Thinking "Out of Context"

While we tend to behave in context, on the other hand, if you ask people if they are willing to help a stranger regardless of what they look like, most people say “yes.”

What we claim to do rarely matches how we actually behave because we think about our behavior "out of context."

When we think about how we behave we give idealistic or socially appropriate answers. We like to view ourselves in a positive light, but when confronted with a real situation, our rosy and optimistic beliefs often fail to influence how we act.

In fact, research indicates that there is little relationship between what we believe and the actions we take related to those beliefs (see Nisbett & Wilson; Wicker). And of course, it is easier to see such hypocritical behavior in others rather than ourselves.

Again, our behavior is heavily influenced by the exact nature of the circumstance in which we find ourselves, while our thoughts are influenced by something entirely different – our desire to be accepted by others.

An evolutionary view of life is useful because it reveals that we are often misguided about who we are – we often deceive ourselves as well as others (see self deception).

The idea that we "behave in context" and think about our behavior "out of context" highlights two fundamental points:

First, don’t listen to what you say, rather watch what you do. And when it comes to deception, nothing could be closer to the truth – we think about our deceptive behavior out of context – “I’m honest” while behaving very differently in context – we lie, mislead, and deceive.

Second, if you want to create better outcomes in your life, stop spending so much time thinking about your morals, values, and beliefs; rather use this time to create situations and relationships most likely to bring out the best in yourself and others.