Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow […]
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow […]
— T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
Which is hardly news to anyone who has tried to change behavior, whether theirs or someone else’s. It’s all too easy to add to Eliot’s lines: Between the resolution and the quitting… Between the will and the workout… Between the awareness and the condom… Between all of our good/new intentions and all of our bad/old habits… Falls the Shadow.
It is often said that behavior change is not about information but rather motivation—but clearly motivation itself is not enough. What then? Social marketing theory and practice suggest numerous answers: search for ways to lower the “price” of the new behavior (most especially, the physical/emotional/social costs of giving up the old behavior); examine “barriers” to behavior change that could get in the way; incorporate into the program various supports that bridge the gap between intention and action.
I recently learned about a theory that addresses this issue in an interesting way. The Health Action Process Approach (HAPA)—developed by psychology professor Ralf Schwarzer at the Free University in Berlin—conceives of behavior change as occurring in two phases, which reflect two distinct psychological states or mindsets. In the motivation or goal-setting phase, people form their intention to make a change; intentions are formed by the interplay of risk perception (“am I truly at risk?”), self-efficacy (“can I actually make this change?”) and outcome expectations (“what difference will changing make?”). In the volition or goal-pursuing phase, people are either actively planning to make the change (“intenders”) or already initiating/maintaining the change (“actors”)—and are in need of tools to help them translate their intentions into sustained action.
According to HAPA, the key is to successfully transforming intention into behavior—to passing through the Shadow—is planning. Once an intention to change has been formed, two types of planning are useful: action planning, which covers the what/where/when of the new behavior (e.g., I’ll go to the gym Monday and Thursday mornings, and walk home on Wednesday evenings); and coping planning, which covers anticipated obstacles and how to overcome them (e.g., If I oversleep in the morning, I’ll go to the gym after work). Action planning is key for “intenders,” while coping planning is key for “actors” who want to stay on track and avoid relapsing into old behaviors.
In addition to planning, HAPA emphasizes the importance of three types of self-efficacy: action self-efficacy (“Am I capable of this?”) in the motivation phase, and coping self-efficacy (“Will I be able to stick to my new behavior when X happens?”); and recovery self-efficacy (“Will I be able to get back on track if I slip up?”) in the volition phase.
Though not radically different from other social marketing theories— Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model (aka “Stages of Change”) leaps to mind—HAPA does appear to be a relatively simple and useful theory to consider when planning social marketing programs. Are we trying to increase motivation or volition? What planning tools might we develop to help “intenders” take action? What messages or spokespeople could increase recovery self-efficacy?