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  • Writer's pictureRonald van Aggelen

Use confabulation to motivate in 3 steps

Let me first start by explaining what confabulation means for those who are not yet familiar with it. Confabulation is a retrospectively invented or fantasized story that substantiates a choice or behavior. The power of confabulation lies in the fact that the narrator of the story is convinced that his story is true. A wonderful tool to use if you want to motivate people. In this blog I explain how you can apply this.


In the Mindhacking Masterclass, in which we present the influencing techniques from my book, we demonstrate how confabulation works using an experiment: We show four photos in one overview. Completely different pictures: a wild animal, a group of people, a robust metal construction and a neatly rolled rope. As soon as the pictures are shown, we ask participants to choose one of the photos; the photo that immediately appeals to them the most. We then divide the group into four. Each photo gets its own group.

Subsequently, in a plenary discussion, we ask individuals to explain why they chose that one photo. And then it happens: Fantastic stories arise that substantiate the choice for the picture. Always fun, because we know that they are making it up on the spot. 😊

Finally, we ask if anyone wants to switch groups, because a different picture appeals to them more. There is always one that changes groups. Of course, this person will also be asked: why this photo and not the other one? The rest stick to their position and are even more convinced of their choice.


From previous brain research we know that the process of choosing is already active in our brain before we are aware of the choice. So the choice has already been made long before we rationalize the 'why' behind it. Only then do we start using our reasoning in a fantastic process of associative thinking and reminiscing.


We make it a logical story (for ourselves). Afterwards and unconsciously. It makes us strong and we feel credible. It is our 'own' truth. A big difference with lying, because when we lie we are well aware of the fact that we are coming up with an answer and we generally don't feel very good about that (with some exceptions, of course).


We can use confabulation, because people who openly justify themselves become even more convinced of their choice. This way you can ask people about their views to strengthen their own beliefs. This is in line with the principle of ownership: Let people make their own choices, then they are connected to what follows: their choice, their responsibility.

We can use confabulation, because people who openly justify themselves become even more convinced of their choice.


So there are three steps to involve and connect people, as also applied in the experiment:

1. Let people make their own choices (ownership)

2. Ask for an explanation for the choice (confabulation)

3. Confront them with the freedom to make a different choice (social commitment)

If you know how to apply this properly, confabulation becomes part of your process to motivate people to contribute to development. For those who have one or more teenagers at home: try it out on them first and let me know if it works. If it doesn’t work? I'm coming over to help you. That’s a promise.

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