I imagine most of you are like me. We make New Year's resolutions – usually to get fit, lose weight and save money – in good faith.
We start out enthusiastically. We’re sure that this year will be different; 2016 is the year we will succeed.
From the number of people crowding into my gym this week I know I’m not alone.
But this year I am hopeful that all my good intentions won’t fall apart by the end of the month. Why? New research of “ask don’t tell” gives some insight into human behavior.
Simple yes or no questions, rather than declarative statements, are the key.
Rather than stating “this is the year I am going to get fit and exercise,” it is better to ask, “Will I go to the gym today?”
Marketing researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the University at Albany, State University of New York, the University of Idaho and Washington State University examined why questions work in a recent article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Their findings offer guidance to social marketers, policy makers and others seeking to impact human behavior.
"If you question a person about performing a future behavior, the likelihood of that behavior happening will change," said Dave Sprott, a co-author and senior associate dean of the Carson College of Business, Washington State University.
They explained, using recycling as an example. The basic idea is that when people are asked “Will you recycle?” it causes a psychological response that can influence their behavior when they get a chance to recycle. 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.
Another example: the research predicts that asking children, “Will you drink and drive?” will be more effective than parents admonishing them to “Don’t drink and drive.”
I decided to try the concept out and simply asked myself, “Are you going to the aqua fit class today?” The answer was yes and I went. The next day I asked the same question and it worked. So far so good.