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What Really Influences Our Behavior?

What really influences our behavior?   Is it the brain as described by the newest findings in brain science? Is it our personality?  Our upbringing? As a coach, I use certain lenses to help individuals uncover personal potential.  Therefore,  it’s tempting to zero in on those aspects to which I am most familiar: personality type (MBTI), emotional intelligence, and the latest in brain science.   However, I have to mindful of all of the factors that might lead to a particular behavior or mindset.

For instance, brain science is currently very popular.  As an individual who worked with brain injury for 25 years prior to starting a coaching practice, I am thrilled with all of the progress that is being made in the field, particularly neuro-imaging.   However, with all of the interest and energy comes the concomitant hype.  Here is where we have to be careful not to attribute any one factor to explain behavior without considering other possible factors.  The truth is, most of our thoughts and acts are a result of what author of A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Richard A. Burton calls “a weighing of all inputs.”

In the diagram below, there are multiple factors that influence behavior as seen in the left hand column.  These factors are weighed and the most relevant ones lead to mental sensations, thoughts and actions at any given moment.   If an individual does “X”, “a”, “b” and “c” may have led to that particular action so it’s important to consider all of these.

Adapted from A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind by Robert A. Burton
Adapted from A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Robert A. Burton

Meanwhile, what does this mean for people trying to understand one another?   Be careful about getting too narrow in your thinking.  In MBTI personality-speak, we like to say, “You are more than just your personality type.”  Likewise, as we learn about brain science and new findings are revealed, we have to be careful to say, (for instance) “he is behaving a certain way because he has an overactive amygdala at the moment.”

I would also add that the more you can become aware about the multiple factors that may be influencing your own thoughts and actions at a given moment, the more likely you are to be able to mindfully weigh the inputs for your own best possible outcome.  So there is substantial upside to being open to as many lenses as possible to explain why we do what we do, and it’s seldom just one.







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