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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

5 Tips for Using Behavior Change Theories

Young girl holding chalk and thinking

Are you confused or uncertain about putting behavior change theories into practice?

No need to be.

Today’s post summarizes the main points from our series on using behavior change theories with 5 brief tips, one from each blog post in the series:

In this series, we have explored how behavior change theories can be utilized for understanding why people behave as they do as well as to have a positive impact on behavior change, based on Chapter 12 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide.

5 Tips for Using Behavior Change Theories

Use these 5 tips to put health-related behavior change theories into practice:

Tip 1      Theories help us understand and impact behavior.

Behavior change theories help us understand human behavior as well as what motivates and hinders behavior change. No one theory fully explains human behavior. Some describe how behavior change progresses. Others describe the factors that influence change. Others describe how decision-making influences behavior change. Put theory into practice with these tips.

Tip 2      Learn the stages of behavior change.

Behavior change theories focusing on the process of behavior change help us understand the stages people progress through when changing behaviors. The first stage describes the absence of an awareness of needing to change, followed by awareness and gaining knowledge, forming an intention and preparing for change, and finally performing and maintaining a new behavior.

Tip 3      Recognize the many factors influencing behavior.

As nutrition communicators, we can become positive influencers of behavior change when we understand the many and varied behavioral influencers in an audience’s life, including personal characteristics as well as factors in their social and physical environments. We can accentuate the positive influencers and minimize or overcome the negative influencers.

Tip 4      Understand how people make behavior change decisions.

Behavior change theories describing health-related behavioral decisions include the Health Belief Model, the Integrated Behavioral Model, and the Social Cognitive Theory. All three illustrate and describe how various factors exert influence on each other and result in a particular action or inaction.

Tip 5      Combine theoretical constructs for greater understanding.

To fully understand behavior change requires the use of both stage-based theories and decision-based theories. Each one answers part of the questions about behavior change but not all. Merging the stage-based precaution-adoption model with key constructs of the most commonly used decision-based theories forms the Polytheoretical Framework.

Putting Theory into Practice

Behavior change theories provide insight and guidance in what needs to be addressed when communicating about health behaviors. We need to assess where an audience is in regard to their stage of behavior change as well as the factors influencing their behavioral decisions.

Equipped with the knowledge of the audience’s stage of behavior change and primary influencing factors, communicators can tailor messages to build awareness and knowledge, support intentions, assist in preparing to act, overcome barriers and negative mindsets, and more.

Find the tip sheet (No. 46) with all 5 tips for using behavior change theories as well as many more. Put theory into practice.

Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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