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Unlocking Behavior Change: A Deep Dive into the Control Theory

Welcome back to our Behavior Change Series! Today, I will unravel the intricate layers of the Control Theory, a compelling framework that places self-regulation and feedback loops at the forefront of behavior change.

Understanding the Control Theory

Proposed by psychologists Carver and Scheier, the Control Theory offers valuable insights into the dynamic process of self-regulation and goal-oriented behavior. At its core, this theory explains that individuals actively steer their actions by setting goals, monitoring progress, and adjusting their strategies based on feedback from the environment.

The Power of Goal Setting

Whether they're short-term or long-term, goals provide a clear direction and purpose. When we establish specific, measurable, and achievable objectives, we create a roadmap for our behavioral change journey. These goals serve as the compass guiding us through the complexities of self-regulation.

A good Acronym to remember this approach is SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In a recent Mayo Clinic article, Joanne Genewick, DO, offered a SMART goal example related to eating healthier. "I will eat five servings of vegetables every day of this week.” This example illustrates a clear and focused objective, measurable through the daily servings, achievable for most individuals, relevant to dietary improvement, and time-bound within the week.

Monitoring Progress: A Key Element

Effective self-regulation involves constant monitoring of our progress. Regularly evaluating our actions concerning our goals helps us stay on track. This self-awareness allows us to identify what's working well and where adjustments are needed. Monitoring progress is not about self-criticism but rather a constructive tool for refining our approach.

Adjusting Strategies Based on Feedback

The dynamic nature of the Control Theory emphasizes the importance of adapting strategies in response to feedback. Life is full of unexpected twists, and the ability to flexibly adjust our approaches is key to overcoming challenges. Whether it's tweaking our workout routine, revising our study habits, or modifying our dietary choices, the process of behavior change is not linear, and the Control Theory accommodates this inherent variability.

Applying Control Theory to Real-life Scenarios

By setting specific goals, such as the example mentioned above of incorporating five servings of vegetables each day of the week, we initiate the self-regulation process. As we monitor our progress, we may discover areas where we excel and others that require attention. The feedback we receive, whether it's improved energy levels or a need for schedule adjustments, prompts us to adapt our strategies accordingly.

Navigating Change with Control

The Control Theory equips us with a powerful framework for mastering change. By setting meaningful goals, actively monitoring our progress, and flexibly adjusting our strategies based on feedback, we gain control over our behavioral choices. This approach empowers us to navigate the complexities of change with resilience and adaptability, ultimately helping us to attain sustainable and positive transformations.


Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1982). Control theory: A useful conceptual framework for personality–social, clinical, and health psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 92(1), 111–135.

Genewick, Joanne, “Setting SMART Goals for Success.” December 20, 2002. Accessed January 10, 2024.




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