The Four Levels to Human Behavior

There are ultimately four levels that lead into human behavior, and this is the same for you as it is for anyone else. Once you get an idea of what these four levels are and how they can be affected and influenced, you’ll gain a much larger level of influence over what ultimately becomes the things you do or don’t do. Every single type of therapy, productivity approach or anything else that actually helps you to make lasting change will play on some of these four levels to some degree.

Level One: Behavior

This is what you do or don’t do. What you need to know the most about this level is that it’s not under conscious control nearly as much as you might think. In fact, assuming that your conscious mind is the one running the show a majority of the time is a massive mistake that will lead you to a ton of pain and suffering. It will also lead to you not getting very much changed in your life in terms of achieving your goals and becoming more productive.

All of this does not mean that you’re doomed to be helpless for the rest of your life or that you should take no responsibility for your actions. Instead, it means that you need to realize that you’re fighting an uphill battle that you can almost never win if you only try to make changes on the behavioral level.

Level Two: Feelings

First and foremost, let’s not confuse feelings and emotions. Emotions are feelings, but not all feelings are emotions. You can feel your way through a room with no light at night, for example, but that doesn’t mean that the direction that a wall leads you in the dark is an emotion.

Feelings of this type are the primary way that your subconscious mind communicates with you. However, it’s also the primary way that your subconscious mind controls the show. If you don’t think that your subconscious mind is what’s really in charge, then consider the following from a famous experiment called the Iowa Gambling Task:

Participants are presented with 4 virtual decks of cards on a computer screen. They are told that each deck holds cards that will either reward or penalize them, using game money. The goal of the game is to win as much money as possible. The decks differ from each other in the balance of reward versus penalty cards. Thus, some decks are “bad decks”, and other decks are “good decks”, because some decks will tend to reward the player more often than other decks.

Most healthy participants sample cards from each deck, and after about 40 or 50 selections are fairly good at sticking to the good decks.

Concurrent measurement of galvanic skin response shows that healthy participants show a “stress” reaction to hovering over the bad decks after only 10 trials, long before conscious sensation that the decks are bad.

The point here, which I also put in bold above, is that your unconscious mind is way ahead of the game and much more in control than we tend to realize.

Level Three: Beliefs

Similar to the way that feelings come before behaviors, beliefs also come before feelings. Your beliefs act as a kind of rulebook on how your subconscious mind assumes the world and everything in it operates.

These beliefs are shaped by your experiences, particularly in childhood or when you were under a tremendous amount of emotion. They are fairly rigid, but they can be changed, and we’re going to go into depth on how to change your beliefs in other posts.

Level Four: Identity and Purpose

Identity and purpose can be broken up into their own distinct levels depending on who you ask. For our purposes, we’re going to keep them on the same level. Your identity and purpose are your own idea of who you are and why you’re here. They inform your beliefs, which in turn inform your feelings, which in turn largely control your behavior.

What we’re getting at here is that your identity and purpose are where the real productivity gold is to be found, especially if you have problems that you consciously realize are problems but that you can’t figure out how to fix. Working on this level is difficult in the sense that there is no “easy fix” if you don’t know what you’re doing. However, in other posts, we’re going to look at how to influence these things and create a trickle-down effect that improves things for you on all four levels.