Three Ways to “Bridge” the Intention-Behavior Gap

By Chetan Mistry& Ryan Rhodes
Behavioural Medicine Lab, University of Victoria, BC

Nearly 80% of inactive adults want to be active, yet 50% fail to be active. This phenomenon is known infamously as the “intention-behavior gap”. The ‘gap’ seems to come full force each year when so-called ‘January Joiners’ rush to the gym to fulfill new years resolutions. Well, January has come, and January has gone. The turning point has now arrived: February. So what can you do to avoid being a ‘January Joiner’ who falls off of the fitness train and into the “intention-behavior gap”?

Growing research evidence suggests three potential strategies to help you to stick to your resolutions:

Photo from here, labeled for commercial reuse.

Photo from here, labeled for commercial reuse.

1. Find something you enjoy.

Most people get into exercise for the benefits; weight loss and physical appearance. However, these benefits are not related to the actual behavior or act of exercising, but instead to the long-term outcomes that could result. People may want the outcomes of exercise, but not necessarily the behavior that goes with it. The people who stick with exercise are those who actually enjoy doing exercise or activity. For example, some people who play sports enjoy the sport itself, so they continue to run, jump, or kick for the love of the game/sport. To add to it, some of these people play because others play, too. Whether it be friends, partners or children, exercisers who continue to exercise do so because they enjoy the activity and spending time with the people they exercise with.

To stick to your resolutions in 2014, ensure that the exercise you are choosing is something you enjoy. If finding something new is not feasible, try adding something you enjoy to your current exercise to make it more bearable. Listening to music, watching a movie or TV show, or reading could help to make your next exercise session a more positive experience.

2. Organize and know thyself.

Evidence shows that if you plan your exercise you are more likely to do it. The detail at which you plan could be important, too. A typical plan for physical activity involves the four W’s: what, when, where and (with) whom. The degree to which you provide detail may be indicative of whether or not you stick to your plans. For example, a plan to “run, tomorrow, outside” is a very vague exercise plan. What time will you run? How far will you run? What will the weather be tomorrow? Do you have all the equipment (shoes, iPod, shorts) you need? Detailed planning may be much more beneficial than vague planning.

Monitoring your successes and failures is important, too. How active were you today? Did you follow through on your exercise or walking plans for the day? If the answer is no, what adjustments can you make tomorrow to make it work? There are many things you can use to monitor your activity, including a calendar, an app or even a pedometer. Regardless of the method you choose, it is important to record what you have done. By simply knowing what you have done, you will have a better chance of controlling what you will do. Know thyself.

3. Make it a habit.

People who exercise regularly say they made exercising a ‘habit’. Well, growing evidence suggests they are partly right. According to contemporary definition, habits for exercising may boil down to two things. First, exercise that is more habitual is likely to occur in response to cues. People who stick with their exercise tend to do the same activity, at the same time, in the same environment. The consistency in the act of getting to and starting their exercise is more or less automatic. The second component of habit is frequency. People who do the same exercise, at the same time, in the same environment AND do it often are more likely to report their exercise as being habitual. In sum, the more frequently you engage in exercise in similar situations, the more likely it is to become a habit, and the greater the chance that you will stick with it without having to muster the motivation each time.

Finding exercise you enjoy, planning and monitoring your exercise and making it a habit may be three of the key ingredients to ‘bridging the gap and maintaining regular physical activity into the new year!


1. Rhodes, R. E., and Dickau. L. (2013). Moderators of the intention-behaviour relationship in the physical activity domain: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 47(4), 215-225.
2. Rhodes, R. E. (2013). Bridging the physical activity intention–behaviour gap: contemporary strategies for the clinician. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 39(1),105-107.
3. Rhodes, R. E., Fiala, B., & Conner, M. (2009). A review and meta-analysis of affective judgments and physical activity in adult populations. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 38(3), 180-204.
4. Rhodes, R. E., & de Bruijn, G. J. (2013). What Predicts Intention-Behavior Discordance? A Review of the Action Control Framework. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 41(4), 201-207.

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