Alex Trebek on Interrogative Self-Talk


When you are trying to motivate yourself, how often have you done it in the form of a question? Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy for over 30 years, has mastered using the question as the answer. Maybe we should, too.

I recently wrote about a self-affirmation technique as it relates to my fondness for The Smiths. I cited a study showing that the second-person “you” is more effective than the first person “I” and, therefore, we should be saying to ourselves, “You can do this!”, not “I can do this!” Turns out there’s some conflicting research on self talk.

In an interview for HBR Ideacast, famed author Daniel Pink cited a few studies that suggest we need to change the verbiage we utilize to motivate ourselves. We tend to use declarative statements — “You’ve got this”, “You can do it”, etc. — however, statements and questions have different effects.

… questions elicit an active response, whereas statements often have a passive response.

Through interrogative self-talk, when faced with a challenge, you ask yourself, “Can you do this?” This pushes you to respond, which is more likely to elicit an action. While serving similar purposes, interrogative self-talk is not quite the same as a self-affirmation. As Daniel Pink explained:

It’s not that warm bath of affirmation, and you can do it, feels good. I like to tell myself I’m awesome. I love to hear from myself that I’m awesome. But it doesn’t really prepare me. And so interrogative self talk is more muscular.

Interrogative self-talk has been shown to produce better task performance than declarative statements and is enough to motivate goal-directed behavior. Translation: If you have the motivation to achieve something, asking yourself an interrogatively self-talk question will give you that boost you need.

So can you do this? Are you able to push yourself with a few questions? Trebek doesn’t have the answer question…do you?

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