How can we change? How can we transform our unconscious habits and ingrained routine? Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) believed that human beings can change through making the “unconscious conscious.” Our unconscious influences our behavior. We can begin to change once we recognize the hidden forces that lead to dysfunctional behavior.
What else is there to change?

Freud might have been right with some elements, however psychologists have found other ways to alter behavior. Researchers James O. Prochaska, John C. Norcross, and Carlo C. Diclemente (2006) have found that human beings go through several stages before they can change. People start changing by first recognizing their dysfunctional habits. They move to preparing to change (“I will stop smoking on New Years”) to acting on that change (“I have stopped smoking on New Years”). People then need to maintain their new behavior, actively preventing relapses. Finally, human beings go through the process called termination where temptations and the fear of relapse never threaten the individual.

Why are these stages of change so important?

When looking at change through this step-by-step model, good self-changers can use different treatment types depending on the stage they are in. When a person, for example, is just starting their journey of change, they should try to raise their awareness of the problem. Frued’s idea of making the “unconscious conscious” would be more effective during this period. Psychoanalysis, however, will only increase our awareness of the problem. It fails to properly take into account preparing for change and altering and maintaining overt behavior. Shrewdly, good self-changers chose to control the environment like staying away from smokers or providing rewards for good behaviors (Prochaska et al., Changing for Good, 55-60).

How can these methods improve workplace ergonomics?

From an ergonomic specialist's perspective, habits play a critical role in promoting discomfort at work. Employee sit at their desk for hours on end. They sit awkwardly, refuse to regularly stretch, and want to alleviate discomfort with a “quick fix” – all without changing their behavior.
Everyday work habits are some of the hardest behaviors to break. They are repetitively performed and ingrained in our (sub)conscious. However, conditioned habits can be changed. Using the above model to apply ergonomic change, we can begin to understand the ways in which computer users can change their behavior.

Recognizing the Problem

Computer users with poor ergonomic habits first need to recognize that a problem exists. Employees have a tendency to overlook back and neck discomfort. Focused on their tasks, they fail to notice, for example, that not stretching or bending at the back to view a screen is a problem.

Understanding the Root Cause

Next, computer users should ask themselves what exactly is causing the discomfort? Perhaps stress has been causing awkward posture. Maybe, your workstation is too tall, which results in awkward reaching. An ergonomic consultant can help you figure out exactly what has been causing this discomfort.

Implementing a Strong Action Plan

Next, the individual should develop an action plan. Based on their own estimate or an ergonomic specialist’s recommendation, people will, for example, implement stretching routine or a install articulating monitor arms to decrease awkward bending at the neck. When the plan is implemented, we should remember that as human beings, we respond well to rewards in the environment where the changed behavior is taking place.

After shoulder and wrist stiffness, for example, a person might decide to stretch the wrist, shoulders, and scapular. Once the stretching plan is in place, people can use positive reinforcement for each week they successfully enact the stretching plan. Even a small reward like sipping a cup of hot cocoa or buying a $5 gift on Amazon each week the stretching plan is enacted can make a world of difference.
It is important to emphasize we should reward ourselves in the place where the desired behavior takes place (See Clark, 2007). For computer users, this means rewarding yourself at the office. Using positive reinforcement will help solidify that stretching plan, habitualize proper body mechanics, and increase proper usage of that keyboard tray or standing desk.


We cannot change immediately. As Prochaska et al. (2006) demonstrated, human beings go through several stages before they can permanently alter their behavior. These principles can be applied to good ergonomics as well. Learning the basics of ergonomics (i.e. body mechanics, stretching and product recommendations) can help us recognize ergonomic problems and enact change that is thoughtful and positively reinforced. Improving office wellness and comfort is usually not a quick fix. The first step is simply recognizing that there is an ergonomic problem.

Author's Bio: 

Shaul Lent OTR/L, MA, CEAS

Shaul Lent is the Lead Ergonomic Specialist at Ergonomics Advance. He provides individual ergonomic assessments for employees reporting discomfort at their computer workstation. For more information about Shaul, please visit