Parents Perspective

Behaving Better in 2016: Maybe It's All in the Asking

I wanted to avoid making New Year's resolutions, but maybe if I just reframe them, this can be a better year for me and my kids!

Happy New Year 2016 stones on sand
I hesitate to make New Year's resolutions because I feel like I just jinx myself. Last year I swore I would exercise more and instead actually quit the gym halfway through the year. I do genuinely want to travel more in 2016, but I feel like if I make too big a deal out of it, things will keep getting in the way of family vacations. (You know, pesky things like money, jobs, and school schedules.)

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that perhaps the way to make good things happen is to simply ask positive questions. So instead of resolving to exercise more in 2016, I could ask myself, "Can I exercise more this year?" and use that as a catalyst. Analysis of the study explains that putting the question out there lodges the idea in your mind that the change is possible, and spurs you to act on it. But there's a catch: It turns out the question has to be positive; asking yourself "Are you going to keep avoiding the gym?" will, from what researchers found, result in your doing just that. It's as if your mind wants to say "Yes!" to every question, so asking the positive—"Can we sneak in a little walk?"—is going to help you more. That rings true; in fact, it's exactly what I asked out loud one morning this week at my mother-in-law's house, and the kids and I, plus their grandparents, ended up taking a nice stroll. (Yes, the kids are in their robes!)

Out for a Walk Jessica Hartshorn

Of course, being a mom, this study immediately got me thinking about discipline. Apparently me saying, "For the millionth time, turn off the bathroom light when you're done in there" might be better heard if I rephrased it to the question, "Can you please always turn off the bathroom light?" I'm guilty of negative questioning, too, starting with the nightly "Are you ignoring your homework?" If this study is to be believed, turning it around to "Are you ready to start homework?" could be the difference between my kids balking and them buckling down. It's definitely worth a try. So there you go: I think I've made a resolution. Think I can stick to it?

Jessica Hartshorn, the Entertainment Editor of Parents magazine and a mom of two, has many fabulous vacations planned for 2016, in her mind if not in reality.