Conflicting motivations: Understanding why some behaviours are hard to change

One of the key considerations in behaviour change is whether change involves adopting a new, adaptive behaviour or reducing or eliminating a maladaptive one. This can be conceptualised as an interplay between our brain’s executive and operational processes, which in lay terms is the difference between what we want to do (Operational) and what we think we should do (Executive). This conceptualisation is illustrated in the figure below.

We have problems when the two systems are in conflict: Those behaviours we want to do but know we should not, such as smoking or drinking, and those that we do not want to do (at the time) but know we should, such as eating more fruit and vegetables or exercising regularly. These are depicted in the red boxes of the figure. The challenges that arise when attempting to support sustained behaviour change are very different for these two types of behaviours. At MCBC, we adapt our interventions according to these challenges, thus improving the effectiveness of these interventions.

Conflicting motivations