Objective: The goal of this article is to review and highlight the relevance of social psychological research on self-regulation for health-related theory and practice.
Methods: We first review research on goal setting, or determining which goals to pursue and the criteria to determine whether one has succeeded. We discuss when and why people adopt goals, what properties of goals increase the likelihood of their attainment, and why people abandon goals. We then review research on goal striving, which includes the planning and execution of actions that lead to goal attainment, and the processes that people use to shield their goals from being disrupted by other competing goals, temptations, or distractions. We describe four types of strategies that people use when pursuing goals.
Results: We find that self-regulation entails the operation of a number of psychological mechanisms, and that there is no single solution that will help all people in all situations. We recommend a number of strategies that can help people to more effectively set and attain health-related goals.
Conclusions: We conclude that enhancing health behavior requires a nuanced understanding and sensitivity to the varied, dynamic psychological processes involved in self-regulation, and that health is a prototypical and central domain in which to examine the relevance of these theoretical models for real behavior. We discuss the implications of this research for theory and practice in health-related domains.
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