Struggling to Change Your Behavior? Try This

Photo (cc) by C. VanHook (vanhookc)

Phrasing your New Year’s resolutions as questions rather than declarations may help you stick to them, new research shows.

The findings of the new study suggest that questioning is a simple yet effective way to effect consistent, significant changes in behavior.

For example, asking yourself, “Will I exercise?” can be more effective than the statement “I will exercise.”

Similarly, parents who ask their high school-age children “Will you drink and drive?” should have more success preventing such behavior than they would if they simply demanded of the child, “Don’t drink and drive.”

As study co-author Dave Sprott, senior associate dean of Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, says in a news release:

“If you question a person about performing a future behavior, the likelihood of that behavior happening will change.”

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, is the first comprehensive review of 40 years of research and 100 studies into what scientists call the “question-behavior effect.”

In this phenomenon, simply asking people about performing a certain behavior actually influences whether they do it in the future

For example, asking people a question like “Will you recycle?” causes a psychological response that can influence them to do so when they have an opportunity to recycle. According to the news release:

The question reminds them that recycling is good for the environment but may also make them feel uncomfortable if they are not recycling. Thus, they become motivated to recycle to alleviate their feelings of discomfort.

The question-behavior effect works on various types of behaviors. Researchers found the effect is strongest when questions are:

  • Used to encourage personal and socially accepted norms like eating healthy foods or volunteering.
  • Answered with a “yes” or “no.”
  • Administered via a computer or paper-and-pencil survey.

Will you rephrase your New Year’s resolutions as questions? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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