new story with the emotions you’ll feel when this has been implemented and you’ll be better able to reprogram your subconscious and make the changes you want.


In order to move from status quo to you upgraded habit, you’re going to have to have an action plan. Those will be different based on what you’re trying to accomplish, but essentially you need to come up with the steps you need to take to implement this upgraded habit. Remember when you imagined how you’d feel when this new habit was in place? What did that look like? What are the things that need to be in place for that to happen? If you’re moving from constant interruptions to a more organized one-on-one structure, you might have to do things like schedule meetings with your team, create an agenda, set up shared notes, etc. You need to make a list of what needs to happen for you to successfully implement this upgraded habit or system.

Now depending on what you’ve chosen, this list could have a few “action items” or an overwhelming number of things. For example, if you want to eat healthier snacks, your list could be as simple as

1) Go to store.

2) Buy healthy snacks.

3) Put snacks where you get hungry.

4) Eat snacks when hungry.

That’s easy enough. But if you have one of those longer lists, do not get bogged down worrying about how you’re going to get EVERYTHING done. Make the full list, so you know what you’ll need to incorporate eventually. But for now, you’re going to think about what the absolute minimum is you need to have to get this new habit moving forward. If you’re setting up one-on-ones, then the only thing you absolutely need for that to happen is a time when you and the other person can meet alone. That means the first step is scheduling those appointments and, of course, keeping them.

One other thing I want to mention is that we tend to think about what our upgraded habit or system would look like in an ideal situation. Snack-wise, that may mean eating healthy snacks 100% of the time. One-on-one wise, that might mean 60-minute meetings that have a clear agenda and feature you using your newfound understanding everyone’s talents. When we think about things from this perspective, we think if the new habit doesn’t look like this from the get-go, we’ve failed. Don’t worry about things being perfect. Focus on getting started and being consistent. You can always improve things as you go. But what you can’t do is improve on a habit you don’t have.


This may seem simple, but to be successful in upgrading any habit you must have a clear intention to do so. You do the things you do now because you did it once, your subconscious noted the emotional charge you got from that activity, and it decided you needed to kept doing it. By now, you’ve done it so many times it’s automatic. Your brain is just trying to save energy by doing the thing it’s already been programmed to do. This new thing you have in mind is going to take more energy. You need to help your subconscious get over this hurdle by making your upgraded habit as clear and simple as possible.

We use implementation intentions in the Institute, but I can’t remember if I talked about them on the podcast. In a nutshell, an implementation intention is a statement that outlines your plan to do something new. This statement makes it easier for your brain to make changes and accomplish your goal. In fact, research shows that creating an implementation intention can double your chance of success! The structure of an implementation intention is pretty simple. You give yourself a specific time frame and add in specific parameters like…

  • What you’ll use to do _____.

  • How often you’ll do _____.

  • Where you’ll do _____.

  • How long you’ll do _____.

For example, “During the spring semester, I will set and keep 30-minute one-on-one meetings that occur every week in my office with each of my staff members.” The key is being as detailed as possible. You’re more likely to follow through, because your brain knows what it’s supposed to do. It knows your intention.

Once you have your implementation intention set, visualize the entire process from beginning to end. Imagine scheduling the one-on-ones, setting the agenda, checking your notes, when Bret or Susan comes to your office, etc. Whatever your goal is, visualize it in detail. The point of both the implementation intention and the visualization is to set your subconscious brain up for success. By laying everything out as detailed as possible, it means your brain doesn’t have to figure out things in the moment. In fact, when you visualize an experience, your subconscious mind actually thinks you’ve done it. Since repetition is what turns a new behavior into a habit, that visualization is going to make your upgrade easier and faster.


You’ve done a lot of prep work up to this point. It’s time to put things into action. Now for those of you with quicker moving Talent Themes like, Activator or Discipline, you’ve probably been thinking, “OMG. Why are you still talking?!? Just do the BLEEPING thing!”

Well, if you are one of the lucky people who easily make the changes AND follow through when you want to change something, then you can absolutely ignore all of this. Folks with Discipline are typically talented at implementing and staying committed to making such changes. But if you have a hard time upgrading your habits, you’re going to need to do all of this – even if you’re annoyed there are so many things you need to consider before you can get everything up and running. LOL. All of the things we’ve discussed so far are going to set you up for success when you actually start implementing.

You created an action plan earlier, so get started. But like I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember to focus on what the absolute minimum is for you to start this process and do that. Again, if it’s consistent one-on-ones then the bare minimum is scheduling and keeping your meetings. Even if you want them to ideally be 60-minutes, start with 15 minutes if doing more starts to bring up those stories and emotions that have kept you in status quo so long. The bigger you go, the more likely your subconscious will get triggered and try to keep you from moving ahead.

But even if your subconscious does get triggered by your new behaviors, that’s what why you did all of this prep work. You’ll have your new story ready to remind yourself why that old story is wrong. You’ve visualized yourself succeeding so you know exactly what you need to do in this new situation. And you’ll use those new, upgraded emotions in your visualization to reinforce your implementation intention. All of this is going to support you as you reprogram your subconscious to the upgraded habit or system.

Once you’ve put things into action, repetition is key to making everything stick. There are many options about how long it takes for a new habit to stick, but keep in mind different people might need different time frames upgrade the same habit. If you’ve heard it’s 21 days until a new habit sticks, but yours hasn’t become automatic by then, that’s okay. Just stick with it. Update your implantation intention and visualization, as necessary. The most important thing is to stay committed.

You’re not alone if you’ve felt frustrated about all those changes you “know” need to be made never seem to happen. Let go of any guilt or even shame about it. We just haven’t been taught how our brains work. Now you have more information about how to work WITH your brain to put things in motion.

If you want to go deeper into this process, join us for our 5-Day Habit Upgrade Challenge in January. We’ll break these down even more and walk you through these elements, so you can upgrade your habits and your 2023. Here’s a link to register -

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