Change strategy: Ask positive questions

If you want to change a habit more easily, give yourself a more attractive alternative.

When initiating change in your life, it’s completely natural to want to eliminate the bad stuff. Yet most people run into problems when they simply try to cut out one thing without having anything more desirable to fill the gap. It’s a pretty common process: a person identifies a habit they are unhappy with and resolves to stop it. All goes well for a few days, up to a week or so, as they use willpower to force the change but eventually their drive weakens and they return to the status quo.

While the sense of failure is disappointing enough, the person usually feels particularly frustrated because most of their energy has gone into focusing on what is basically a negative goal, i.e., what they can’t do. Next time, you make a resolution, switch things around and rather than subtracting a negative, try adding a positive (goal).

This strategy is really useful in those inevitable moments where you have to chose between old and new habits. When this happens, just ask yourself if right now in this moment you can do whatever your goal is. A positive answer should be enough to push you in the right direction. Obviously, to be effective, you need a question you can answer yes to around 80% of the time. So the goal itself must be something that is both attractive and within your power to achieve. Challenging goals can be valuable but small increments seem to work well when it comes to habits.

I’ve used this approach successfully many times, for example, when I realized my coffee consumption was getting a little high (major understatement!). I love the flavor and still had a cup in the morning but when I felt the urge later in the day, I would ask myself, “Can I drink a cup of really flavorsome, energizing tea right now?” I would also try to imagine the aroma and flavor of one of my favorite teas at the same time. It was sometimes necessary to repeat the question a few times but the answer was almost always, yes!

I chose to drink more (mainly herbal) tea because I was already fond of it but the positive question made it easy to follow through. Just to make sure I also splashed out on a stock of my top brews, many of which actually make me feel better than the caffeine in coffee. This is just one case and your goals will probably be completely different but the process remains the same. After a couple of weeks, the new habit becomes fairly automatic. After a month or so, you hardly remember the old one.


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