Ask the Right Questions to Improve Your Health

We are all accustomed to receiving instructions for improving our health. We know these directions by heart: eat more fruits and vegetables, get 8 hours of sleep each night, consume less sugar, stay hydrated etc.

Somehow these repeated commands fail to inspire many of us to change our behavior, even though we accept their scientific validity and know that we would benefit from following them.

The problem is commands tend to mobilize our resistance to feeling controlled- our brains just don’t like being told what to do. On the other hand, our brain is built to love questions. Questions create a mental environment that welcomes playfulness and creativity. As a result, questions tend to be much more productive for shaping behavioral changes than commands.

Questions are like puzzles that intrigue our brains. See for yourself by persistently asking yourself a question about your health like:

  • If health were my first priority what would I be doing differently today?
  • What is one way I can remind myself to drink more water?
  • How could I incorporate a few more minutes of exercise into my daily routine?

Asking the right questions about your improving health, in turn, often generates ideas for small changes you can make in your daily routine. Small behavior changes are easier to achieve and as a result they evoke less anxiety and fear of failure. In other words, you are more likely to try small changes and to stick with them.

Let me give you an example taken from the pioneering work of Dr. Robert Maurer (I highly recommend his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life). He talks about Julie, a divorced mother of two seeking help at the UCLA medical center for high blood pressure and fatigue. She was 30 pounds overweight, feeling highly stressed by her job, finances and the demands of single parenting and at high risk for diabetes, heart disease and depression.

Dr. Maurer knew there was a proven solution available to help Julie: regular physical exercise would improve nearly all of her health problems and give her more energy to cope with her challenging life. But Dr. Maurer also knew, from long clinical experience that if he told her she needed to exercise 30 minutes a day she would both feel misunderstood (“I don’t have 30 extra minutes in my day to exercise!”) and guilty.

So Dr. Maurer took a different approach. Knowing that Julie’s one personal break in a full day of work and parenting responsibilities was the half hour of TV watching Julie allowed herself after putting the children to bed, he said: “How about if you just march in place in front of the television, each day, for one minute?”

When Julie returned for her follow up visit she told Dr. Maurer that she had indeed marched in front of the TV each night. Dr. Maurer was well aware that Julie wasn’t going to change her health status significantly with just one daily minute of low intensity exercise. Yet the success that she experienced had subtly shifted her attitude and she began to ask herself questions like “what other small improvements can I make to improve my health?”

Within a few months Julie’s resistance and pessimism towards a fitness program dissolved as a result of her building an exercise habit minute by minute. She began looking at her life through a different lens. She began looking to capture every possible opportunity for physical activity, like choosing the stairs instead of the elevator or parking a little farther away at work.

She began to enjoy the challenge of asking questions about how she could squeeze a little more healthy behavior into her daily routine.

Think about it. What may seem like an embarrassingly trivial change at first might be the gateway to big gains down the road.

Previous Posts:

Seven Essentials for an Effective Workplace

The most successful employers are always looking for a fully balanced “win-win” when it comes to achieving both higher productivity and healthier, happier, and more engaged employees. These organizations do… [more]

The Effects of Stress on Employee Health, Engagement and Productivity

It’s not a shocker to learn that a blog with a name like (inaugurated in 2012) has featured more posts about stress than any other topic. However, you may… [more]

Eight Ideas for a Healthier 2018

It’s not complicated. You already know that if you exercise regularly, eat healthier and get more sleep you will feel better, live longer and perform at a higher level. However,… [more]

Alternatives to Opioids for Treating Pain (Part 2 of a Series)

In my last post I summarized some alarming trends and statistics reflecting our country’s epidemic of opioid addiction. I also pointed out that while research supports the effectiveness of prescribing… [more]

Emotional Intelligence, Conflict & Business Outcomes

I can’t cite a source for the widely circulated statistic that “ten percent of conflicts are caused by a difference of opinion and 90% are caused by tone of voice”… [more]

The Connection Between Management Talent & Employee Performance

Many organizations try to boost employee productivity by using traditional analytic approaches which focus on strategic planning, goal setting and process efficiency measures. These methods reflect the belief that better… [more]

Frontline Managers, People Skills & EAPs: A Winning Formula for Improving Employee Engagement

What happens when you have a winning product and/or business strategy but your managers have poor people skills? Lost opportunity is what happens. Failure to capitalize is what happens. Your… [more]

Killer Work Stress: Enough is Known for Action

A new research study from Stanford University and the Harvard Business School has named workplace stress as a contributor to at least 120,000 deaths a year and up to $190… [more]

Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday. My mother enjoys telling me that I stood at the gate of our backyard inspecting the presents from guests to my second birthday party. She has… [more]

Act Like an Asteroid is Coming Your Way

There is nothing better than an impending disaster to clarify the distinction between the essential and the trivial. When total annihilation is on the horizon no one is wasting any… [more]

The Best Strategy To Reduce Stress & Anger In The Workplace

Workplaces with high levels of employee stress and anger are increasing their risk for many negative business outcomes including: Employee fatigue, concentration difficulties and diminished problem-solving abilities Diminished quality, productivity… [more]