The Attitude-Behavior Gap: The Reasons

Bilbo Baggins: I just need to sit quietly for a moment.
Gandalf: You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long! When did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you?

Gandalf the Grey, preach it. I knew all along we understood each other.

Moving from one life to another requires courage. It requires honesty and a little bit of desperation. As we briefly discussed in an earlier post, dramatic change often comes with its own set of excuses built-in. I wanted to take a minute to address each of the four large ones, using the example of a healthy diet to clarify each point.

Ignorance

This excuse is couched in laziness. We depend on others’ opinions rather than determining our own. If we are told that this cause isn’t worthy, or that exercise regime doesn’t work, we believe it without real examination. We can overcome this excuse by asking good questions and searching for facts. In this situation, the respectable reason for not eating healthier is that we don’t know how. The real reason is that we don’t want to put in the work to find out.

The excuse: I can’t eat healthier, because no one in the nutritional field can agree on what is “healthy.”

The flaw: I am depending on rumor and vague information, but haven’t taken the time to go looking for facts myself.

The solution: If I take responsibility for my own education, I may discover that good answers are easier to find than I thought.

Fear of Change

This excuse is built around a comfortableness with our current situation that supersedes our desire for betterment. We view the value of improvement as not worth the effort required. Even though, on a theoretical level, we understand that the change would good for us, we allow ourselves to be discouraged by the work involved. The respectable reason for this excuse is that the work is not worth the result. The real reason is that we don’t want to move from our comfort zone.

The excuse: I don’t eat healthier because I’m afraid of what I’d have to give up.

The flaw: I am thinking primarily of what I would lose, rather than focusing on the good I could gain.

The solution: If I focus on the positives of the change, the negatives seem much less powerful.

Options

This excuse goes hand-in-hand with ignorance, and is based around assumptions. We assume we can’t do something, although we’ve never tried it. We assume that there are no alternatives, because we haven’t seen any. The respectable reason for this excuse is a lack of options, but the real reason is a lack of motivation.

The excuse: I don’t eat healthier because it costs too much money.

The flaw: I am accepting the assumption that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food, but I haven’t looked for inexpensive alternatives.

The solution: If I poke around on the internet a bit, or talk to some healthy friends, I may find ways to improve my diet without breaking the bank.

Empowerment

This excuse is founded on the belief that our actions will have no impact on the big picture. We don’t vote because we believe one opinion won’t make a difference. We don’t boycott because we believe no one is listening. The respectable reason for this is that our change would not do good, but the real reason is that we don’t believe that the change is important for its own sake.

The excuse: I don’t eat healthier because I don’t believe it will really improve my well being.

The flaw: Not believing that my actions are powerful is not a strong enough reason not to try.

The solution: If I decide to do what is good for my body anyway, I will probably be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Which of these four obstacles have you encountered? What did you do?

Advertisements

The Attitude-Behavior Gap: Sorting Excuses

No matter which good change we are currently resisting in our lives, we always have two types of excuses: the respectable excuses, and the real ones. Simply put, the respectable excuses are the ones we say out loud, and the real excuses are the ones we have trouble admitting even to ourselves.

For example, I have a very hard time self-motivating to exercise. I will allow whole weeks to go by without doing so much as a jumping jack. (Until recently anyway!) When I speak with friends who are great about regular exercise, I find myself saying things like “I would, but I just never have the time!” or “I will when the weather gets nicer.” or “My asthma is really sensitive, so I have to be careful not to overdue it.” All of these things may have truth to them, but they are all respectable excuses. They are the kind of excuses that get sympathetic passes from my nicer friends. Even worse, these excuses elicit comradeship and affirmation from my friends who use the same reasons not to work out themselves.

My real excuses required a lot of digging to unearth, and let me tell you, they were ugly. When I pushed past the canned reasons and began honestly asking myself why I don’t work out, this is what I found: I don’t value my life and well-being more than I value a little extra time on Facebook. Put another way, I’d rather die young and fat than make myself do yoga every day.

Ouch. Told you it wasn’t pretty.

The trick to change lies in sorting the legitimate excuses from the illegitimate ones. This process requires some very intense honesty, and a bit of perseverance. Here was my train of thought re: exercise:

Me: I should work out.

Me: Nope.

Me: I would be healthier if I worked out.

Me: I don’t have time.

Me: You’re on Tumblr. You have the time.

Me: It’s too cold to run outside.

Me: Work out indoors.

Me: I don’t know any good indoor workouts.

Me: You have a laptop. Google it.

Me: I don’t want to trigger my asthma and be miserable all night.

Me: Find something low-intensity.

Me: I don’t want to.

Me: You won’t be healthy if you don’t.

Me: I know.

Me: Your life expectancy will be short.

Me: Probably.

Me: So you’re okay with that?

Me: In theory, as long as I don’t have to get out of this chair, yes. I am okay with that.

Me: … Be an adult, you whiny brat.

Me: Okay, okay, that’s terrible. I’ll work out.

See? Like a well-oiled machine. 😉

Seriously though, we all know when our excuses won’t really hold water. Most of us see it coming and bury our heads in the sand to keep from having to deal with it. But real change will not occur until we can be honest with ourselves. As we explore the four major reasons for the attitude-behavior gap, keep this in mind: before we can change our behavior, we have to change our minds. For me, this requires the understanding that if I want to live long enough (and have the ability to) see and do everything I want to, I have to sacrifice 20 minutes of my precious sitting-around time to do it.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself resisting good change? If so, why? (no really, why?)

Throwback Post: The Attitude-Behavior Gap

This article was originally posted back in January. I had intended to complete this series right away, but the first part of the year got away from me, and here we are. Hope you enjoy the recap, and be back tomorrow for part two!

