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To Make a Resolution Stick, Ask Yourself One Question

The game-changing technique in influencing behavior is asking a question.

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According to research firm Nielsen, the top New Year’s resolutions in America include desires to stay fit and healthy, lose weight, enjoy life to the fullest, spend less/save more, spend more time with family and friends, get organized, learn something new, travel more and read more. If you made a resolution like any of these—or perhaps another one—and want to make it really stick, marketing researchers have some great advice for you: ask a question.

A new article published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology shared that the game-changing technique in influencing behavior is asking a question, such as “Will you exercise this year?” or “Will you recycle?” The study was the result of marketing research done at the University of California-Irvine, SUNY Albany, the University of Idaho and Washington State University, examining a phenomenon known as the question-behavior effect.

“If you question a person about performing a future behavior, the likelihood of that behavior happening will change,” wrote study coauthor Dave Sprott, a senior associate dean of the Carson College of Business at WSU. The idea is the question itself causes a psychological response that can influence your behavior and motivate a change. “We found the effect is strongest when questions are used to encourage behavior with personal and socially accepted norms, such as eating healthy foods or volunteering,” wrote Eric Spangenberg, first author and dean of the Paul Merage School of Business, UC Irvine. “But it can be used effectively to even influence consumer purchases, such as a new computer.”

So marketers can use this technique to sway us via advertising, but we can also employ this trick with our own families and even ourselves. For example, ask a teenage child, “Will you drink and drive?” as opposed to telling them, “Don’t drink and drive.” Ask yourself, “Will I go to the gym—yes or no?” instead of saying, “I will exercise.”

Using a question is a simple, effective way to get consistent, significant changes, so give it a try. Here’s to a healthy and happy 2016!


Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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