The Theory of Reasoned Action
Rita Mae Brown’s fictional character, Jane Fulton, once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Changing our behaviour can be difficult, but it’s the strongest predictor of getting a different result. I know I have the habit of buying a drink from Costa or Nero whenever I go on a walk and talk with my friends. This is counterproductive because I am supposed to be trying to lose weight and save money…..
I don’t think paying over a fiver and sipping on a 600 calorie drink is going to help me reach either of those goals.
So, to reach my goals I’m gonna have to change something… My behaviour!
Which as we all know is easier said than done. I mean, how many times have you tried to build a new habit like trying to run every morning or, to stop buying coffee at the train station on your way to work?
As a psychologist, I have a trick that just might help.
What is it?
There is a tried and tested theory in psychology known as The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA). This suggests that a person’s behaviour is determined by their beliefs, attitudes and intentions towards that particular behaviour. In other words, they need a strong enough reason to change their behaviour or adopt a new behaviour.
TRA suggests that if we want to change a behaviour we need to believe that the new behaviour will help us reach our goals. Therefore, if you believe that performing a particular behaviour will lead you closer to your goals, then you are more likely to perform that action ( e.g. if I save money each month I will have enough for a deposit for a new home).
So, how can we use this theory to change or adopt new behaviours which will help us reach our goals?
Daily we hear about the benefits of money-saving and how volatile the financial world may be (although, the economy does follow a predictable pattern of expansion, peak, contraction and trough). Many of us still do not take stock of our finances and save.
So, let’s use money savings as an example and see how the TRA can help us to make the necessary adjustments to help us reach our savings goals.
How does it work?
There are four steps to using this theory.
First, we need to be sure that the behaviour you want to perform is voluntary and a personal choice ( you can’t be coerced, forced or bullied into it)
Then, we need to dig deeper into the remaining 3 parts, belief, attitude and intention.
Part one is the belief that the action will lead to an intended outcome.
For example, saving money each month will help me to become richer; running 3 times a week will help me lose weight; going to university will help me to get the career I dream of.
Part two assess your attitude towards the behaviour.
Here you make an evaluation of the behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour. You’ll begin to question whether the outcome of performing the behaviour is good or bad. For example, do I think going to uni is a good idea? Do I think I will lose weight by running 3 times a week? Do I think that saving money each month will help me to become richer?
Part three assess your Intention to perform the behaviour.
Here we look at your attitude toward the behaviour and whether you think significant people around you want you to perform the behaviour ( e.g partner, friends family members, doctors). Also, whether people around you are performing that behaviour ( e.g. has your partner or friends been to uni).
Let’s see it in action
Now, let’s use this theory to help us change our behaviour towards saving money.
We first need to look at our beliefs towards saving money.
- Do we think that saving money will help us reach our financial goals?
Then we need to look at our attitude to saving money
What beliefs do we hold about saving money?
- I believe saving money will help me reach my financial goal
- I believe saving money will stop me from having fun in the present
- I believe saving money will allow me to go on an expensive holiday
- I believe saving money will stop me from wasting money on things I do not need.
Lastly, we need to evaluate our readiness to save money.
- I think that if I save money I will be able to reach my goals
- My parents think I should save to buy my first home
- My friends are in the same financial position and they save so, I believe I can save too
If your beliefs and attitudes are positive then you will be more likely to make the necessary changes to your behaviour and start to save, however, if you are in a position where your beliefs and attitudes are negative you will be less likely to perform the behaviour and you will need to work on ways to increase the positive views on the action. That is, there is not a good enough reason to perform these behaviours.
If you want to perform the action or change a behaviour then you will need to find ways to increase positivity around that behaviour. You can do that in a variety of ways.
How can I increase positivity towards the behaviour?
To increase a positive attitude towards saving you could:
- Brainstorm ways to change your beliefs or attitude by changing who you interact with. For example, you could join money saving groups on Facebook where you can strengthen your network of money-saving peers. By surrounding ourselves with people who want to achieve the same outcome as us we use peer pressure to motivate us to perform those behaviours and find a strong enough reason to change.
- You could set up an instant access savings auto savings account so you can test any negative beliefs you hold about saving money and how you will survive living on a lower income.
How can the theory help me?
The Theory of Reasoned Action can help us evaluate our beliefs and attitudes towards certain behaviours and put us on the road to making the necessary changes. It is not just applicable in the context of money-saving. You could also think of ways to evaluate your beliefs towards exercise and career success too.
Feel free to brainstorm some ways you could use this theory in your life to help you change or adopt some new behaviours.
You can add them in the comment section below
In the next blog, I will move onto the next step…
The Theory of Planned Behaviour