I Think I Can, Therefore I Will: How Intentions Affect Follow-Through

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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  • rex


    December 1st, 2012 at 1:44 AM

    its similar to how we take life,isn’t it?you THINK you want to achieve something,it isn’t going to happen automatically,you need to pt in constant effort.also,what I liked and completely agree with is the finding that adjustments need to be made when the path seems to be deviating from the goal.that is s important!

  • Zee


    December 2nd, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    I like this to how those who keep a food journal when they are trying to lose weight are generally a lot more successful than those people who just say that they want to lose weight. You have to continually hold yourself accountable, and keeping a check on your progress and how you are working toward your goals and how close you are to completing them is very important to realizing success in any area that you are hoping to achieve.

  • Kevin


    December 2nd, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    I think this study is pretty flawed. For one thing, the time samples were vastly different. You have one group followed for three months and one group followed for six weeks. Then, the populations are totally different. In one group, there are people with life threatening illnesses while in the other group is healthy, they just want to start exercising. How can valid conclusions be drawn when the groups are so different? We’re not comparing apples to apples here.

  • J Snipes

    J Snipes

    December 2nd, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    Kevin, I think you are missing the point about the groups in this study. The important thing to note is the similarity in the differences. Yes, the groups are vastly different. But, even though they are different, the same methods work for success. Sure, the HIV group is really sick. But, when they had good intentions and were willing to make changes to ensure continued progress, they were able to make change for the better. Even when you looked at a vastly different group over a different time period, the same methods for successful change worked.

  • Linda


    December 2nd, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    All of us know when we are not sticking to the required ways to achieve a goal. The difference is some of us choose to go along with it even when we are heading down the wrong path, we’re too lazy to change. While some others take that change and get back on the path to the goal. It’s not like people do not know. It’s the willingness and ability to bring yourself to change and shift.

  • Gracie


    December 3rd, 2012 at 3:58 AM

    even when we have the best intentions there are other things that can always throw us off track. life in general has a way of doing that! so while I know that goal setting is an important task, and that most of us aspire to have more success with meeting our goals that we set out for ourselves, the reality is that some of us aren’t cut out to be quite as rigorous as it takes, and the rest of us are busy letting the other parts of life get in the way!

  • carlos


    December 3rd, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    Intentions and aim is one thing. But constant monitoring of the self and making milestones for yourself is a completely different thing.

    Anybody can say I want to do this or do that but not evrybody can or will end up doing it. Reason is follow through. There is difference in how we follow through. And anybody can deviate, it’s natural, nobody is perfect and deviation does occur. But having the skills and willingness to resist deviation and stay in track is the differentiator.

  • Miesha


    December 3rd, 2012 at 9:45 PM

    I think having good intentions helps with almost anything we do in life, i.e. why get a haircut if you dont think it will make you look better? But, the fact remains with ANY GOAL you set out to accomplish, you are more likely to achieve it if you are more positive and more disciplined.

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