Article: PURSUE HEALTHY: The Self Determination Theory and Bad Habits


What would you constitute as a bad habit? Can you self-reflect on your lifestyle choices and pinpoint a few that you could do away with? Or at least identify a few as warranting improvement? They could be as simple as staying up too late and drinking caffeinated drinks to compensate or as complex as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Most individuals would weigh inadequate sleep as less of a bad habit as smoking however impacting both habits can be done in the same way. (I have yet to find a single benefit to smoking a single cigarette; let alone a pack a day.) This is not a knock on those who find themselves in the grasps of smoking, there is hope, I know, I used to smoke.

Of the many models and theories of change, the self-determination theory (refereed to here as the SDT) is what I believe to be an easier model to implement to affect a habit. Developed by Deci and Ryan in the 1980’s, the model has been used to promote exercise Given that almost every smoker can attribute the habit to be directly detrimental to their health, the SDT emphasizes human control of their own lives.


The SDT assumes that people are naturally inclined towards growth and development; hence most cigarette smokers admitting they wish they’d never started. Now the question becomes, how do I implement the SDT to affect a negative habit? Deci and Ryan state: “Self-determination describes the motivation for intentional behavior that comes from a person. Motivation stems from efforts to meet the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness” Autonomy being the causal agent to one’s behaviors and actions, competence being the experience of overcoming a challenge (smoking cessation) and relatedness being the direct connection and experience of caring for others.


Broken down:

I want to be in control of my own life and quit smoking and if I do, it was by my own will-power.

I want to conquer something that had a massive hold on my life and feel accomplished.

I want to relate to others who do not smoke or who have quit, and will appreciate my improved health-outlook.

As a fitness professional, I would use several motivational principles from the SDT to encourage and motivate a client to exercise, setting a plan to aid in smoking cessation, making sure the client has input in their training program (autonomy) and connecting them  to other clients and like-minded individuals for support (relatedness).

So for those at home, whether you sleep too little or smoke too much, there are many resources and courses of action that can be taken to influence and spark change. When I chose to quit smoking, I did it first for me, to be in control, to run my own life, to increase my level of physical fitness and to be a part of a group of people who had beat it. In my case, that group was my family. Whatever your motivation may be, only you can make the initial step forward. I hear quite a bit of Texan’s say, “I can only lead the horse to water; I can’t force it to drink”.