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Four Rules to Understand What Makes People Tick

Four Rules to Understand What Makes People Tick
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    Breaking down human behavior into rules might seem like a gross simplification. But even with the complexities, it is easy to fall into the same mistakes. I’d argue that many heated fights, lost sales and broken hearts are caused by a few critical errors. If you make the wrong assumptions, you’ve lost before you begin.

    By keeping in mind these rules, you can avoid repeating the same mistakes.

    Rule One: People Mostly Care About Themselves

    People aren’t thinking about you. A damaging myth to buy into is believing the amount of time you think of yourself compares to the amount of time others think of you. In reality they are nowhere close. Take a look at this chart:

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      I’ve used this example before but I believe it deserves repeating. Take a look at the different slices of this chart. The biggest is the time you spend thinking about yourself. The second is the time spent thinking about relationships, but how they affect you. What does Julie think of me? Will my boss give me a raise or fire me? Do my friends respect me or just tolerate me?

      Only a tiny sliver is devoted to empathy. Empathy is the rare occasion where you think through the perspective of another person. When I’ve discussed these ideas previously, many people argue I’m being far too generous with my chart. In reality that sliver is probably even smaller.

      This means that you occupy only a tiny percentage of a persons thoughts. Waiting for people to invite you, becoming embarrassed at a minor faux-pas or emphasizing what others think of you come from failing to use this rule. Almost all people are far too self-absorbed to notice.

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      Rule Two: People are Motivated by Selfish Altruism

      To say all behavior is strictly selfish would be misleading. It fails to account for acts of charity, ethics and why people don’t just cheat, swindle and lie all the time. Selfish altruism is a broader category that covers why people do nice things as a way to get what they want.

      By studying primates, researchers noticed four main categories of selfish altruism. I believe they are the same categories we use, even if slightly more sophisticated:

      1. Dominance – Some primates will give help as a way of asserting dominance in the group. It is as if they are saying, “Look at how powerful I am that I can give some of my resources to help you.”
      2. Reciprocity – You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. The idea is that I do a favor for you with the assumption it will be returned one day. If the cost to me is less than the benefit towards you, I might help you even if I can’t predict an immediate payback.
      3. Trade – If we both have something the other person wants, we have a reason to interact. While reciprocity is vague on the details of a payback, trade is direct.
      4. Familial – It makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective, to help those who might share your genes.

      By looking through this lens of selfish altruism, you can better make decisions. Viewing people as completely uncaring or selfish is incomplete. But expecting people to think of you constantly and do nice things for free is dangerous.

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      Rule Three: People Don’t Think Much

      I believe we drastically overestimate what we do intentionally. Subconscious patterns, environmental stimulus and programmed reflexes occur frequently, even if we later take credit for them.

      The conscious mind is a relatively new addition to the human operating system. And it’s been designed to cleverly take credit for a lot of decisions it doesn’t really make. If someone asks you to be unbiased in making a decision, it is probably best to just laugh.

      The implication of this is that appealing entirely to thoughts won’t work. Since a bulk of decision making is made in the background, you need to target that background if you want to be influential. You don’t need to be manipulative, just smart enough to recognize that snap judgments mean a lot and your communication is more than just words.

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      Rule Four: Conformity is the Norm

      You become your environment. Uniqueness and individuality tend to warp to fit the people around you. This is true of other people as it is for yourself. It means you should be careful who you pick as friends, partners and colleagues.

      This is why I believe it is important to keep a varied social group. When you interact with people from completely different backgrounds, beliefs and behaviors on a regular basis you are more likely to see different perspectives. This also means you have more control in picking who you want to be.

      Applying the Four Rules

      Here are some applications of these rules you might want to consider:

      • What layers are you communicating with? If people are selfish, self-absorbed and fail to think much, just working on the words you use isn’t enough. Everything about you is communicating something, and unless you get that message straight, the most persuasive argument won’t win anyone over.
      • Give reminders. Although some people are meticulously organized, most aren’t. Give people the reminders they need so you don’t get left out unintentionally.
      • What’s your social value? This isn’t your worth as a person, but what you have to offer in terms of other peoples needs and wants. It is easy to get depressed about human issues, if you don’t see the calculations behind it. Improve the value you offer and you can access the selfish altruism in us all.

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      Scott H Young

      Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

      How To Create More Time: 21 Ways to Add More Hours to the Day How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now The Planning Fallacy: Why Your Plans Fail How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

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      Published on April 7, 2021

      6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

      6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

      Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

      While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

      1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

      Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

      If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

      In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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      2. They Make Everything Transactional

      Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

      For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

      Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

      A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

      Some statements to be wary of include:

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      • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
      • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
      • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
      • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

      3. They Criticize Everything

      One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

      However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

      Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

      • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
      • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
      • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
      • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

      4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

      We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

      For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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      This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

      5. They Socially Isolate You

      Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

      Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

      This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

      In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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      6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

      It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

      Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

      Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

      • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
      • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
      • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
      • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

      Final Thoughts

      It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

      More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

      Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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