5 Truths About Human Behavior You Must Understand to be Successful
You know what your problem is? You think you understand other people, but you don’t. In many ways, you don’t understand yourself.
You operate under the assumption that people should behave a certain way. You have a vision of what the world should be like instead of focusing on the way it actually is.
Think about it. When someone disagrees with your worldview, you don’t just think “they’re wrong.” You think, “How could they possibly believe that?”
I’m guilty of this too. Like you, I’m fundamentally an irrational animal prone to mental errors. Like you, I can be programmed and have belief inserted into my mind. I’m aware of this. Are you?
I have many conversations with people about logic vs emotion. And almost always, the person says they’re driven more reason than emotion (marketers love that you believe this). I can be confident in saying this is true of few people on planet earth including myself.
The views about human behavior and human nature I’m about to share with you have helped me live a good life because I put less faith in my own logic and in the logic of others.
I try to program myself to combat my mental errors and I use emotional levers to get people to do what I want them to do. Understand these traits about humans and use them to have a better understanding of yourself and other people.
Understand the True Nature of “Human Beings”
“We are survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.” — Richard Dawkins
We watch BBC documentaries about animals. They have their little mating rituals — birds with crazy feathers trying to find a mate. We’ll see a group or pack of animals with a hierarchy, observe the ruthlessness of nature with animals trying to fight and compete for resources, and see how all animals are mainly focused on survival.
“Poor, dumb animals,” we tell ourselves. All the while, we forget we’re animals.
We think sentience means we don’t operate on base ‘animalistic’ desires. If you look at human beings as animals their behavior starts making a ton of sense. I don’t go all the way to Dawkin’s definition, but close enough.
This speaks to the logic vs reason argument I made earlier. We will use logic and reasoning to make elaborate explanations for simple base emotions we come equipped with because we’re animals. We will debate by trying to appeal to reason. And it doesn’t work, because we’re animals.
When it comes to your own success, understand your brain doesn’t care whether or not you succeed. Your animal brain wants you to do two things — stay alive and reproduce. That’s it. This is why you fear rejection and embarrassment so much because your mind perceives social rejection as a life or death matter that’ll keep you from having babies.
In short, you can do well in society by letting other people believe they have a much higher nature than animals when they really don’t. As you’ll continue to learn in this article.
People will believe what they want to believe about themselves, that they’re logical, and you can let them believe that. Regardless of what they say, their behavior will be predictable.
The goal isn’t to become an armchair evolutionary biologist, because that science often falls short. Just use the ‘humans as animals’ heuristic, rule of thumb, and things will click a lot more. You do have that cortex. And it does help you rise above your nature. Just understand the degree to which it’s capable of doing that.
Understand The Operating System That Controls Your Life
Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. — Morgan Housel
Our perception of reality is reality. Our beliefs, consciously chosen or not, become the operating system for our reality. This is why people don’t just disagree. A disagreement has some foundation in a shared set of facts. When you pit two people with different belief systems against each other, the facts don’t matter.
If you want to change someone’s mind, you have to confirm some of the beliefs they already believe to be true. If you can lay out their argument first in a sincere way, you can move them a bit. This is called ‘pacing and leading.’
I understand that people mostly think the same things about life. So I ignore the hot-button stuff that divides and focus on the basics. This creates a tribe of people from all walks of life. We all have a shared set of beliefs about a few things, but we focus on the salacious ones and lose sight of that.
I try to meet people where they’re at so I can take them somewhere new. If you can do this, you can persuade others. Most people don’t do this, though. They use the ‘I think this way, therefore you should’ strategy. One thousand percent ineffective, yet people keep trying it. Again, they believe in rationality and they suffer from false consensus bias.
When it comes to changing your life, realize the power of your own beliefs. How are your beliefs affecting your life? What narratives are running you? Let go of the idea that you’re rational. Look at yourself as someone who has simply adopted narratives about life and see if they’re useful.
This is hard. Your beliefs help you make sense of the world, for better or worse. Having to change your mind means you have to let go of who you are. It doesn’t feel good to admit you were wrong, not just about a fact, but a worldview.
To think your sense of reality itself is wrong is too much to bear for most, but if you want to reinvent yourself and have better circumstances, you can’t use the same set of beliefs that brought you to your current life.
Understand Your Enemy
“Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.” — Ryan Holiday
Almost every move you make is ego-based. You don’t buy Nikes because you like them, you like what wearing the logo says about you. Same thing with the car you drive or the house you own. We’re constantly signaling and seeking validation to boost our egos.
Again, this goes back to our nature. If you didn’t have enough status in your tribe, you’d have no mates or you’d just die. You learn to crave validation from a young age because the attention of those around you, your parents, meant everything.
