How to Anticipate a Person’s Actions
By Chris Simmons
One of the biggest obstacles sabotaging our personal and professional lives is a failure to understand and apply what I call “The First Rule of Human Nature: Self-Interest Trumps Everything.” A major reason for this confusion is that too often, we confuse self-interest with best interests. The two terms are NOT synonymous.
We know what’s in our best interests, but we intentionally choose not to do it. If we did what was in our best interests, obesity would be non-existent, everyone would go to the dentist, we’d all go to the gym at least three times a week, tobacco products would not exist, alcohol would be drunk only in moderation, and no one would abuse drugs. Best interests are irrelevant, because as humans, we see them as fact-based and devoid of any emotional connection. That’s where self-interest takes over.
We follow our self-interest not frequently, or even most of the time, but virtually ALL the time. Every decision we’ve ever made and ever will make is based exclusively on our self-interest. Tied to our self-image, values, and identity, self-interest is emotionally laden. As such, it is the best evidence of our true desires. We tell ourselves we will drop weight, exercise, and do everything our doctor and medical science has proven we SHOULD do, but then we don’t do it. Instead, we place a higher priority on satisfying our self-interest.
Because self-image occurs in our mind’s eye, self-interest can be self-destructive and even fatal in amazingly contradictory ways. The negative component of this phenomenon is often medically-associated. People suffer from anorexia and bulimia, for example, because they perceive themselves as overweight. At the other extreme is the positive component, which is often crisis-triggered. For example, a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his friends or a firefighter who loses her life saving another. In these situations, the individual’s self-image gave them no alternative but self-sacrifice.
It is precisely because we overlook the emotional foundation of self-interest that we are so often surprised by another person’s behavior or actions. Maybe we expected them to follow their best interests or perhaps we “mirror-imaged,” superimposing our values and emotional biases on their circumstances. Regardless of the reason, think of how many times you’ve had an interaction with another person and walked away thinking, “Wow, I never saw that coming.”
You should have. Most people do not hide their self-interest. They broadcast their intentions every day in a hundred different ways. We’re just too caught up in our lives to pay attention to everything they are trying to tell us. And the tragic part of this? You don’t have to invest a lot of time and energy to figure out what someone sees as their self-interest.
People are amazingly consistent and predictable creatures. As such, an individual’s high-frequency past actions and behavior are the best predictors of their near-term conduct. When one steps back and strategically reviews another person’s deeds and performance, the motives (i.e., self-interest) reveal themselves. With these new-found insights, you will be able to anticipate and then accurately predict what they will do in similar situations.