Sustainable behavioural change - avoid the honeymoon effect

Have you ever experienced the "honeymoon effect" during trainings?

I know it very well, especially from younger years.

It describes the phenomenon that a short-term improvement occurs after seminars or workshops. But this quickly subsides again, which brings us back to the starting point.

Time and money have been invested relatively senselessly - what are ways to improve?

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In the webinar "Crisis Mode" the question arose several times what are good ways to internalize new impulses in the long term and thereby change one's own behavior. Especially for people who are working on their resilience or on changing existing patterns (something by de-biasing) this is crucial.

It is therefore important to keep the "honeymoon effect" as low as possible.

What does not work?

Our conscious thinking ("System 2") can be quickly convinced by quick fixes, short self-help short videos or good anecdotes - on a cognitive level we quickly understand which solutions can solve our issues. Unfortunately, simple step-by-step instructions work well to assemble an Ikea shelf (at least most of the time...), but not to change deep-rooted behavior patterns.

What works better then?

Brain research and behavioral research show us that we need patience.

Our patterns are deeply anchored in our brain and are much less flexible than our conscious, analytical thinking. This helps to quickly filter information (which impacts our perception), emotions and lightning-fast reactions are connected - all elements that are shaped early in our lives (forming our individual "script") and that are active unconsciously.

This means that "re-scripting" needs more time and focus (unfortunately).

In conscious thinking it is very easy to imagine a red flower and then a yellow one. In the unconscious part I cannot immediately stop my reactions to external stimuli, which I have learned long before. In short: a  pattern that was created in a process, needs another process to change it.

How does that work?

The better one's own self-perception (e.g. of emotions, their respective context and the usual reaction patterns) and the higher the willingness to get involved with oneself, the easier it is to start. I regularly notice this in de-biasing workshops when participants get access to their unconscious mechanisms and hence get more clarity on them (e.g. the susceptibility to the confirmation bias).

The next step is to make a conscious decision about what one actually wants to do differently (e.g. reduce the confirmation bias because it contributes to narrow thinking).

In addition to focus and motivation, it is highly recommended to take many smaller steps instead of aiming for too big goals. Example: due to increased self-perception, I understand the situations better where I fall into the confirmation bias- if the context applies again (e.g. I like to look for confirming information for my favorite idea and not for contradicting ones), I consciously include a short pause for reflection and consider alternatives in this concrete situation before I continue.

Central here are repetitions and regular feedback (my own or even better from others) in order to anchor new patterns step by step and to develop new routines.

The advantage? 

The learning happens more slowly, but the results tend to stick permanently - successful re-scripting remains as a new "standard". It is similar to physical training, which works regularly, not too intensively and with pinpoint accuracy, thus achieving the desired results. The path therefore leads from more conscious perception to more self-control.

I actively apply this approach - myself, but also in workshops and webinars (e.g. in the various de-biasing formats). This helps to implement real improvements and to avoid the "honeymoon effect".

The journey sometimes takes longer than we want - but there is also more to discover on the way!