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Understanding Human Behaviour

Understanding Human Behaviour

We would benefit if we had a good way to understand human behaviour, which includes our own and that of other people.

We want to understand, why do people do what they do?

The purpose of this blog is to answer that question.

The first law: Every Human behaviour is a product of human thought.

All human behaviour is a product of human thought. Everything you say, do and feel is governed by nerve impulses in your brain, i.e. your thoughts.

If ever a human brain is unconscious, then action stops.

If ever a human brain is completely stopped from functioning, then all action ceases and the body dies.

So, irrespective of what many "experts" claim, it is self-evident that the "external environment" is NOT the cause of human behaviour. Human behaviour is the product of an internal process of thought.

So, whenever someone asks, "Why did they do that?", the answer is always essentially the same: "Because they decided to!"

Second law. People act according to what they THINK will increase pleasurable consequences & or reduce painful ones.

People act for one of two basic motives; they act either because they THINK that, by acting in a certain way, they will gain a pleasurable benefit, as a consequence, and/or they will AVOID a painful one.

That's it!

The whole of human behaviour explained in a single sentence!

Let us look at each motive in turn.

1. People act because they THINK that, by acting in a certain way, they will gain a PLEASURABLE benefit as a consequence.

This is self-evidently true, and everywhere we can see countless instances of this principle.

People act because they think by doing it, they will gain, in some way, a pleasurable consequence.

Why do people lift heavy weights in a gym? Because they think that lifting heavy weights will bring them benefits.

Why do people give money to charity? Because they think it is a moral act and acting morally brings the actor spiritual benefits.

Why do people go to work? Because they expect to get paid.

You do what you do, mostly because you THINK that by acting, you will gain something nice.

2. People act because they THINK that, by acting in a certain way, they will AVOID a painful consequence.

Pain avoidance is the second great motive that guides human action: We do many things because we fear the painful consequences that will befall us if we don't.

Again, this is self-evident; and we see thousands of examples of it. People don't usually step out into oncoming traffic, because they fear the painful consequences.

People usually pay their taxes, not because paying taxes is pleasurable, but because they don't want to suffer the painful consequences of NOT paying.

If you want to know why somebody did or said something, then generally it will be because they think that by acting, they will gain something good, or avoid something bad. (Or both).

Please study this chart.

General Development : Understanding Human Behaviour

The above statement is true for everyone, so in that sense, we are all the same.

What distinguishes people from one another is WHAT specifically we each associate pleasure to, and what specifically we associate Pain to.

Third law. There is an inverse relationship between Long term and short term consequences.

The next principle to consider is the difference between thinking long range vs short range.

This principle is important because many actions which produce "short range pleasurable consequences" also produce "long range painful" ones.

For example, drinking alcohol produces pleasure short range, but often leads to painful consequences, long range.

And other actions create short term pain but produce long term gain, ( for example running is uncomfortable and even painful, short range, but it produces wonderful long range benefits).

Many people make the mistake of thinking "short range"; they don't give much consideration to the LONG RANGE consequences of their current actions.

Please study this grid:

General Development : Understanding Human Behaviour

It is a common error to think only about the short range pleasure / pain balance of ones current actions. Whenever someone thinks short range they are liable to make errors in judgement, because they evade thinking about the long range consequences of their behaviour.

This single error explains why intelligent people do so many destructive things:
Short range, the behaviours were constructive, but become destructive longer range, which the person did not think about.

Key principle: "Short term pleasure -> Long term pain", is a concept which explains many destructive behaviours.

  • Why do some people commit burglary? Answer: They expect to gain short term pleasurable consequences, (but long term painful ones, which burglars don't think about)
  • Why do some married people commit adultery? Answer: They gain Short term pleasures, (but long term painful ones, which they don't like to think about).
  • Why do some people take dangerous drugs? Because drugs provide a Short term pleasure or benefit, which often leads to long term pain. (Example, Lance Armstrong).

Forth law. "Wisdom" is long range thinking.

Wise action is based upon thinking about the Long range consequences.

Whenever we decide to act, we should ask ourselves, "What will be the LONG TERM pleasurable or painful consequence of taking this action?"

We should not be seduced by short term pleasures, nor be put off by short term discomfort or pain.

We should think instead about the long range consequences.

If they are detrimental then we wont do it.

If the long range consequences of a proposed action you think are beneficial to yourself and others, then go ahead, even if it is difficult, uncomfortable or painful, in the short term.

Wisdom comes when we think about the long range consequences of our current actions.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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