Fostering Self-Efficacy for Health Behavior Change

Kayla Reynolds, MS

It’s widely accepted that knowledge alone does not produce behavior change. As a result, programs that educate individuals on what a healthy diet looks like or how much physical activity they should be getting are ineffective at improving participants diets, increasing activity levels, or changing health outcomes.

Successful behavior change programs must equip individuals with knowledge and help them develop the skills and confidence they need to make a change. Programs that are most effective in bridging the knowledge-behavior gap foster self-efficacy to achieve and sustain long-term behavior change.

A comprehensive approach to fostering self-efficacy includes:

  1. Small steps: Small, gradual changes that are perceived to be within one’s current capabilities offer an opportunity to begin to shape desired behaviors. Achieving goals and reaching small milestones promotes self-efficacy and a sense of control over one’s outcomes.
  2. Self-monitoring: In order to bring awareness to current behaviors and identify opportunity for change, individuals need to monitor their habits, by logging their food intake and physical activity for example. Self-monitoring also enables people to see the progress overtime, helping them objectively see that they can change and reinforcing their ability to continue.
  3. Feedback: In order for individuals to feel capable of changing, knowing specifically where they need to work and how they can change is valuable. Feedback helps individuals identify current gaps and giving individuals tangible ways they can close these gaps, helping foster their confidence to do so.
  4. Experience: The best way to gain confidence in making change is experience. Vicarious experience can help individuals learn how they can make changes, while personal experience can help individuals realize that they can adopt a new behavior.

In a population where 7 in 10 people are at risk of or have a chronic condition, we are responsible for fostering self-efficacy in individuals to effectively prevent and manage these conditions.