'Self As Doer' Tactic Can Aid in Behavior Change

If eating healthy is one of your New Year’s resolutions, a new study suggests that the key to success is to truly identify yourself as already being a “doer.” In other words, rather than “I am going to eat healthier this year,” say “I am a healthy eater.”

The researchers believe that identifying yourself as already being the person you plan to be (such as “healthy eater” or “fit person”) is the psychological key to bringing about lasting changes in behavior. They call this the “self as doer” approach.

“The more one identifies with a particular role, the more likely one is to participate in role-related behaviors,” write researchers Drs. Amanda M. Brouwer and Katie E. Mosack in the journal Self & Identity.

“It stands to reason that the very process of conceptualizing the self as a ‘healthy eater’ brings about greater identification with this role.”

For the study, Brouwer and Mosack explored the concept of self as doer and set out to determine whether this new approach could help influence people’s eating habits.

A total of 124 female participants were given information regarding food portion sizes and asked to create a food diary for the six-week period of the study. They were then split into three groups: the first was provided with standard educational material about nutrition, the second was treated as a control, and the third was asked to create six identity statements.

These statements took the form of “identities” based on the participants’ own healthy eating goals. If participants wanted to eat more fruit, for example, they were encouraged to think of themselves as “fruit eaters.” If they wanted to make better drink choices, then they thought of themselves as “less soda drinkers,” and so on.

The findings revealed that the identity approach has significant potential. Participants in the self as doer group continued their healthy-eating habits over the course of the study, whereas women in the other two groups regressed to eating less healthy food as the weeks went on.

Women in the self as doer group also ate one portion more a day of healthy food than those in the other two groups.

Furthermore, participants in the self as doer group gave Brouwer and Mosack a lot of positive feedback about the approach: “They reported how the exercise of thinking of themselves as ‘doers’ motivated them to make different health behavior choices … [even] in situations where the imagined healthy choice was not preferred,” said the researchers.

This research offers a novel and effective way to help people stick to their plans for healthy eating. It also shows that simply educating people about nutrition is not enough to help them reach their goals.

Source: Taylor & Francis


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