Everyone has planned to do something and then fallen short. Whether it is an exercise plan, a diet, quitting smoking, or learning a new hobby, the best intentions are regularly abandoned. What causes one person to stick to their plans while another person is unable to commit or adhere to the same process? That was the question at the center of a new study led by Marijn de Bruin of the Department of Communication Science at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
De Bruin conducted two separate studies in order to test the intention-behavior gap, the void between what people intend to do and what they actually do. In the first study, 51 HIV-positive participants were monitored for medication adherence over the course of three months. In a second study, 499 participants were evaluated three times over a six-week period to see if they had maintained a predetermined exercise regimen. Prior to each study, the participants were questioned as to their intentions in the upcoming months. De Bruin found that those who had good intentions were more likely to adhere to the programs than those who professed less commitment.
Two specific behaviors appeared to have the most influence on outcome. First, the people who set goals and monitored their progress through the process had more adherence than those who just set goals. Also, participants who made changes to their behaviors when they were not meeting their goals had better outcomes than those who progressed steadily and unchangingly. De Bruin believes that the ability to self-regulate, to assess progress and adjust accordingly, has a huge impact on goal achievement. From a practical context, these findings could help interventions designed to address behavior change. Future work should explore if these two self-regulatory processes directly affect an individual’s motivation to change other maladaptive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, or other risky behaviors. “Such research would improve our understanding of the factors driving health behavior and facilitate the design of more effective behavior change interventions,” de Bruin said.
De Bruin, Marijn, Paschal Sheeran, Gerjo Kok, Anneke Hiemstra, Jan M. Prins, Harm J. Hospers, and Gerard JP Van Breukelen. Self-regulatory processes mediate the intention-behavior relation for adherence and exercise behaviors. Health Psychology 31.6 (2012): 695-703. Print.
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