Chapter 15 - Supporting people to change their health behaviour

Drawing together all key theories of behaviour change, behavioural scientists have identified three interacting elements that need to be present for people to change their health behaviours: Motivation, Capability and Opportunity 1.

  • MOTIVATION – the desire to change
  • CAPABILITY – the capacity to change (whether physically, mentally, socially, or otherwise)
  • OPPORTUNITY – having a realistic opportunity for change

Behaviour change 

Much of the work we do with people in clinical settings targets motivation and capability and this chapter provides some evidence-based advice for doing this; but it is important to also recognise the influence that other factors can have on the likelihood that someone will change their behaviour. This may be particularly important in understanding why our efforts to help do not always work and why people appear motivated yet still do not change. For example, it has been established that it is more challenging for people living with social disadvantage to change their health behaviours. This may be both as they focus their resources (both physical and psychological) on other more immediately pressing priorities, as they have less social support for change if living in communities where those around them also have poorer health behaviours. Our approach to working with people to support the uptake of physical activity will be more effective if we can demonstrate empathy to the barriers to change, and take a person-centred approach to providing support and advice.

This Chapter provides insight to how we can support people to strengthen their motivation and capability to become more physically active.


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