What can people do to self-manage their motivation and behaviour? We found 123 strategies

This seems like a good day to write my first-ever blog post in English: Today, Nature Human Behaviour published the fruits of our team’s major undertaking.

A crucial question in behaviour change is: What can people do to help themselves to change? After all, it’s the person changing their behaviour who is on the center stage in this pursuit.* For example, in changing your eating habits, exercise routines, studying behaviour, work practices, or interaction style with your partner, it is you who in fact do the changes.

However, previous research had a focus on what others – leaders, teachers, lifestyle counselors – can do to motivate you, or to create environments conducive to optimal motivation. Even intervention descriptions are written from the perspective of what providers deliver upon individuals.

On the other hand, in various applied areas of psychology, there were already long traditions of investigating self-regulation and self-motivation (for example: mental imagery strategies in sport), but these were usually focusing on a limited amount of strategies at a time.

To truly understand behaviour change, we need a more comprehensive understanding of what individuals themselves do in their everyday lives. For this, we need a comprehensive listing of clearly defined techniques, concepts.

Therefore, in 2016, we set out to identify and compile all the various activities that are available for an individual to self-manage their motivation. We expanded our scope to include also strategies to change and self-manage behaviour, as the two are very intertwined.

[The boring part 🙂 ] The methods are explained in more detail in the paper, but briefly: We started out with existing taxonomies of motivation and behaviour change techniques that were written from the perspective of the intervention provider. We “converted” them to reflect what the actual behaviour change agent – the person – does. Additionally, scoping reviews helped us identify additional self-regulatory constructs. An expert panel and a round of interviews with lay people helped us improve the definitions and examples.

The result? A compendium of 123 techniques that theoretically can help someone change their motivation and/or behaviour. We hope this helps at least…

  • Intervention designers and practitioners helping people change
  • Scientists attempting to capture the complexities of behaviour change, both in their theoretical and empirical work
  • People attempting self-led behaviour change and goal pursuit
  • Possibly other people too?

So proud of the team we were able to pull this together, amazing inputs from so many fantastic people!

 

Some suggestions for intervention developers:

1. In designing your intervention, take the perspective of the participant: What do you expect them to do in their everyday lives? Do the different self-enactable techniques make a coherent whole? Does the enactment of these techniques seem feasible or too burdensome?

2. Assess self-enactable techniques already in feasibility and piloting phase. This can reveal important gaps in your program theory. For example, your participants may not correctly comprehend what they are expected to do, or come up with suboptimal. In one of our feasibility studies, we realised that adolescents seemed not to take up coping planning – which is however pretty helpful strategy for physical activity change according to many studies. It was really helpful to identify this problem prior to the effectiveness trial.

3. In intervention trials, please measure what people actually do. This is the only way to improve our understanding of effectiveness of these techniques – something our compendium cannot reveal.

* Unless the intervention is about an environmental, e.g. a legislative measure, in which case the person indeed is more of a passive recipient than a proactive agent.

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