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Key Behavior Change Strategies
We can use self-efficacy, which is the core element of social cognitive theory (Bandura, 2004), and self-management strategies (Karoly & Kanfer, 1982) to maintain their control on behavior changes. These strategies can be applied to Extension programs and maximize the effectiveness of changing individuals' behaviors and long-term weight loss.
Self-efficacy can be defined as an individual's personal judgment of his or her ability to succeed in reaching a specific goal or outcomes. Self-efficacy is one of the most important determinants of whether behavioral change takes place (initial condition), because, unless people believe that they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act for behavioral change. Self-efficacy also affects whether people mobilize the motivation and perseverance needed to succeed (improvement condition), and finally, their ability to recover from failures and relapses, and how well they continue their behavior changes once their goals have been achieved (maintenance condition).
Extension professionals can help to enhance self-efficacy by a) setting goals and expected outcomes that are important for focusing on activities in group lessons and prompting increased efforts and b) establishing strategies for overcoming barriers to prevent participants from interrupting healthy lifestyle practices by providing social support from teams in group exercise classes or offer sessions before or after regular programs participants are already attending.
Goals and Expected Outcomes
Use the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) principle to come up their own goals for each behavioral change stage; initial condition stage (4-6 weeks), improvement condition stage (12-20 weeks), and for maintenance conditioning stage (6 months and beyond). Higher outcome expectations are stronger motivators; however, unrealistic, unattainable outcome expectations may discourage participants to continue (Dalle Grave et al., 2005).
Example: "I will walk an extra 1 mile (2,000 steps) 3-4 times per week for the next 4 weeks." The goal is specific, measureable, and achievable using a current resource (have a pedometer), realistic, and timely (deadline for your goal - 4 weeks).
All participants will face barriers to maintain their committed behavioral changes sooner or later in your program. Personal, social, and environmental barriers vary from person to person; however, Extension professionals could list common barriers and discuss solutions for effectively overcoming these barriers in a group. Participants who have more positive attitudes can share their outlook with other participants who may have the same goals and barriers.
Example: "I don't have time to exercise." Time constraint is the most frequent barrier to regular physical activity.
Solution: Have participants 1) make daily activity charts—example: 15-minute walk during lunch break, 2) choose activities they enjoy, 3) create a buddy system, 4) set time frame for when the goal should be reached by, 5) get a reward when the goal is reached, and 6) prepare for a new barrier—example: in case of rain, play bowling.
Key features of self-management strategies include goal setting, peer support networks, self-monitoring (ongoing follow-up), and self-reinforcement.
Self-Monitoring (Ongoing Follow-Up)
After participants have set their goals and expected outcomes, Extension professionals can introduce a self-monitoring system in which participants can evaluate their own progress weekly or monthly. Their progress, whether they are meeting or failing to meet the established goals, serves as a motivator for continuing adherence to their behavioral change.
Reinforcement (rewards) work as good motivators for changing behaviors. There are intrinsic motivators (stimulation that drives an individual to adopt or change a behavior—examples: enjoyment or satisfaction) and extrinsic motivators or external incentives (money, new outfit). Both are useful for positive reinforcement in behavioral changes, especially in the early stage of change. For a long-term weight control, an individual's intrinsic motivations for regular physical activity play a more important role than focusing on changes in body weight and diet-related changes (Teixeira et al., 2006).
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