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Understanding Behavior Change, Action Planning, and Coping Planning: A Review of the Literature

January 13th, 2011

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The process of behavior change is complex, and involves a variety of factors. These factors include things such as environment, which can drastically affect the behavior change process. For example, going to a busy crowded gym to try a get in shape may eventually discourage you from going as the machines and such are constantly full. Motivation is another important factor when considering behavior change. Having a music instructor whose teaching ability is quite inadequate for example, will decrease motivation in a student to listen to what that teacher has to say. There are various interventions that can be used to assist one in changing behavior. Action and coping planning are two helpful strategies to consider when changing behavior. Action planning being taking charge and putting action into change rather than contemplating it. Coping planning is anticipating how to overcome obstacles during the change process. That is just one of the large varieties of behavioral interventions used in various situations.

Processes of Behavior Change

The changing of a specific behavior whether it is something health related, such as going to the gym on a regular basis, or even improving practicing habits playing an instrument, is a long process. The difference between simply thinking about changing a behavior and acting to change it are farther away than one would think. Varieties of factors are involved in the change process; one of the largest factors is environment. Sniehotta(2009) mentions that despite individual’s being able to make intentional behavior changes, they are largely determined by the constraints and consequences their environment produces. To counteract this, there have been various developments in the area of behavior planning, including new models to go by which can be used to assist an individual in their quest for behavior change.
One of these models that are relatively well known is the transtheoretical model (Armitage, 2009). This model can help “predict, explain, and ultimately change health behavior (Armitage, 2009)” through variety components. These consist of fourteen points that are split up in to three sub-categories. They are: stages of change, dependent variables, and independent variables. While all three are significant, stages of change has been looked at far more than the other stages to the point where it’s not worth mentioning them. Stages of change consist of precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance (Prochaska, et al, 1994). Each stage follows after the other, going from thinking about change, preparing to change, taking action, and then maintaining that change. Various studies have used this model to prove its worth, most notably in changing poor health behaviors. In one study by Herzog and Blagg (2007), they used the model to assist smokers in changing their habits, and found positive results along with the smokers having an increase in motivation to quit throughout the program.
Urte et. Al. (2008) mention two main focuses of behavior change. These are action planning and coping planning. After an individual has the intention to change, they go through the volitional stage, which is the short stage between the intentions becoming changed into action. Once this transition is made one can progress into the action and coping planning stages. In action planning the “when, where, and how (Urte et al. 2008 pg481)” is determined, somewhat similar to the transtheoretical models stages of change. This involves setting rigid goals, such as “I will study for four hours tonight” with no escapes from the plan. This format of goal setting will lead one to change their behavior easier with no leniency in their routines. However, it has been shown that while action planning may be quite effective with changing simple behaviors, changing complex lifelong behaviors may prove difficult or unsuccessful in certain cases.
Coping planning is used for overcoming unplanned and expected obstacles in the behavior change process. An example of this may be that the weather outside is unsuitable for running so I may go run in a gym instead. This type of planning keeps potential planning mishaps from happening, and promotes the maintenance of that behavior. Once action planning is started, after a period of a few months coping tends to take over as the main plan and keeps one on track to their goal or maintaining it.

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