by Jim Broadbear, Ph.D., CWP, NBC-HWC & Barbara Broadbear, Ph.D., MPH

Personal interactions with wellness clients happen in various ways. Digital or face-to-face, they range from brief interactions to ongoing intensive relationships such as in health & wellness coaching. Whatever the context for our interactions with clients, a highly impactful technique is asking questions. Asking evocative questions is an essential skill for wellness professionals (Moore, Jackson, & Tschannen-Moran, 2016). Questions infuse interactions with curiosity, creativity, and compassion. They invite clients into dialogue that helps clarify their thinking, generate insights, and build motivation.

Contrary to the adage that all questions are good, it pays to be judicious with the questions we ask clients. We may only have one chance to connect and make an impact. The most powerful question was derived from various books such as Eat that Frog, How to Begin, The Stress Prescription, On Purpose, and Atomic Habits. A common theme throughout these books is a bit of ancient wisdom – determine what really matters and organize your life accordingly. We have frequently used the question with individuals and groups to great effect. In our experience, a response is immediately available for practically everyone. Like all questions, it works best when the person is prepared to respond with a focused state of mind. You can say, “I have an important question for you. To respond effectively, take a deep breath to focus. Now, say the first thing that comes to mind as I ask…

What is one thing you could start doing today,
that would have a profound, positive impact on your life?”

A lot of factors make this such a powerful question.

  • It is highly relevant – focusing people on the here and now.
  • It is emotionally compelling.
  •  It is clarifying – cutting through the clutter.
  • It is highly personal.
  • It emphasizes starting a positive healthy behavior which can feel more compelling than eliminating an unhealthy one.
  • It limits judgmental responses such as one we have heard before, “Stop being lazy.” These can be converted through follow-up discussion to positive alternatives such as, “Move.”
  • It generates a response that is worth it. Behavior change is hard work so it is good to focus on a profound behavior.
  • It is actionable – i.e., “…start doing today.”
  • It is real. The response is typically a behavior at the front of a person’s awareness.
  • It encourages engagement and ownership.

All of these factors illustrate the power of the question and also serve as good source of further dialogue. For example, what makes (the person’s response) relevant? Compelling? Positive? Worth it? Actionable? People are able to offer many reasons why the wellness behavior they identify is their “one thing” that will make a profound, positive impact. With that in mind, an accelerated pace and trajectory of real behavior change is possible.

Ask your clients questions. The most powerful question could be the most evocative of all.

Jim Broadbear, Ph.D., CWP, NBC-HWC is Professor and Program Director of Health Promotion & Education at Illinois State University. He has over 30 years of experience in Wellness in higher education and health & wellness coaching. He previously served as Director of Wellness for St. Anthony’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, FL.
Barbara Broadbear, Ph.D., MPH is Associate Professor and Director of the School of Exercise Science and Sport at Millikin University. In addition to work in higher education she has extensive experience in worksite wellness, medical-based fitness, and community health education.



Bungay Stanier, M. (2022). How to begin: Start doing something that matters. New York: Macmillan.

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. New York: Avery.

Epel, E. (2022). The stress prescription: 7 days to more joy and ease. New York: Penguin.

Moore, M., Jackson, E., & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2016). Coaching psychology manual (2nd. Ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.

Strecher, V. J. (2013). On purpose: Lessons in life and health from the frog, the dung beetle, and Julia. Ann Arbor, MI: Dung Beetle.

Tracy, B. (2017). Eat that frog! 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time (3rd ed.). Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.