Rubicon model of the action phases

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The Rubicon model of the action phases is a motivational - psychological model by Heinz Heckhausen and Peter M. Gollwitzer , with which individual action steps are divided into four formal phases:

  1. that of weighing up possible courses of action, including the choice of one of them and the decisive commitment to it;
  2. that of planning the implementation of the decision made "in the act";
  3. the actual implementation of the decision in concrete action ;
  4. that of the final evaluation of this action, whereby a judgmental assessment of this action, in particular the respective success of the action and, if necessary, further action consequences, for action control usually already takes place with every conscious action itself, in particular with each more complex action divided into interdependent planning steps.

The four phases

Weighing phase (pre-decisional phase)

In the weighing-up phase - the motivation or pre-decisional phase , which is used to form an intention or to determine a goal, an intention or the setting of a purpose - a person first selects from the more or less large number of their wishes those that they are currently considering and perhaps also wants to pursue, i.e. at the time and in the situation in which she makes her considerations.

Since man can have many wishes, but his time and other resources are always limited, it is usually necessary to limit oneself to a limited number of possibly related wishes that are shortlisted, in order to ultimately focus on pursuing and realizing them to specify one of these wishes and thus to a self-determined goal intention . In this phase, the psychological processes can be specified in more detail using expectation-for-value models . The considerations to be made in each case can be extraordinarily complex and differentiated, the more far-reaching and prudent questions of self-motivation (How do I get excited about something? How can I avoid distractions? Etc.) or the conceivable and possibly foreseeable consequences of decisions for yourself and, if necessary, others may also be considered. This is all the more true if the means already available or to be created for the possible implementation of individual goals are considered, the known or yet to be explored ways of realizing individual options for action are checked and perhaps other circumstances that may be of importance are taken into account or could be.

If, after more or less thorough considerations, a conclusion is finally drawn and a decision is made in one way or another "spontaneously" by actually setting a certain goal, this is called in the "Rubicon model of the phases of action" according to Heckhausen step across the Rubicon .

Planning phase (pre-action phase)

Then the person enters the planning or pre-action phase . It is no longer about what she wants to achieve, but rather how she wants to achieve what she intends, that is, the focus is shifted from motivation to volition . So it is about questions of implementation or realization of the goal intention , the goal initiation . In the planning phase, the person prepares to act. It can do this, for example, by specifying under which circumstances and how precisely it will act, that is, by forming an implementation intention. Usually several goal intentions compete with each other. It comprises the one by which the most dominant Fiat tendency has (lat. Fiat to dt. "It would" v, i here. P. Directly next to be what is currently the highest potential for development of comprehensive utility / Goodness has'), which is a variable quantity, into which situational, personal and other factors flow.

Action phase (action phase)

When the person has begun to act ( initiation of action or intention realization ), he enters the action phase or the action phase . The point now is to persistently focus your own actions on the goal and not allow yourself to be distracted. In the event of difficulties, action must be flexibly adapted to the circumstances and the course of action. For example, in certain cases people tend to increase the effort if they fail (but only those who are confident of success do this). The degree of volition is decisive with regard to the probability and speed of realization .

Evaluation phase (post-action phase)

With the achievement or failure of the goal, the person enters the evaluation phase or the post-action phase . There is an intention deactivation. An assessment is now made of whether the action was a success or not and whether improvements may be required or the actual goal needs to be changed ( target / actual comparison ), and what this success or failure is due to ( causal attribution ). Here, the focus is again on motivational (versus volitional) aspects.

According to the authors, the phases of weighing and evaluating relate to the choice of target, the phases of planning and action to the realization of goals. The authors therefore call the former "motivational" phases, the latter "volitional" phases. The concept of volition concerns here only the realization of existing intentions, not the formation of them.

The sequence of the phases of action is an ideal-typical idea that is rather rare in reality. There are many actions that take place without deliberation and planning, especially all habitual actions. The action phase model differentiates between various “intellectual activities” that are necessary for successful action. However, these activities can also occur at the same time or overlap if several goals are pursued at the same time. It is also possible to fall back from a “later” to an “earlier” phase. The Rubicon model is therefore only of limited use for describing real actions.

States of consciousness

The phase of deliberation differs from that of planning in the state of mind ; H. the cognitive structures activated depending on the current task. In many empirical studies, researchers around Heckhausen have shown that in the weighing-up phase a targeted search for information (e.g. about the desirability and attainability of goals) takes place, which of course requires a certain openness to new things. In the planning phase, on the other hand, attention is focused on information relevant to implementation. The planning phase is characterized by a cognitive narrowing (and thus a certain closeness to new information), which prevents the re-consideration of the goal intention. So one does not think further about whether one should pursue a goal (motivational), but rather plans how one should pursue it in order to realize it (volitional). These cognitive changes are supposed to have the function of shielding the goal intention from competing action tendencies.

Origin of the name Rubicon

The name of the model is derived from a historical fact in 49 BC. From. The Rubicon river formed the natural border between Italy and the Roman province of Gallia Cisalpina . Just as there was no turning back for Gaius Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon and the result was inevitably a civil war between Caesar and Pompey , with the Rubicon model the decision for one of the possible courses of action is made for the actor with the "step over the Rubicon" , going back is now (theoretically) no longer possible.


  • Anja Achtziger, Peter M. Gollwitzer: Motivation and Volition in the Course of Action . In: Jutta Heckhausen, Heinz Heckhausen (ed.): Motivation and action . Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-642-12692-5 , pp. 277-302 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-642-12693-2_12 .
  • Heinz Heckhausen, Peter M. Gollwitzer, Franz E. Weinert (eds.): Beyond the Rubicon . Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg 1987, ISBN 978-3-540-17373-1 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-642-71763-5 .
  • Heinz Heckhausen, Peter M. Gollwitzer: Thought Contents and Cognitive Functioning in Motivational versus Volitional States of Mind . In: Motivation and Emotion . tape 11 , no. 2 , 1987, pp. 101-120 , doi : 10.1007 / BF00992338 (English).
  • Peter M. Gollwitzer: Action phases and mind-sets . In: Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior . tape 2 . New York 1990, p. 53-92 .
  • Jochen Müsseler (Ed.): General Psychology . 2008, p. 250-254 .