Researchers identify 123 techniques for self-managing motivation and behaviour

Researchers at the University of Helsinki have compiled a list of strategies which can help in maintaining motivation and changing behaviour.

The article published in the Nature Human Behaviour journal introduces a compendium of techniques that people can use to manage their own behaviour and motivation. The list contains a total of 123 techniques collected from six previously compiled lists on behaviour change techniques, and from literature reviews in the fields of sport psychology, occupational psychology and educational psychology.

“These existing lists had a great deal of overlap, so we merged techniques whenever appropriate. We also identified a handful of new techniques in the literature that could be used in self-enacted behaviour change interventions,” says Docent Keegan Knittle.

The list includes both cognitive and emotional strategies, as well as strategies for managing one's environment and social relationships. It provides people with the opportunity to choose the techniques they believe will work the best in managing their personal motivation and changing their behaviour in relation to any aspect of life. The techniques can also be offered by healthcare professionals and those in other sectors to be used by their clients and patients.

The listing includes familiar and demonstrably effective means, for example, for self-monitoring of behaviour, planning and setting behavioural goals. The compendium also includes less well-known strategies, such as serving as a role model, self-kindness, critically assessing personal beliefs and finding meaning.

The study put together techniques which people can personally utilise to modify their habits or maintain their motivation throughout the entire process. This is contrary to the previous tradition in the field, where the focus was on what psychologists, physicians, nurses and other professionals do in helping patients or clients to change their motivation or behaviour.

“People are increasingly interested in what they can personally do to reach their goals. This list makes the techniques available to everyone in, we believe, a user-friendly form,” Knittle says.

The techniques listed in the compendium also include clear instructions on how to use them in one’s personal life.

Environment strongly guide behaviour

According to the researchers, people can identify in their everyday life techniques related to self-reward or punishment; after attaining a goal, you can give yourself a nice reward. Such carrot-and-stick means can be replaced or supplemented by a range of alternatives. Changing your surroundings is one way of self-managing motivation and behaviour.

“Factors of the social environment can strongly affect human behaviour. For instance, poor management practices can undermine motivation, but people need not be helpless victims. Instead, they can personally strive to fight negative effects originating in their surroundings even in difficult situations,” says Assistant Professor Nelli Hankonen.

Going forward, the research group considers it possible to develop an online resource which would guide users through the motivation and behaviour change process using the techniques in the compendium.

“We intend to keep investigating to what extent people can be taught to understand the dynamics of motivation and to use the toolbox for self-management,” Hankonen says.

The project was funded by the Academy of Finland.

Further information:

Nelli Hankonen, assistant professor, research project lead, phone +358 2941 24895 .

The article is available in the Nature Human Behaviour journal, and the compendium is available in the OSF platform.