Declaring your New Year’s resolution may not be the best way to get serious about personal goals.
Researchers from four universities across the United States have now found that asking questions is a more effective method in keeping up with resolutions, which have become notorious for fizzling out shortly after they’ve been made.
Instead of pledging to exercise in the New Year, it would be more effective to ask yourself, or someone else: ‘Will you exercise this year?’, they claim.
More than 100 studies spanning 40 years of research were examined by the team from the University of California, Irvine, the University at Albany, State University of New York, the University of Idaho, and Washington State University.
The team looked at the ‘question-behaviour effect,’ in which asking questions regarding a particular subject will influence future decisions.
The findings, discussed in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, suggest that this type of questioning can produce consistent, significant changes.
This technique has been shown to influence behaviour more than six months after questioning.
‘If you question a person about performing a future behaviour, the likelihood of that behaviour happening will change,’ said Dave Sprott, a co-author and senior dean of the Carson College Business, Washington State University.
Instead of pledging to exercise in the New Year, it would be more effective to ask yourself, or someone else: ‘Will you exercise this year?’
Asking a simple question will prompt a psychological response, which will influence later decisions.
If a person is asked ‘Will you recycle?’ they may be reminded that recycling is beneficial to the environment, which will make them feel uncomfortable if they do not do it, the research says.
To avoid this, the person will then recycle.
This same principle can be applied to other social behaviours, like cheating on college exams, exercising, recycling, or gender stereotyping.
‘We found the effect is strongest when questions are used to encourage behaviour with personal and socially accepted norms, such as eating healthy foods or volunteering,’ said Eric R. Spangenberg, first author and dean of the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine.
‘But it can be used effectively to even influence consumer purchase, such as a new computer.’
The most effective were ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions asked via computer or pen-and-paper survey.
Researchers also found that it was best not to provide a specific time frame for the goal.
‘It is pretty easy to ask a question, and it can be done in a variety of means, such as ads, mailers, online media, and interpersonal communications,’ said Sprott.
The researchers also include Ioannis Kareklas, assistant professor of marketing, University at Albany, State University of New York, and Berna Devezer, assistant professor of marketing, University of Idaho.
While the ‘question-behaviour effect,’ was widely found to maintain its influence over time, the researcher found that habitual behaviours, like drinking or skipping class, would not have such positive results.
In one study, people who were asked about their vices were found to have done them more than a control group.
For the best outcome, asking yourself a question this New Year’s Eve may lead to healthier decisions in the year ahead.