Grand-Canyon-and-river-M.-tobin

Photo credit: Mitch Tobin

Whew, this is going to be a big one.

I’ve procrastinated putting up this series for a long time. I’ll be honest, I’m a little concerned about alienating people with this one. I’ll cover some basic observable bits, but when I get into the philosophizing (as you all know I am prone to do), please toss a grain or two of salt on my words. I’d love to not lose any friends over the next few posts! 🙂

What is the attitude-behavior gap?

Sometimes referred to as the value-action gap, the attitude-behavior gap is the difference between what people believe, and how people behave. For example, ask a group of random strangers on the street if they think exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and I suspect every one of them will say yes. Ask that same group of people how many of them actually exercise on a regular basis, and you may find that only four out of ten of them have a workout plan in place. The difference between the two numbers is the attitude-behavior gap.

There are several theories regarding why this gap exists. Starting tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the more popular theories, and then toss out a couple of my own. Here are four of them in a nutshell:

One of the most popular reasons for the gap is ignorance. I’m not trying to be offensive here. I’m referring to ignorance in its most basic form: for example, a person who has never heard of the city of Blue Springs, MO can hardly be expected to know anything about its demographics, its economics, or its politics. That person is ignorant about Blue Springs. Unless this person actually lives in Blue Springs, they can’t really be faulted for this ignorance. BUT, if the person decided they wanted to move to Blue Springs and create a politically-driven organization there, they would need to become educated about the city in order to be effective.

In this way, if a person has ideals (attitudes, values) but no education about those ideals, change (behavior, action) will not occur. So without a doubt, a lack of education can be a big contributor to the gap.

Education is a relatively easy problem to tackle. With social media and digital communication so prevalent in our world, raising awareness is a fairly simple process. But what do people do with the information they receive? Unfortunately, the availability of education often isn’t enough, as we see in another popular theory about the cause of the gap: fear of change. Simply put, people don’t like to change. Familiar brands are comfortable, habits are safe, and there are very few surprises in store from the same action we’ve performed for years. This one goes hand-in-hand with the belief that there are few to no options. This is the all-or-nothing trap that says “if I can’t do this particular thing/buy this specific item/think this exact way, I can’t do/buy/think at all.”

And lastly (for my series) people don’t really believe that their actions can cause positive change. This one almost speaks for itself. People don’t boycott because they don’t believe that their $10 will make a difference (many people don’t donate to good causes for the same reason, incidentally). People don’t believe that their signature on a petition or their vote on a ballot will have any impact, so they just don’t sign or vote.

So with these popular thoughts on the reasons behind the attitude-behavior gap, I present to you my new series. Stay tuned as we address these big concepts and I attempt to maintain my sanity and preserve my friendships!

Throwback Post: The Attitude-Behavior Gap

Grand-Canyon-and-river-M.-tobin

Photo credit: Mitch Tobin

This article was originally posted back in January. I had intended to complete this series right away, but the first part of the year got away from me, and here we are. Hope you enjoy the recap, and be back tomorrow for part two!

Whew, this is going to be a big one.

I’ve procrastinated putting up this series for a long time. I’ll be honest, I’m a little concerned about alienating people with this one. I’ll cover some basic observable bits, but when I get into the philosophizing (as you all know I am prone to do), please toss a grain or two of salt on my words. I’d love to not lose any friends over the next few posts! 🙂

Firstly, what is the attitude-behavior gap?

Sometimes referred to as the value-action gap, the attitude-behavior gap is the space in between how people would like to live and how people actually behave. For example, ask a group of random strangers on the street if they think exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and I suspect every one of them will say yes. Ask that same group of people how many of them actually exercise on a regular basis, and you may find that only four out of ten of them have a workout plan in place. The difference between the two numbers is the attitude-behavior gap.

There are several theories regarding why this gap exists. I’ll talk about some of the more popular theories, and toss out a couple of my own.

One of the most popular reasons for the gap is ignorance. I’m not trying to be offensive here. I’m referring to ignorance in its most basic form: for example, a person who has never heard of the city of Blue Springs, MO can hardly be expected to know anything about its demographics, its economics, or its politics. That person is ignorant about Blue Springs. Unless this person actually lives in Blue Springs, they can’t really be faulted for this ignorance. BUT, if the person decided they wanted to move to Blue Springs and create a politically-driven organization there, they would need to become educated about the city in order to be effective.

In this way, if a person has ideals (attitudes, values) but no education about those ideals, the change (behavior, action) will not occur. So without a doubt, a lack of education can be a big contributor to the gap. If a consumer has no idea whether or not their favorite products are being produced ethically, how can they make informed decisions about their spending?

Education is a relatively easy problem to tackle. With social media and digital communication so prevalent in our world, raising awareness is a fairly simple process. But what do people do with the information they receive? Unfortunately, the availability of education often isn’t enough.

Another popular theory about the cause of the gap is fear of change. Simply put, people don’t like to change. Familiar brands are comfortable, frequented stores are homey, and there are very few surprises in store from a product bought for years. This one goes hand-in-hand with the belief that there are few to no options. This is the trap that says “if I can’t do it this way/buy this item/think this way, I can’t at all.”

And lastly (for my series) people don’t really believe that their actions can cause positive change. This one almost speaks for itself. People don’t boycott because they believe that their $10 won’t make a difference (many people don’t donate to good causes for the same reason, incidentally). People don’t believe that their signature on a petition or their vote on a ballot will have any impact.

So with these popular thoughts on the reason behind the attitude-behavior gap, I present to you my new series. Stay tuned as we address these big concepts and I attempt to maintain my sanity and preserve my friendships!