Struggling With Your Habits? Three Questions You Need To Ask Yourself.

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Today we have a guest post brought to you by Derek Doepker the author of the book 50 Fitness Tips You Wish You Knew and founder of Excuse Proof Fitness. What he talks about in this article centers on the idea of failure. We often struggle with a habit change but don’t know why it’s happening.  What Derek provides today are three simple questions that can help you stick with any change.  

When coaching people on how to develop better health habits, I find that one story comes up more than any other.  It usually goes something like, “I know what I need to do, I just can’t seem to get myself to do it.  I have no motivation.  Once I get the ball rolling though, I know I’ll be able to stick with it.”

So how do you develop better habits, if a part of you knows you should develop them, but another part of you doesn’t actually want to initiate the effort?  In other words, what do you do when you just don’t feel motivated?

I’m going to share with you three of the most powerful questions that will solve almost any motivation issue you’ll come up against.

Question 1: “Where will I be in a year and in five years from now, if things don’t change?”

This question will give you greater perspective on where you’re heading, and ideally, even trigger some painful emotions.  The reason why you want to feel a little pain is because pain is a powerful motivator.  This is why you often hear about people making huge breakthroughs only after they hit rock bottom, and are forced to accept the reality of their situation.

Unfortunately, we tend to put on the blinders and refuse to look at the areas of our life that need improvement, because it will cause pain.  This discomfort however is often exactly what you lack whenever you can’t get yourself inspired to take action. 

If you refuse to look at the consequences of your current lack of better habits, things may progressively get worse until an even more painful reality hits you in the face whether you like it or not.  Wouldn’t it be better to avoid hitting rock bottom, and face these things before they become a bigger problem?

Some other variations include: Do I want to live with not knowing what could have been?  Do I want to continue my life down this path?  Do I want to keep feeling this way?

Question 2: “Can I just…?”

One of the reasons I love the mini habits approach popularized by Stephen Guise is because the biggest challenge for most people is just getting started.  We build up the idea in our heads how difficult something will be, and then find ways to talk ourselves out of it.

For instance, the idea of cleaning a house can seem like an overwhelming chore.  It’s easy to sit back and say, “I don’t even know where to begin.  I’d rather just deal with this later.”  During these times, I have to remind myself that you can’t do everything, but you can do anything one thing at a time.

When cleaning, I only have to pick one thing up, and put it away at any given moment.  I only have to clean a small area of one room at a time.  I only have to wipe off one object.  Each of these small individual actions is easy to do, but when we add them all together in our heads, at once it seems like an overwhelming task.

This is what makes a question like “can I just…?” so powerful.

Let’s say someone plans on doing an hour-long workout, but they don't have the time, energy, or motivation to get started.  Rather than not do anything, it's better to ask, “Can I just do the warm-up?”

If not, “Can I just do the first exercise of the warm-up?  The first REP?”

After finishing the first rep, they can ask “Can I just do one more rep?  After that, can I just do another rep?  Can I just do one more exercise?” and so on.

For myself, the idea of writing this article felt daunting, so I asked myself, “could I just write down a few title ideas.”  Next thing you know, I’m fully engaged and have finished the rough draft in one sitting.  What you’ll often find is that by starting small, and not placing a burden on yourself to do anything more than you feel like, you’ll likely want to keep going.

Question 3: “Would I rather?”

In psychology, there’s a concept called reactance.  This is that feeling of wanting to rebel against anyone telling us what to do.  The problem is, we often boss ourselves around by saying things like “I have to do this” or “I can’t do that.”

The research shows that this approach of taking away a sense of choice will drain your willpower.  This is one reason why so many people who go on restricted diets often get burnt out and end up binge eating.

The simple way to get around this is to present everything as a choice (which in reality it is anyway), with a “would I rather?” question.  You’ll present two options, and give consequences for each.

“Would I rather sit and watch TV and slow down my weight loss progress, and then feel guilty, OR could I just do five minutes of exercise, feel great about myself, and keep my daily healthy habits going to get in great shape?”

“Would I rather eat this doughnut and add more fat to my body, OR could I just drink a healthy smoothie that will satisfy my cravings and help me burn fat?”

When you present your options as a choice in question form rather than a command, you’ll find you’ll naturally want to make the better decision.  If you do occasionally choose the less healthy option, the key is to remember it’s about the consistency of choices and not any one choice.  After all, there is nothing wrong with watching TV or eating a doughnut on occasion.


The right quality of questions is one of your greatest tools for managing your emotional state including your feelings of motivation.  These three questions combined together will give you the ability to get started, keep going, and make good decisions each day until you’ve developed better habits.

Derek Doepker is the author of the #1 bestselling book 50 Fitness Tips You Wish You Knew and founder of Excuse Proof Fitness.  After over nine years of studying the world's top personal trainers, personal development specialists, and psychologists, he started writing and coaching individuals on developing healthier habits in 2012.  He specializes in helping anyone overcome everyday challenges with simple, easy to remember solutions based on cutting edge psychological science.

4 thoughts on “Struggling With Your Habits? Three Questions You Need To Ask Yourself.”

  1. Solid post, Derek. I should ask myself all of these questions if I find myself procrastinating.

    I think we can put a spin to question 1 – “Where will I be in a year and in five years from now, if things don’t change?”

    Turn it into “Where will I be in a year and in five years from now, if things do change?”. I like the thought of myself reaping the rewards of my action as it can give the momentum to do more later in life.

  2. Brilliant questions Derek, seriously, really helpful.
    I use to go through my excuses like a bulldozer, because I have tons of willpower. But your approach is much more elegant and cost effective.

    “there is nothing wrong with watching TV or eating a donut on occasion” – I just can’t imagine an occasion which justify that 😉

  3. Hey Derek & Scott,

    Great post.

    “Rather than not do anything, it’s better to ask, “Can I just do the warm-up?”

    If not, “Can I just do the first exercise of the warm-up? The first REP?”

    — This is exactly what I do every time in the gym. Constantly. “You can do one more rep… one more… one more… one more…”

    It’s all about fooling yourself into starting, and incrementally doing a bit more while mentally pacing yourself. Just like you say. It’s not “Just 3 more sets”, it’s “just one more rep!” then again..

  4. I think many of us can relate to this post. I am definitely into personal development and enjoyed this article. I always attempt to ask myself where will I be in the future if I don’t improve in a certain area that I know needs my attention. Usually, that causes me to focus and make the proper adjustments. Sometimes it comes down to our priorities and the things that are most important to us I think.

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