How To Build A Clean Language Habit

What’s the best way to build a Clean Language habit? How can you make it part of your everyday work – in the easiest possible way?

When people first encounter this precision inquiry toolkit, they get very excited.

They realise that Clean Language can help them to gain clarity, quickly, including about the things people don’t know that they know; to shift emotional states; to motivate people to change; to give and get good feedback and to enhance relationships in the process. All from a handful of simple questions and a shift of mindset. What’s not to like?

But for some people, that’s where it stops. What they’ve learned doesn’t translate into real-world action.

Richard Atherton emailed the other day with just this challenge. “Is there a post about how to remember to use it, in the field?” he asked. “Not yet!” was my answer.

The trick to remembering to do anything is to make it such a habit that you can’t not do it.

And nowadays, the process of creating a new habit is pretty well documented, thanks to blogging lifehackers like James Clear and books like Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.

So, how an we apply the science of habit-forming to using Clean Language in the field?

First up, it’s probably worth asking yourself that powerful Clean Language question, “What would you like to have happen?” It’s a whole lot easier to keep going when you know where you’re heading. You might even ask yourself, “When all of that happens, that will be like… what?” The more clarity you have about your goal – in conceptual language or in metaphor – the easier it’ll be to get there. There’s more about all that here.

Then it’s time to apply James Clear’s 5-step approach.

1. Start with an incredibly small habit. How about asking one of the two Lazy Jedi questions today? It’s super easy to ask, “What kind of X?” about something a colleague says to you. You can even do it on email or text chat.

2. Increase your habit in very small ways. Next step might be to ask two Lazy Jedi questions during the day. Or both questions. You don’t need to be using all of the core Clean Language questions to be making a difference. It’s not the questions, but the act of listening with respectful curiosity that makes the biggest difference.

3. As you build up, break habits into chunks. My online course Clean Language Essentials For Coaches offers a simple system for doing this. One piece at a time. Add Clean Language to your existing toolkit. Notice what happens. Then take the next step.

4. When you slip, get back on track quickly.
 Notice what just happened. Then ask yourself the Clean Language question, “When that’s what’s happened, what would I like to have happen?” Asking yourself (and others!) that question regularly is a Clean language habit it’s well worth developing.

5. Be patient. Stick to a pace you can sustain. Long-lasting change often takes time. It can help to keep your sights on where you’re heading.

It’s not one of James’s steps, but it is implied in his system: make sure you track your progress, and notice how things change. Occasionally look back and see how far you’ve come.

And then, let me (and others) know how it’s going! Check in with your fellow learners online. Share your successes and challenges. Everyone needs an occasional boost: your story might just make the difference that makes the difference for someone else.

  • Members of my Metaphor Mastery programme routinely share their success stories – and challenges – in a private Facebook group. If that might be useful for you, check out a time-limited special offer here.
  • What’s your favourite way to build a Clean Language habit? Please comment below.

5 thoughts on “How To Build A Clean Language Habit”

  1. Now that’s a turnaround! I email you with a question and 10 days’ later you’ve produced a post on the topic – seriously impressed.

    OK – here’s my challenge to myself: 1 Lazy Jedi question per day for 10 days.

  2. We aim to please 🙂 Thanks again for the question. Good luck with the challenge. How will you be tracking your progress?

  3. What brilliant guidance Judy.

    In my own case, I had a desire to improve effectiveness in learning and teaching in my classrooms – so for me, the habit emerged from an insatiable curiosity. I wondered what Clean Language might be useful for – and then explored, reflected on feedback, explored some more (with regard to the feedback) and so on for over 10 years.

    In terms of using the questions, I started by using just one (and what kind of …?) question and expanded on the contexts in which I used it. As I became confident, and using the question had become second nature, I explored further questions and explored using them in a greater range of contexts.

    This seems to fit with your ‘habit forming’ steps (see above)but there is a big difference for me – that difference being the ‘driver’ / the ‘why’. I was using Clean Language for a purpose and it was this purpose that kept me at it through thick and thin, until I was using it habitually, day in day out, and using it naturally – as just a way of being.

    So I would say, take small incremental steps (as above) but also have a compelling reason for developing your use of Clean Language – and then you will hardly be able to stop yourself. ????


    I teach English as a second language. But honestly – outside Clean Language circles – I never came across any verb tense which has the form “what would you like to have happen”. If I want to recall the past I say: What would you like to have happened? If I talk about the future I would say: What would you like to happen?

    As a native speaker of English can you please enlighten me?

  5. Hi Joe, “what would you like to have happen?” is indeed an unusual structure. David Grove talked about using it because he liked the rhythm of it. But my hypnotist friends tell me that it’s actually much cleverer than that – and David’s background was in hypnotherapy.

    The easiest way to explain the subtlety is to get someone to ask you the question one word at a time. Notice what happens to your attention at each stage. And what… would… you… like… to… have… happen?

    And, there are no Clean police. If you prefer to ask, “what would you like to happen?” that’s fine too.

    The question is definitely present/future oriented. It’s not “have happened” which would do something completely different to a person’s attention.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *