Moving from Intention to Behaviour: Well meaning but Ignorant Social Supports can help

After a particularly excellent evening of sail boat racing, I’m pretty beat and realizing that perhaps my body isn’t quite ready to keep up with the physical activity I’m putting it through.  Running plus sitting at work all day plus crewing a boat (especially as a clumsy rookie) is turning my knees into balls of pain!  So I’m sitting here all reflective and stuff…about the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) and decision making.

What really interests me is not necessary the variables that lead to an intention to engage in a certain behaviour (subjective social norms, perceived behavioural control and attitude) but more that all you can predict with those variables is intentions.  Similar to correlations between variables in social psychology never truly being able to predict causality….the gap between somebody intending to do something and actually doing it still mystifies many a high level researcher.  Where’s the switch?

Now for a sailing metaphor or analogy or something….the first time I was ever on a sail boat I was given the job of trimming the head sail.  Basically to an absolute non-sailor landlubber that means…’re entire body, mind and soul is focused on about two square feet of boat that contain a rope attached to a sail (they call them sheets), a winch and a handle.  When you’re supposed to pull that rope (when the sail is changing sides and everyone is telling you quite vigorously to get ready to pull on the rope)….you pull it as fast and hard as possible while still remaining calm and measured (NOT)….then use the winch to keep pulling the rope until the skipper is happy.  That moment….when the sail is just about to start switching sides and it has no wind in it….when it’s stalled between port and starboard (yeah….YEAH, I sound like a real sailor now…) the sail just kind of hangs in the air in limbo….that reminds of the gap between intention and behaviour….you’re just hanging there.  But people tend not to whip directly into the winds of choice and change….they tend to hang for a while.

This is the doom of the Recreation Therapist trying to take out clients afraid to leave their rooms, the doom of the smoker that wants to quit, the doom of probably quite a few crack addicts as well (I’m not joking)….is perhaps the pause before the decision.  How do we negotiate the pause…behavioural luffing and help people to make better decisions with their leisure and recreation time and actually follow through with them?

Pretty sure this is the entire foundation of marketing in business….how to get people to commit to a buying choice….but with behaviours related to personal time…without that tangible money aspect, it gets more complicated.  So maybe for now I’ll just write out what’s actually pushed me (or pulled on my decision ropes and kept grinding until I’m properly trimmed):

In my case it’s friends that push me to do stuff, particularly ones that have NO IDEA what it’s like to be a smoker….or to be addicted to any sort of substance maybe (they could always be hiding something)

The decision to quit smoking was made on a trail run based on the comment, “You seem like a smart guy, what’s up with that smoking thing” and also another friend who (after I said I was quitting smoking) said, “Yeah right, aren’t you always quitting smoking?” (as in, I keep trying and failing).  It is these inconsiderate comments from people who probably will never understand the delights of puffing smoke rings and sipping a cold beer around a camp fire….but are pretty on point…that make the difference.  Damn it.

After that trail run I just said to myself, “Alright, Monday.”  I cheated a few on Monday…but after that I’ve been a good boy ever since.

The decision to take the New Crew course and start sailboat racing was made on a sort of whim….my buddy just said, “Are you racing this year?” and I just went home and pulled out my credit card and signed up.  Split second decision….and without it I wouldn’t have these great memories  and something to look forward to next Wednesday.

The decision to run was just….well….I just one day put shoes on and started running because it was cost effective (re: free) and I needed something to do.

I’m going to guess that lots of people have things they want to start doing in their spare time or things they want to stop doing….and I’d be really interested to hear what pushed people from “intending” to behave (or stop behaving) and actually initiating the behaviour.

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