Essays on Mind and Behavior

Useful observations, analysis, and framing to comprehend one’s own and others’ behavior 



Ten Useful Ways to Think About Human Behavior and Change

Fictions and Truth


Ten Useful Ways to Think About Human Behavior and Change

All behavior is motivated by habitual beliefs and feelings resulting in repeated patterns of action that will occur in situations that share common characteristics.

Motivation is overrated, the consequence or effect of one’s actions provides as much useful information. And taken together motivation and effect provide the best means to understand behavior.

Regardless of whether or not a person acts consciously or unconsciously that person, and that person alone is responsible for the behavior exhibited. Other factors may have contributed and are useful for understanding one’s actions, but do not relieve one of one’s responsibility.

The majority of human behavior occurs out of conscious awareness. This applies to an individual’s actions, as well as the actions of family groups and larger human systems.

When wishing to change one’s own or another’s behavior resist the tendency to focus on the past for more than just providing a historical perspective and explanation. Instead, focus primarily on the present circumstances that maintain and perpetuate the behavior you wish to change.

Insight into the dynamics of a particular behavior, e.g. cause, effect, history, is not sufficient to change the behavior. It is however useful in determining the appropriate actions necessary to create desired change in one’s behavior.

Resolving a problem behavior is done best by promoting the solution. This simply means identifying the alternative desired behavior, and creating a plan to meet that objective. And then engaging in that behavior as frequently as one can.

All efforts to alter behavior involve some momentary relapse following improvements. These are not to be taken as failure but should instead be used as a means to learn more about the challenges inherent in making the desired change so one may revise one’s strategy.

Members of one’s family, social, or work group cannot remain neutral to one’s personal change. They may make similar changes, resist one’s changes, or support one’s changes, resulting in some alteration of the relationship they have with the one making change.

Willpower is necessary to alter one’s behavior. As the new behavior becomes more common one’s mental and emotional patterns change accordingly and one acts naturally in the new way. This is an indication one’s personality has undergone some change.


Fictions and Truth

Seeking truth is a major aspect of those who wish to improve their psychological wellbeing or develop spiritually. It is useful to consider that the reality we discover is most often a reality that we have created in a particular way. This shaping or framing of truth is the result of our unconscious worldview that is reflected in our language and action, and the context in which we are living at the time. It is easy to understand that with this shaping of truth fiction can be present as ignorance lacking knowledge, rigid fundamentalist principle, or manipulative prejudice. As none of us are immune to falsehoods all of us must discern truth and distinguish it from fiction. This can be particularly difficult when attempting to understand others and particularly so when understanding ourselves. Having some understanding of the manner in which one creates and uses fictions, and even how some events and experiences have many inherent truths that need to be considered and weighed are considered in this essay.

Behavior scientists know language creates reality. The words one uses to communicate a thought or emotion, describe an event, or teach a subject reflect what one believes reality is regarding that topic and perhaps the world. And whether fact or fiction one continues with that truth, often gathering information to support it, and making decisions and acting consistently with it. This happens at the level of individual words chosen when communicating, expands to include phrases, paragraphs on the topic, and continues to the limitless volumes one may express on any given subject. Words one uses to convey attraction (e.g., like versus love), forms with which one refers to the Divine (e.g., God, Source, Energy), whether one is seeking cure or healing, and words one uses to describe what is meaningful to one, all reveal, as well as shape one’s personal world. Monitoring the language one uses, while also attending to the language of others provides great insight into motivation and worldview, providing a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of oneself and others. Expanding upon this principle Alfred Adler, psychiatrist and originator of Individual Psychology during the early Twentieth century proposed that an individual’s behavior is motivated by fictions one believes even when these beliefs are not tested or supported by fact. And because these fictions are focused on future goals and have strong influence on the believer they were called finalisms. If one believes good social behavior results in an afterlife of heaven, then this determines one’s actions that are in service of that goal. In Adler’s understanding of the mind we see the power of mental constructs to motivate one to act a certain way.

Inherent in this reality-creating and motivation-determining process, that can be based in either truth or fiction, is what is frequently referred to as framing. Simply stated this is the habit of allowing context to lend meaning to behavior. Information one obtains from the context in which behavior occurs influences one’s personal bias and worldview, and results in a particular understanding of the observed behavior. One might observe a child frequently not complying with a parent’s directive with the result being that the parents argue about the way to discipline the child. Most likely the parents think of the child as disobedient, and while this is true there may also be more truth when the context is considered. If the parents are spouses who are generally distant and disengaged from one another the child’s behavior could also be interpreted as an attempt to bring mother and father together. This recognition of a coexisting truth reveals the first framing as a partial truth, with the second framing providing an alternative punctuation of reality that reveals a more comprehensive truth about the child’s behavior and the family as a system. In practice this is a counter-punctuation of reality in which language is used to both describe and shape truth to generate a higher order of understanding. When recognized this complexity of truth can both confuse, perhaps resulting in openness to new ideas, and serve to generate solutions that would not have been available otherwise.

Rational beliefs based on truth and irrational beliefs that are fictions motivate us to act certain ways. Truths are multifaceted if one refuses to be reductionist and is astute enough to recognize all of the relevant information in an event or experience. Useful uncertainty and confusion result if skilled, wrong choices and bad outcome result if not, the former generating research to find the correct answer, the valid truth. Consult textbooks and theology, confer with friends and experts, meditate and contemplate until truth appears. Answers will come as one discerns and distinguishes pragmatically. Does one’s understanding, one’s truth, on the matter or topic, prove to be beneficial? Does one’s true or false finalisms, one’s framing of events and experience support and move one toward one’s psychological and spiritual goals? Only by looking at the effect of one’s beliefs and the results of one’s actions can this be determined. And they must meet two other criteria, and they are that no harm comes to you or others. By recognizing these human fallibilities and the complexities of a situation, and therefore of truth in general, while also taking a pragmatic approach regarding the effect of one’s behavior it is possible to minimize the possibility of misleading oneself, maximize effective problem solving, and lower the risk of doing harm to self and others.