Individual Behavior Curves (Illustrated)

“This idea that there is generality in the specific is of far-reaching importance.” – Douglas R. Hofstadter

In the back of my mind there has always been a quiet nagging question:

Why can’t the Behavior Curve enable us to reproducibly pinpoint a type of behavior? That is, to better predict behavior rather than just recognize it? And, more generally, why does our own (or anyone else’s) particular behavior bounce around during the day?

There must be something missing. No doubt another example of Incomplete Information (Fundamental Principle 6).

As a recap, here’s the original Behavior Curve with a bit more detail,

This Behavior Curve simply indicates how general behaviors change (on an individual level but also more on a generalized communal level) from Building/Adding Value behaviors to the right to surviving or Taking behaviors to the left depending upon how much “Self” is coursing through our minds, either consciously or unconsciously. At the far right of the curve, where one can be well into the Building/Adding Value behavior zone and be more focused on communal Values and the well being of others, there is still a measurable component of “taking care of myself” that is there. No one can be so completely altruistic that they are 100% other- or communal-oriented.

This ever-present component of “Self,” even if it is only 20% or 30% of our subconscious concern, is enough to sway or alter our behavior. Not just longer-term behavior, such as remaining cool, calm, and collected in a mounting crisis, but instantaneous behavior, such as going ballistic at the drop of a hat (be realistic, you’ve experienced this). But the original Behavior Curve doesn’t have the ability to take these influences into account.


I’ve pondered this for quite a while. (You probably already know what I mean by this – not just having somewhat lightly targeted thoughts while driving or listening to a boring talk I cannot escape. No, it occasionally means the unexpected awakening at 3:00 am, sitting bolt upright fumbling for a pencil and Post-It in the dark.)

All that for only a part of a thought.

I’ve had that ‘part’ of an answer for a while. The part that said, ‘You need something that can provide a reasonable (and realistic) explanation or motivation for individual behaviors to swing or move left and right along the curve.’ Yes, that’s right; … something.

Then, it came to me (no, not at 3:00 am. I think while under cruise control somewhere). Not a specific “spot” on the Behavior Curve where one’s “behavior” can be pinpointed, but an additional curve or shape associated with this individual’s “spot” that would permit a “behavioral window” around the “spot” and have some rhyme and reason associated with it.

In an instant the thought came: ‘a Gaussian curve,’ what we also call the normal or bell curve, a distribution or “window” of occurrences when we measure certain events, such as people’s heights.

In the next instant, as I realized I had drifted left out of my lane, I also realized, ‘No, that will not work.’ It only shows a window of what happened and provides no link as to why. It’s also a collection of multiple events and not applicable to one event or person. Not only that, it’s symmetrical, shaped the same to the left and right.

At that moment, three things happened. I realized this other curve needed to be asymmetrical, with a different shape to the left and right; it needed reasons why it could be steep on one side and only gently rising on the other independent of where on the Behavior Curve the individual’s “spot” was; and I drifted right over the rumble strips onto the shoulder.

And there it was (no, not on the shoulder). I knew I had seen it before, and I remembered the why’s for its shape and a possible connection between those why’s and other behavioral aspects that had appeared in earlier posts.

It was a Eureka moment, a very exciting moment (above and beyond my wife’s reaction to the rumble strips). It was also a validation of a basic premise of this blog, about the little known and under-appreciated transferability of knowledge across disciplines.

Rather than risk losing you by revealing the source (we’ll come back to that later, although a few of you may recognize it and start laughing, as I did with the discovery of the original Behavior Curve itself), let’s just move forward and develop the idea, from the general to the specific. Here’s the basic curve that I envisioned –

The General Idea

With a bit of imagination, one can picture an individual’s “normal” behavior resting somewhere near the lowest point on the curve, sort of at the bottom of a ‘well.’ Trying to change their own behavior by moving to the left runs up against a steep wall, but changing it by moving to the right could eventually lead to different behavior involving a lot less effort.

