The Intention-Behaviour Gap

For those of you not familiar with the world of academic Psychology, there is a phenomenon that many researchers are trying to figure out and overcome. A problem that if solved, will unlock our abilities to stick to exercise routines, maintain a healthy diet, and make permanent, positive, health behaviour change. The Intention-Behaviour Gap.

What do I mean by this? Well many of us have at some point in time thought to ourselves “I really should do ‘x behaviour’, to get a little healthier”, or something along those lines. That is an intention. We intend to carry out a certain behaviour. A behaviour of course being a series of actions we do, whether as a reaction from our environment, or internally motivated by our thoughts, beliefs, and intentions.

Research has observed a gap within behavioural models, whereby people who hold intentions often do not follow through with the behaviour. In fact, a large piece of research by Rhodes and de Bruijn (2013) showed that, in relation to exercise, 36% of people who intended on exercising never put it to action. That’s over a 1/3 of people who want to be healthier, but just don’t!

So what can be done about this?

For many researchers, especially within the field of Health Psychology, the goal is to create programs, or engineer psychological techniques, that hope to help people to act upon their intentions. For someone like myself, I apply these when working with clients, in order to help them reach goals, or process personal issues.

As you would expect, as individuals we are not all going to react the same way to certain techniques, or feel comfortable following certain programs. So of course there is some variability there. Luckily, there are various techniques that can be employed.

But, despite efforts, we have yet to find something that guarantees to help an individual who is thinking about making changes to their lifestyle, in order to live healthier. Which, as you can imagine, is very frustrating!

Photo by Craig Adderley on

From my own experience however, both in studying this area and from my personal history helping others, I have found that one of the best ways to overcome this is our ability to believe. Self-efficacy is the belief in ones ability to effectively carry out certain behaviours, in order to reach the desired outcome. Or in simpler terms, how much you believe in yourself to be able to do something.

In this period of time where it feels like everything is meaningless, it can be hard to believe in anything, let alone yourself. Many do not have religion, or even a sense of community. But I want you to know that you have the ability within you to do anything you put your mind to. We all have barriers to overcome, some more than others, but you have it within you. Trust me.

I’m not going to spout a load of generic motivational quotes at you, because that would be disingenuous. But what I will say is that if you are experiencing this gap, of holding intentions to be healthier but finding it hard to followthrough, you need to find a way to instil a sense of self-worth and purpose in what you are doing.

Foster your belief, whether that be in yourself, a higher being, the universe, or humanity as a whole. When I have doubts, or find myself unmotivated, I connect back to this, to re-establish my purpose, in order to push through and act upon my intentions again. Hopefully, you can do the same. I believe in you…

For the Psychologists…
Rhodes, R. E. & de Bruijn, G. (2013). How big is the physical activity intention-behaviour gap? A meta-analysis using the action control framework. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(2), 296-309.

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