Most people want to live a healthier lifestyle: for example, they want to exercise more, eat less or stop smoking. Our good intentions are not always translated into actions, however. In the Self-Regulation Lab, we are carrying out research into health-related targets and the way in which people try to achieve them.
Can people regulate their own behaviour?
Achieving a healthier lifestyle is difficult, not least because the unhealthy things in life are often associated with things people enjoy: for many of us, a delicious cream cake is more tempting than an apple. People attempt to achieve their health targets in different ways.
One way of doing this is to make if-then plans. This will increase your chances of actually taking action and convert your plans into actions. Together with the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, we are studying whether if-then plans help in relation to to healthier snacking. People can use the Netherlands Nutrition Centre website to make a personal if-then plan along the lines of, “If I’m feeling a little peckish, then I’ll have an apple”. If-then plans work well because a specific situation is defined in the ‘if’ part: if people subsequently find themselves in that situation, they will be reminded automatically of their good intentions.
In the Self-Regulation Lab we are also examining new ways of encouraging people to act more healthily that do not cost too much effort. This research into nudges (gentle pushes in the desired direction) offers a highly promising prospect of getting people to put their resolutions into practice.