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Why People Act the Way They Do

Why people act the way they do

Why people act the way they do

Some people seem to act in strange ways.
They do things that seem to make no sense.
They like things that you don't like. They say things you would not say.
They believe in things that you do not think are true.
They do things that you would never do.

What is it that drives people to do what they do?

Some psychologists put forward the idea that people act according to two main factors: Pleasure and pain.

  1. They act in order to gain pleasure and
  2. They act in order to avoid pain

According to this theory, everything you do, you do to achieve two goals.
You do what you do, because you think that by acting in that way, you will gain more pleasure, and/or
You do what you do because you think that by acting in that way, you will avoid some pain.

The pursuit of pleasure

Advertisers know that in order to sell a product, they need to link it to pleasure. So they create pleasure products; such as chocolate, wine, and music.
We don't need chocolate, wine or music. We have it only because it is pleasurable.

The avoidance of pain

But you will also buy things you don't even want.
For instance you will buy a TV licence. You will buy a car tax disc.

Why will you buy things you don't want?

You buy them to avoid the painful consequences of not buying them.

So there is some plausibility to the idea that people act according to two main factors:

  • They act in order to gain pleasure and
  • They act in order to avoid pain.

Have a look at the grid below.

Personal Effectiveness : Why people act the way they do

Now let us take a closer look at long term or short term consequences.

The next grid diagram introduces the concept of short term verses long term consequences.

Personal Effectiveness : Why people act the way they do

Here is an interesting thing:

  1. Many actions, that result in short term pleasures, later create pain, in the long term.
  2. Many actions, that result in short term pain, later create pleasure, in the long term.

Please note the following fact: When an activity is practiced over a long period of time, there is often an inversion of pain and pleasure.

Why do people smoke cigarettes?

Because cigarettes are pleasurable.
But only in the short term.
Long term, cigarettes create painful consequences.

Why do some people eat too much?

Because eating is pleasurable.
But only in the short term.
Long term, eating too much creates painful consequences.

Why don't most people exercise three times a week?

Because exercise is a pain.
But only in the short term.
Long term, exercise creates pleasurable consequences.

Why don't people study to improve their maths and English?

Because studying is a pain.
But only in the short term.
Long term, studying maths and English would create pleasurable consequences.

Therefore, wisdom is gained by thinking about the long range consequences of your current action.

The massive error is thinking only about the short range consequences of your current actions and forgetting about the long range consequences of your current actions.

Most people are short range thinkers. They disregard the long range consequences, of their current actions. Instead they concentrate on the short term pleasures, or the short term avoidance of painful situations.

The concentration on the short term pleasures and the neglect of the long term consequences will explain much weird behaviour such as:

  1. Drug taking: short term pleasure but long term pain.
  2. Laziness: short term pleasure but long term pain.
  3. Shouting at people: short term pleasure but long term pain.
  4. Drinking and eating too much. Short term pleasure but long term pain.
  5. Not doing your homework: short term pleasure but long term pain.
  6. Adultery: short term pleasure but long term pain.

Think long term. Don't think short term.
Learn to ask these two questions of yourself and others:

1. "What are the LONG TERM, PAINFUL CONSEQUENCES you will suffer if you keep doing what you are doing?"

2. "What are the LONG TERM, PLEASURABLE BENEFITS you will enjoy if you do decide to change?

Don't think short term. Think long term.

Summary

People act to avoid pain and gain pleasure.

When an activity is practiced over a long period of time, there is often an inversion of pain and pleasure. It is better to think long range.

Ask yourself: "What are the LONG TERM PAINFUL CONSEQUENCES you will suffer if you keep doing what you are doing? and "What are the LONG TERM PLEASURABLE BENEFITS you will enjoy if you do decide to change?

You will be healthy, wealthy and wise.

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