What we can observe, or have experienced ourselves, is that often our behaviors vary depending upon circumstances. Therefore, we should make provision for an individual to have a “range” of behaviors under normal circumstances, sort of like being able to move around while in the “well.” It could look something like this,

The General Idea as an Individual behavior curve, with room for behaviors to “maneuver”

On a typical morning we start the day after a good night’s rest and get up in our default behavior, indicated on the “Equilibrium” line above. Having great expectations for the day, say we’re at Emotional Energy level 1 (E1) above, and our “normal” behaviors can vary left and right on the red line without anyone thinking we’re wacko.

Then, something happens during the day, typically some external force or event. For now, let’s say that is a positive event. Our reaction to that force bumps our Emotional Energy up to, say, E2. Our range of responsive behaviors now broadens along the E2 red line, but is still contained within the bounds of our personal Individual behavior curve. Because it was a positive event, our preferred behavior (represented by the green dot) moves to the right, in a more positive direction.

Depending upon how positive the external event was, we could conceivably move up to E3 or even E4, with an observable shift of our preferred behavior in a significantly more positive direction. (We’ll cover a negative external event in a bit).

So far so good, for we can now propose a potential connection between behavioral variations and positive external influences.

Now comes a bit of a conceptual paradigm shift, because we would like to relate the General Behavior Curve (the original one) to the Individual behavior curve above. To do this I propose taking the Individual behavior curve and superimposing it over the General Behavior Curve. For starters, we’ll superimpose the Equilibrium line from the upper Individual behavior curve on the vertical midline of the General Behavior Curve, where there is a 50/50 balance between Self and Values, and place our “preferred early morning behavior,” the bottom of the “well” below E1, on the blue General Behavior Curve,

The Individual Behavior Curve superimposed over the General Behavior Curve (background)

Now one can more readily visualize, in this simple example of a positive external force or event, how a “range” of individual behaviors (represented by the width of the red line for E1, and projected onto the blue line of the General Behavior Curve underneath using short green lines) could be observed. A bit of minimally “selfish” behavior but predominantly more positive.

One could conceive that, with even stronger positive events or forces, an Emotional Level could increase to E2, E3, or E4, resulting in a broader range extending to even more positive and value adding behaviors.

But what prevents an individual from responding in a highly selfish manner (negative and Taking, to the left on the General Behavior Curve)? What we need now are some realistic reasons for the shape of an Individual behavior curve, and what happens to the left and right of the Equilibrium point.

What I suggest, based on previously proposed ideas, is that the shape of an Individual behavior curve is determined by the nature of an individual’s internal forces, their Temperament, their Personality, the strength of their Values and the strength in their Integrity in holding to their Values in light of an external force.

If the external force is threatening (i.e., it always pushes to the left, to a more self-defensive, selfish and negative) behavior, this will be resisted to the extent of the strength of the individual’s internal forces, including their Values (which are externally oriented) and the strength of holding to them (Integrity). This is indicated by the ‘repulsive forces’ label at the bottom of the diagram below. (From this point forward I’ve moved the Individual behavior curve lower in the diagram for clarity and ease of picturing these two curves working together).

Repulsive Forces: when Values resist external negative forces; Additive forces: when positive external forces complement Values.

If the external force or event is non-threatening or in fact a positive, constructive opportunity (i.e., pushing to the right), then an individual’s internal forces can work in an additive manner with the external event’s force, and movement to the right to more positive, constructive individual behavior will be much easier to achieve (as indicated in the diagram above, to the right of the Equilibrium line).

The Either/Or nature of the forces of an external event, either always pushing to the left in a threatening event or pushing to the right in a non-threatening event, is confronted by the And/And constructive (value-adding, pulling to the right) nature of internal Values.

In other words, the shape of an Individual behavior curve is strongly affected by the individual’s internal forces, their Temperament, Personality, Values (Professed as well as hidden, or sleeper values), as well as the strength of their ability to hold to their values (Integrity). Empathy as a Value no doubt also plays a significant role.

What may encourage individuals to respond in a more positive and altruistic manner (to the right on the General Behavior Curve) will be the additive nature of their internal forces, Values, Integrity, and the non-threatening (to them) nature of the external force or event. Think here of firemen rescuing people from a burning residence, or a broad based response to sending relief or going in person to aid Texas after hurricane Harvey, or Mother Theresa’s life in India.

Thinking more broadly about this concept or paradigm reveals the following realizations, including considering an individual’s response to a negative external event,

-The shape of an Individual behavior curve is not restricted to the ‘generic’ shape given above. In fact, some people might have a much narrower shaped curve; they can be pretty stoic (limited Emotional Energy levels) in their behaviors in most circumstances,

The Stoic

Another individual could demonstrate much broader, more impulsive behaviors that swing wildly at the drop of a hat (gifted with a multitude of Emotional energy levels). These might look like this,

The Impulsive

-An Individual behavior curve need not necessarily be centered at the mid-point of the General Behavior Curve, as presented above. We have all experienced people about whom, if pressed to describe where their Individual behavior curve was positioned, we could respond ‘far to the right’ (greatly serving and/or altruistic), ‘far to the left’ (“Most self-centered person I’ve every encountered. Must avoid”), or somewhere in between,

The Servant

The Self-Centered

-Most importantly, building off the observations above, an Individual behavior curve does not necessarily have to be steep on the left and shallower to the right, as presented. It could just as easily be steep to the right (little interest in serving others or adding value to the community) and shallow to the left (easily sliding deeper into self-serving behaviors rather than adding value to the community, and being more focused on Taking). In this case, one could conceive of the strong forces of “Self” working in tandem with negative external event forces (destructively reinforcing) to result in much more negative behavior,

The Taker

All of these bring together many of the puzzle pieces that have been posted here earlier.

-Our Values are part of the internal forces that will ultimately direct and guide our behaviors. These Values will be built upon our Temperament (our DNA) and our Personality (as molded by parents, family, clan, and tribe). They all contribute to the shape of our Individual behavior curve.

-We all have Baggage, the stuff and experiences that are also internal forces (or dead weights) that will have an even more significant effect in directing and guiding our responses to events in life. These have a way of influencing our Individual behavior curve by distorting it in a negative way. We may also have a strong sense of empathy, which would alter our curve in a more positive way.

-There will always be external forces in life that trigger our responses. These forces can either be threatening (a crisis) or non-threatening (an opportunity), providing us in either case with a choice of how to respond, typically with one of The Two Questions: Who Did This To Me? (Fix the Blame, get defensive, and move to the left), or What Can I Make of This Opportunity? (Fix the Problem, get creative, and move to the right).

Overall, this would give credence to “personality (or behavior) profiles” such as Myers-Briggs, DISC, and others, which do not attempt to pigeon-hole people’s personalities into boxes as commonly thought, but indicate behavioral preferences (based on internal forces), but recognize changes with circumstances (those external forces) without explicitly identifying them.


-We can alter the shape of our Individual behavior curve and its position on the General Behavior Curve to achieve more desirable outcomes. It’s always a Choice, but it takes recognition and effort.

Understanding all this would make it easier to understand and adjust our behaviors to better accomplish what we desire in our families, clans, tribes, communities, and nation.

Understanding this would make it easier to understand and adjust to our spouses and children to better influence their Values, Baggage, and Individual behavior curves.

Understanding this would make it easier to understand and adjust within our organizations to more effectively, efficiently, and more healthily achieve our goals and vision.

What’s your Behavior Curve look like?

And what are you going to do about it?

(Ok, I guess now would be the time to reveal the source of this entire mental exercise, and how I came up with the shape of the curve I felt was needed:

The Bohr model of the hydrogen atom.

Or, more specifically, the potential energy curve of the two hydrogen nuclei in the hydrogen atom (H2) as they formed a covalent bond.

Never thought it would be useful, did you. Laugh if you like.)

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 02: Value Added, A Definition, 06: Incomplete Information, 10: Integrity, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 15: Baggage, 17: Choice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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