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To stick to your financial resolutions, don’t declare, ask

Kelly Dilworth

If you’ve resolved to save more money this year or pay off your credit cards for good, don’t just say you’re going to do it. Instead, ask yourself, “Will I save more money this year?” or “Will I finally pay off my cards?”

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, framing your resolution as a question rather than a declaration could make you more likely to actually follow through.

You can also use this technique to encourage friends or family members to clean up their personal finances, improve their health or stick to other New Year’s resolutions.

“If you question a person about performing a future behavior, the likelihood of that behavior happening will change,” said study co-author Dave Sprott in a Dec. 28 news release. Just by asking a simple question about the behavior, you or your loved one will automatically become more likely to follow through.

Psychologists call this the “question-behavior effect.” They’re not sure why or how our minds subconsciously react to simple questions. But decades worth of research has found that this simple technique is so powerful, it could influence you or your loved one’s choices for as long as six months after the question has been asked.

“It can be a game-changing influence technique,” write study authors Eric R. Spangenberg, Ionnis Kareklas, Berna Devezer and David E. Sprott in the report, “particularly in contexts where small behavioral changes can have large substantive outcomes.”

The meta-analysis published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology looked at roughly 104 studies on the question-behavior effect and found a clear link between asking a question and changing a behavior.

The technique is especially effective when you use it to influence a socially desirable behavior, such as improving your appearance or reducing your debt so you can increase your total spending. The authors theorize that asking a question about a socially desirable behavior could make you so uncomfortable or guilty that it motivates you to change.

The technique is also more effective if you focus your questions on behaviors that you don’t have a lot of experience with. Habitual behaviors tend to be less susceptible to change, so you may be less successful if you’re trying to reduce habitual spending.

In addition, researchers found that the technique is more effective if you don’t attach a specific date to the behavior. So rather than make a resolution to clear your debt in six months, instead ask yourself more generally, “Will I pay more each month to clear my debt?”

So will you do that? Will you ask general questions to help change behavior? And will you tell me how it’s going by adding a comment?

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