Sunday, February 21, 2010

Past behavior predicts future behavior better than our hopes

"The best predictor of tomorrow's weather- is today's weather."

I try to apply the principle of predicting how people will behave in the future based on their past behavior rather than on what I feel they will or should do or what they say they'll do. I find that this behavior-based prediction is more often validated that the predictions made on the basis of my feelings or the words and commitments of the person. (ask me for a war/drama story about a misbehaving teen at EFY this summer for a case-in-point). Here's an example I will share here:

I'm helping arrange this Stand for the Family Symposium coming up in a few weeks (as the facilities/media committee chair). I emailed the A/V fellow, *Greg, to get a cost estimate for the recording equipment and staff. He didn't reply, despite my email reminders, for two weeks. I went in to the office and tracked him down, then had an in-person meeting that was very positive, where he took notes and seemed professional and supportive. He committed on Wednesday to get us a cost estimate by the next afternoon. Thursday afternoon passed with no word. Therefore, I called him up Friday morning. He said he'd been busy, but still sounded optimistic and supportive, and promised a cost estimate by the afternoon. I reported as much to my Symposium boss and co-committee chair, emailing "I spoke with *Greg a few minutes ago via phone. He's behind but plans to get a cost estimate to us by this afternoon. (of course, that's the same commitment that failed yesterday). Cross your fingers if you think it'll help." The email reflected my adherence to the past behavior principle, but in my heart I expected he'd come through because on the phone and in person I trusted him and felt he was responsive, responsible, capable, and supportive. Plus, I talked to him that morning and the commitment was for that afternoon. I believed he would do it.

I was wrong! He didn't come through, and I still haven't heard back from him. Once again, as has often happened, the past behavior proved a better predictor than either 1) my perceptions/beliefs/trust/hope or 2) the subject's verbal assurances.

Now, past behavior may not be the best predictor, but it is better than many (think good, better, best). In the absence of superior bases for predicting, it often is the best available guide.

"The biggest danger in all new relationships is turning a blind eye to people’s limitations and falling in love with potential. If you look at the beginning of your relationship with your Ex, you’ll probably see glimpses of what became your biggest issues. The problem is that once you’ve gotten attached to someone, you start to hope that they can change. It rarely happens. If you only have one dating mantra in your life it should be Don’t Fall In Love With Potential. Sadly, most of us have had to learn this the hard way. But now is the time to stop the insanity by not repeating this lesson over and over again."

PS, I think my posts manifest a strong behavioral economics bent.


  1. (Trye Carmack): Read most of your past behavior predicting future behavior. That's why they call them habits.

  2. The same principle applies to business. People who say they are serious about wanting to change their current circumstances fail to realize that all they need to do is change their current behaviour pattern.
    Different actions are required in order to produce different results. It's that simple.
    Somehow people seem to dwell on other factors, which have very little to do with their wrong mind processes. Therefore they live in denial, blame others for their misfortunes and come up with all the excuses in the book to justify the unjustifiable.


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