[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
I tend to believe that everybody does their best according to their abilities and perception of their environment. Sure, I know counterexamples, but in general I believe that at every moment, everyone observes their surroundings and, based on their perception and abilities (more precisely, their beliefs about their abilities), they choose to do what they think is best.
For example, as I’m writing, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than keep writing for you. If I had a better option, I’d do it. Likewise, you prefer reading this now to any other option. Otherwise you’d do it.
(Maybe you just started reevaluating your options. If you keep reading, it means my writing stood up to greater scrutiny.)
(Still here? Great! Let’s continue.)
Of course I can’t prove the model in general. On the contrary, I can find many counterexamples that disprove the general case. But I know I can find flaws in any other model too so no alternative will be better by that criteria. I already know not to measure a model’s value from its accuracy.
Many people disagree with the model. When I describe it, people often give counterexamples: people at their jobs who cut corners or some other person whose performance they don’t like. They say many people don’t do their bests.
Yet I’ve never heard anyone tell me that they cut corners and do crappy jobs. On the contrary, when people do something that appears below their ability, they tend to give reasons why circumstances beyond their control prevented them from doing the job they could have.
Funny they don’t give others the benefit of the doubt they give themselves.
I used to think that double standard was funny. Then I started assuming, no matter how much someone appeared incapable or that they did their job poorly, that something prevented them from doing a great job — the same consideration I would hope people would afford me if the situation were reversed.
I found people tended to live up to my new expectations, just like I know I would live up to theirs if they gave me the same benefit of the doubt when appropriate.
The change in perspective, a move from reactivity to thoughtfulness, led to fewer arguments, disappointment, and anger. People tended to rise to the level I expected of them. When they didn’t, instead of feeling disappointed or angry, I tended to wonder what about their perception of their environment or belief about their abilities differed from mine that would lead them to different conclusions.
In other words, I replaced disappointment and anger with curiosity, which tended to lead to discovery and understanding. This change improved my life. I tended to get more out of people and they seemed to want to spend more time and other resources on me. I stopped labeling people and started trying to understand their perspective. I also had to decrease how much I saw the world from my perspective, since things I knew and they didn’t affect their decisions.
As in my earlier model examples, the model led to a strategy, which I phrase as
Don’t look for blame, but take responsibility for improving things to the extent you can.
As with yesterday’s strategy
Always interpret everything positively
this strategy is rewarding, so I tend to feel the model is true. Again, I haven’t proved the model true. I just feel it is true. I point this out today to reinforce a point I alluded to yesterday, that when you believe a model is true, you act on it automatically.
Incidentally, the model and strategy underscore the best-selling book, Freakonomics, which stated this model as,
People are people, and they respond to incentives
which I find equally useful.
Lessons about models in general
- believing a model makes following its strategy automatic
- after finding strategies for many things in life we believe the models that led to them uncritically
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees