This year, I beat my own record! I kept my New Year’s resolution for 10 weeks before I caved in and ate a whole large bar of Galaxy chocolate. Already I regret it. My previous record was about three weeks.
The secret of my partial success was not to tell anyone what my NYR was. I’ve realized (with a little help from my academic friends) that is a mistake. I should have kept my mouth shut.
Researchers from four separate universities across the United States* have found that asking yourself questions about your addiction is a more effective way of sticking to your resolution. Instead of simply deciding to exercise as from 1st January, it might be more effective to ask yourself ‘will I exercise this year?’
THE QUESTION-BEHAVIOUR EFFECT
Researchers have looked at the Question-Behaviour Effect (QBE.) It’s a technique whereby asking questions about a particular decision will influence future actions.** Asking a simple question will prompt a psychological response which will influence subsequent behaviour. The same principle can be applied to other social behaviours; exercising, dieting, or even prejudice.
So, will I exercise this year? The most effective answer of course is ‘yes’ but it apparently works better if you don’t provide a specific time frame for your goal.
The findings, discussed in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, suggest that this type of questioning can produce significant consistent change. In fact the technique has been shown to influence behaviour more than six months after questioning it. Merely questioning the behaviour increases the chance of it changing. If a person is asked ‘will you diet?’ they are reminded that dieting is beneficial to them, and that will make them feel bad about themselves if they don’t do it – they will make an effort to do it in order to avoid any feelings of guilt.
The effect becomes strongest when questions are used to encourage behaviour with personal and socially accepted benefits, such as eating healthy foods or volunteering, although it can also be used effectively to influence consumer behaviour such as buying a new computer.
It’s easy to ask yourself a question, and it can be done in a variety of ways, via advertisements, emails, flyers, as well as everyday face-to-face human communication.
Marketers are already very excited about this research and some advertisers have already started to use the technique.
While the QBE was widely found to maintain influence over time, the researchers found that with habit-based behaviours, eg. drinking or smoking, the results were not so positive – in one study, people who were asked about their vices were found to have lapsed more.
Asking yourself a question on New Year’s Eve could well lead to healthier decisions in the year ahead.
The good news is that since my earlier shameful behaviour, I am now back on the straight and narrow.
* The University of California, Irvine, the University at Albany, State University of New York, the University of Idaho, and Washington State University.
** [This QBE is not to be confused with the original QBE – Qualified By Experience.]
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.