How to bridge the intention-behaviour gap

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These are raw notes from the Maintaining health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic King’s College conference on April 2, 2020. This lecture by Dr Joseph Chilcot was titled Health behaviour for COVID-19: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t expect any commentary or additional research.

You know sugar is bad for your health. You have the intention of reducing your sugar intake. Yet, when your friend offers you a donut, do you act on that intention? Or do you accept the donut because, you know, what’s one donut in the grand scheme of things? This is called the intention-behaviour gap. Knowledge and intention don’t necessarily turn into action.

intention-behaviour gap

Reducing the intention-behaviour gap

The intention-behaviour gap is the result of high knowledge and low behaviour. In order to reduce the gap, you need to increase the contextuality of the intention by defining the following:

  • When. Define a time or cue triggering when you should be applying that specific behaviour.
  • Where. Specify a location, for instance “I will sit straight at my desk” or “I will drink water every time I go to the kitchen.”
  • How. Detail the steps, tools, strategies you need to act on your intention.

While this action planning will help you form habits out of your intentions, you need to ensure all the components you need are in place for the behaviour to occur.

The COM-B Behaviour Change Model

These are the components required for any behaviour to occur.

  1. Capability. Both psychological and physical. Learn how to do the desired behaviour and practice doing it.
  2. Opportunity. These are the social and physical factors and resources you need. Plan ahead and use implementation intentions to make the most of these opportunities.
  3. Motivation.  Finally, the decision-making, emotions, habits involved in your behaviour. If you’re struggling, try and make the behaviour more attractive or less aversive, and build it into your daily routines.

You can read more about the COM-B model here.

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