Setting yourself up for success: The intention-behavior gap (Pt. 2)

In part 1, we dove into the intention-behavior gap, what it is, and discussed a few of the fundamental predictors of behavior (more specifically, predictors of our physical activity). Some of these psychological predictors can often go unnoticed in our day to day; we may participate in beneficial or detrimental behaviors without even realizing it which ultimately impacts how we choose to act later on.

Reread part 1 here.

Now that we understand a bit more regarding the phases of behavior change and what drives us to make these big decisions, we can move forward into applying these strategies and the present study’s key findings towards our own goals.

Physical exercise assessments

In order to assess physical activity, the patients were asked to report how many times per week they engaged in different types of exercise activities. Two different indicators were used to establish the activity levels of the patients: the first being a checklist of endurance sports (swimming, power-walking, biking, etc.) which tallied up a score correlating to its frequency for the week, and the second being higher-strain activities similar to those used in the rehabilitation center (bicycle ergometer) which was also tallied up based on frequency over the week.

Key Findings

There were no baseline differences to note between the patients who did and did not complete all three questionnaires (Time 1 to Time 3). One important distinction observed was within the exercise intentions at baseline; those who didn’t complete all three questionnaires were shown to have slightly lower intentions from the start.

Exercise was significantly associated with all psychological variables of the motivational and volitional phases (excluding risk awareness). In the motivational phase, task self-efficacy was shown to be the strongest predictor of our intentions, while action control, specifically, surpassed all variables as being the most influential predictor of exercise behavior.

As discussed, action control encompasses all acts of self-regulation. These are efforts undergone in order to alter our own behavior – ways we “check in” with ourselves and evaluate if/what we can adjust to ultimately change our habits. This makes a lot of sense. I’m sure we all have weeks we can recollect where we consciously assessed the things we’ve done right or wrong, especially when it comes to dieting! Without proactively self-monitoring, we would fail to do the things that really challenge us (both mentally and physically) and allow us to make the improvements we desire (training, nutritional choices/restraint, etc.).

It should be noted that action planning is not only the strongest predictor of follow up exercise behavior, but it acted as a facilitator of sorts for maintenance of self-efficacy and action planning (both of these independently impacting exercise activity as well). Rather than having one or two key variables to be focused on, there’s more of a unique interplay between the predictors happening here that’s subject to change based on the person and the stage/challenges they are faced with.


One noteworthy finding was that intentions for all patients were reportedly high on the scale of 1 to 4 (although patients who completed all three questionnaires scored only slightly higher than those who did not). Nonetheless, this would indicate that motivation in general was high across the board for all subjects. While we now have a concrete idea of strategies and/or tools we can use to bridge the gap between intentions and positive behavior change, these small differences in motivation may not be as important as we think.

Motivation is a great driver for lifestyle change, but it cannot be relied upon to carry us through.


Turning intentions into meaningful and effective action is not only important for those with health concerns, but it’s essential for sustaining our long-term health and wellness and reaching our physique- and performance-related goals. We know all too well the negative impacts that spinning our wheels, starting and stopping programs, and going all-or-nothing has on our bodies and well-being, so if we can “troubleshoot” ourselves in a way that allows us to follow through with healthy habits, we’ll be closer to those goals sooner rather than later.

While motivation is a great, well, motivator for lifestyle changes, it won’t be reliable for keeping us on track. Our psychology plays a larger role than we think. For one, being able to stay objective with our “why,” or our positive/negative health implications, gives us perspective and keeps us focused on the importance of these habit changes and the overarching goal.

Building our self-confidence and the belief that we can change, or self-efficacy, is essential. If you don’t truly think you can be “that person” who turns their life around, loses the weight, or makes those hard lifestyle changes, you’ve already cut yourself short before you’ve even tried.

Lastly, planning appropriately and strategically, and practicing efforts of self-monitoring (action planning and action control) give us a plan/timeline to work with as well as a blueprint for the behaviors that we need to actively keep in check. It’s one thing to think about what we want to achieve, but we also need to set ourselves up in a way that allows us to execute and adhere to that plan. It’s easy to forgo self-regulating behavior (i.e. those “check-ins” with yourself) but taking a moment each day/week to jot down your top priorities, or your “non-negotiables,” that you’d like to accomplish can consistently start your days on the right foot. We can and should cultivate these key variables in order to help us finally bridge this gap and translate our goals and intentions into positive action.

These are some of the strategies and tools we often use with our clients, regardless of their level of experience or particular goals. Eliminating destructive habits starts with forming new, healthier ones that are conducive to what we are trying to achieve. Foundational habits like planning out some staple meals for the day/week ahead, learning the importance/basics of nutrition and training, and fostering actions out of discipline rather than emotion are key in allowing our clients to move forward and continue to apply what they’ve learned for long-term success and maintenance.


Sniehotta, F.F., Scholz, U., Schwarzer, R. Bridging the intention-behavior gap: planning, self-efficacy, and action control in the adoption and maintenance of physical exercise. Psychology and Health. 2005; 20: 143-160.

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