February 23, 2021
Three Question Mantra
By Chris Coward, Vice President of Coaching Services for Apollo Health
As anyone who adheres to it knows, following the Bredesen Protocol can be challenging, and as a result of this challenge, you may find yourself pushing into willpower mode in areas of the Bredesen Seven (B7) that are not easy for you.
Science shows us that willpower does not work to change behavior sustainably. While it might work for a short period of time, just like holding your breath underwater, you soon have to come up for air. In this article, I will share an easy technique you can use called the Three Question Mantra that you can use to replace willpower, and it only takes 30 seconds to do.
The Three Question Mantra, created by my colleague, Dr. Jeff Kaplan, is a useful mindfulness tool in real-time when faced with a decision that will either support the behavior you are seeking or not support that behavior. It is a habit-change flowchart of sorts consisting of three easy questions. I will run through an example below using the topic of health
I am tired, but I want to stay up and watch the hockey game. Going to sleep now will support my health. So, I need to ask myself the following questions.
Question 1: Do I want to be healthy, or do I not want to be healthy?
If your answer is “I do not want to be healthy,” then you are done, and you can make the choice that’s potentially unhealthy for you, which in this case is staying up late.
If your answer is “I do want to be healthy,” then you proceed to question 2.
Question 2: Do I choose to be healthy right now, or do I choose to not be healthy right now?
If your answer is “I choose not to be healthy right now,” then you are done with the exercise, and you can make the choice that’s potentially unhealthy for you but celebrate the fact that you were conscious in your decision making versus habitual thinking, or autopilot, as we like to call it. (I know this sounds crazy but stay with me).
If your answer is “I choose to be healthy right now,” then you proceed to question three. The words “choose” and “right now” are underlined as they are key in this exercise and essential to having the exercise work well. Habits are a series of choices that eventually requires less and less conscious thought when made repeatedly and consistently. These first two steps of the Three- Question Mantra create awareness that you are getting to make a choice regarding your health: you happen to the choice, rather than the choice just “happening.” When you slow down the process of choosing, rather than operating on autopilot, you can often remember why you want to choose health for yourself.
They also make the choice about “right now,” just this moment, which implies that you can make a different choice at a different time. Making the choice relevant to the present moment takes the immediate pressure off, knowing that you’ll have many other choice points throughout your day; this choice does not have to set the course of your day or your protocol.
Question 3: What action or non-action do I need to take or not take right now?
In this general example, the healthy action could be, “I don’t eat the donut” or “I choose salad with salmon for my entree instead of pasta.” Or you turn off your iPad and begin to wind down for bedtime.
Question three is so powerful because it can allow us to build on better choices and gain some momentum while at the same time allowing us to not to let one less-healthy choice send us into a downward spiral of poor choices.
Here’s a real example using myself:
I intend to exercise five days per week. I’m aware of my WHY around my exercise: keeping my brain healthy and feeling good in my mind and body. I have specific workouts I do for three of those days, and they are almost an hour long. It’s very easy for me to talk myself out of one of these workouts, usually based on the story that I don’t have an hour in my day, or I just don’t feel like it. The reality is that I can do part of the workout, and I do have time for the full workout if I’m diligent about planning.
Question 1: Do I want to keep my brain healthy and feel good, or do I not want to keep my brain healthy and feel good?
If yes, I do want to keep my brain healthy and feel good, then I go to the next question.
Question 2: Do I choose to keep my brain healthy and feel good right now, or do I choose not to keep my brain healthy and feel good right now?
If the answer is, “yes, I choose to keep my brain healthy and feel good right now,” then I go to question three. If the answer is that I don’t choose to keep my brain healthy and feel good right now, then in this example, I don’t exercise. Since I consciously decided, I can pat myself on the back for being intentional and mindful. And I’m aware that I can make a different choice either later in the day or the next day.
Question 3: What action do I need to take or not take right now? I decide to exercise.
Once you get the hang of it, this process takes less than 30 seconds!
Where can you use this technique when following the Bredesen Protocol? Is there an area of the B7 that is particularly difficult for you to follow even if you know what to do? What is possible if, moment to moment, you can make conscious decisions that support your brain health?
Here is a short video I recorded on the process that also includes a sleep example.
Good luck adopting this practice, and I’d love to hear your results, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!