Even if you’re not super materialist or consumerist, you’re still ego-driven. Minimalists are egotistic about their lack of stuff, else they wouldn’t put a label on it. We live in the age of virtue signaling. We talk about how much we care about the environment, instead of just picking up trash on the weekends without posting on social media. Look at social media in general, we all reflect our best selves online.
From a marketing standpoint and getting people to do what you want, appeal to their need for status and validation, pretty easy. Appeal to their need to become a better person and transform themselves. This isn’t necessarily bad either. Playing the ego game can be motivating and there’s nothing wrong with having desires to an extent.
When it comes to improving your life, focus on how much of your ego you’re putting into your actions. I don’t know if you can reduce it to zero. Just try to learn detachment.
In reality, nothing you own says anything about you. Your level of success doesn’t dictate your feelings. You dictate your feelings, but you won’t allow yourself to feel good until you’re successful. Failure doesn’t define you either. Neither does rejection. Just your ego talking.
It’s a weird balance to strike. You have to find a way to create and build from joy. You create and build because failing to do so is also ego-based — you’re worried about what others think and fear is a product of your ego. But then you also don’t want to get your identity wrapped up in what you do.
Complicated, right? I know. But follow the path anyway and try to get a little better at managing your ego over time.
Understand the Most Powerful Behavioral Tool on Earth
“Show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome.” — Charie Munger
Why don’t you constantly steal? Why don’t you act on every thought you have? You have some messed up thoughts. We all have these thoughts that are so bad we’d never tell another person about them. Left to your own devices, without the proper incentives, you’d act a lot more ‘animalistic’ like your ancestors did.
Incentives guide human behavior at a level most can’t comprehend, including me. We think of ourselves as moral, but morality itself is an incentive structure. If you go against moral codes, you face extreme social rejection and physical punishment.
On a lighter note, you can tweak incentives to drive the behaviors you want to see in other people. Munger tells the story of FedEx workers who got paid by the hour and, overnight, massively increased their productivity. How? They started getting paid by the number of packages shipped during a shift.
He talks about store owners who cured their employee theft problem overnight. How? The invention of the cash register. He tells another story about an older model of copy machine outperforming the sales of a brand new, much better machine. How? The commissions for the older machine were higher.
I could go on here, but you get the point. Remember the theme of this post, both you and your fellow humans are much more programmable than you think.
Look at your own incentive structures and how they’re driving you. Many people in society have an incentive structure that forces them to do things they hate — debt, bills, the need for healthcare, etc are strong incentives to show up to work every day. So strong that people do it every day even though they don’t want to at all.
When you’re wondering why someone behaves a certain way, look at the incentives for their behavior. If you want to change their behavior, change the incentive structure. If you want to change your behavior, find ways to incentivize it.
Understand the Sword You Can Use for Good or Evil
“The larger the group, the more toxic, the more of your beauty as an individual you have to surrender for the sake of group thought. And when you suspend your individual beauty you also give up a lot of your humanity. You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing, drinking are all part of it, because you’ve lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that’s bigger than you are and that controls you.” — George Carlin
Humans are tribal animals and susceptible to groupthink. We’re constantly copying others, looking for social proof, and identifying with other people and ideologies to feel like we belong.
That need to belong explains everything from the craziest phenomena like cults and the things we’re seeing right now. On both the left and right, I’ve seen people compromise their own morals for the sake of the team, egregiously. They’ll do a complete 180 about the same scenario, depending on who’s involved in the scenario.
The only thing I love about politics? It’s such a great case study of how tribalism can warp the mind. I mean, I’ve seen some truly ridiculous takes. Notice how little politics has to do with policy anymore? The policies are afterthoughts — post hoc reasoning. People want to see their team win at all costs, even if they experience a pyrrhic victory, which they will, regardless of who wins.
What do you do with this information? One thing, try to combat the evil aspects of your tribal nature as best you can. All these tips are about trying to overcome your nature, really. Your worldview should have elements, bits, and pieces, of conflicting ideologies. You should be able to unemotionally describe the views of your opposition.
You can also use tribalism in a positive way. Like I said earlier, my tribe of readers has conflicting views on some things, but they’re a part of my tribe because I focus on unifying qualities — we all want a better life, a good family, a little financial flexibility, and to feel like we matter.
On a societal level, if we could create new tribes based on shared values we could change some of the real issues that are poisoning society. But, it doesn’t look like we can do that.
So, you should focus on creating tribes and communities about like-minded ideas in a positive way. Move in different circles, little mini-tribes, but never get too caught up in your participation in any of them. Make people feel a part of your team and then don’t even give them an enemy to fight against, just let them belong.
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