Asking yourself a question helps boost motivation more than a simple self-affirmation, research finds.
In other words: “Will I exercise?” works better than “I will exercise.”
In the study one group of people told themselves they would complete an anagram task.
The other group, though, asked themselves whether they would complete the task.
The results showed that those who asked themselves the question solved more anagrams than those who ordered themselves.
Further experiments showed that the questioning approach helped to boost internal or ‘intrinsic’ motivation.
Psychologist have found that internal motivation is the strongest type.
It is fascinating how a simple change to language like this can help boost motivation.
Professor Dolores Albarracin, one of the study’s authors, said:
“We are turning our attention to the scientific study of how language affects self-regulation.
Experimental methods are allowing us to investigate people’s inner speech, of both the explicit and implicit variety, and how what they say to themselves shapes the course of their behaviors.”
Professor Albarracin continued:
“The popular idea is that self-affirmations enhance people’s ability to meet their goals.
It seems, however, that when it comes to performing a specific behavior, asking questions is a more promising way of achieving your objectives.”
Professor James W. Pennebaker, an expert on the psychology of language, said:
“This work represents a basic cognitive approach to how language provides a window between thoughts and action.
The reason it is so interesting is that it shows that by using language analysis, we can see that social cognitive ideas are relevant to objective real world behaviors and that the ways people talk about their behavior can predict future action.”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Senay et al., 2010).
→ Try PsyBlog’s motivation ebook: “Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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