Ask These Three Questions to Help Others Be Successful.


Hiking is rarely a straight shot up a mountain. The trail often winds back and forth with a gradual incline to make the journey a little less steep.

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I Want To . . .

Suppose a friend or family member comes to you and expresses a desire to make a change in his or her life. You might be tempted to give advice, talk about a time when you had success in a similar area, or refer them to a professional.

One thing you might consider? Notice the change talk (I need to, I want to, etc.) that person is using, and reflect it back to them; maybe even amplifying it a bit.

“I think might want to start losing a little weight.”

“It sounds like you’re unhappy with how you feel at your current weight. What would you like to see, feel, or experience as a result of losing weight?”

While noticing change talk is a great place to start and can help get the ball rolling toward setting specific action steps, consider asking these three questions:

1. Can you tell me about a time you set a goal and were successful?

This provides an opportunity for the person to brag on themselves a bit and gets them feeling a little more confident. It starts from a place of self-efficacy, rather than doubt. Even if that particular past success is not in the same arena as the current change talk, confidence in achievement is a transferrable resource.

If you have experience changing a tire, for example, you might be more inclined to try to change your oil. And if you are willing to change your own oil, you might be more willing to make some kind of home repair.

2. Can you use some of those same skills to work toward this goal?

As previously stated, confidence is transferrable. Maybe this friend or family member is very disciplined with cleaning and organizing. There might be a way those skills are transferrable to losing weight. It takes practice and discipline to be clean and organized, and often requires some level of planning.

Similarly, weight loss is rarely a straight line and often requires planning and adaptation. A decision to join a gym might be met with barriers of a suddenly busy work schedule. This might require waking up extra early and planning out the day a little differently. Someone who is organized might also be likely to keep a strict schedule and stick to a plan.

3. How confident are you in reaching this goal?

You might frame this question in relation to the overall goal, but you might also ask this question in relation to a specific action step.

“I want to lose weight and if I can get 10,000 steps every day, I think that would help.”

“On a scale of 1 to 5, how confident are you in getting 10,000 steps every day?”

Asking this question in a scaling format (and scaling it on a 1 to 5 scale) provides less room for ambiguity. If this question of confidence is scaled from 1 to 10 and the response is 5, that not only is a fairly low level of confidence, it’s difficult to imagine moving from a 5 to a 9.

But, suppose they are at a 4 out of 5. Celebrate that!

“It’s awesome that you’re at a 4, as opposed to say a 1 or a 2. Can you tell me a little about that? Where is that confidence coming from?” This again provides an opportunity for that person to draw on past experiences and build some confidence as a result.

Get to it!

When someone comes to you and expresses change talk, reflect and even amplify it. Explore possibilities by asking questions, but be specific with those questions. Recognize that skills in one area might be transferrable and measure the confidence level in working toward that goal. Help set some action steps and encourage them to get to it!