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4 Universal Principles That Drive Our Behavior, According To A Neuropsychologist

Stephen Klemich & Mara Klemich, Ph.D.
Contributing writers By Stephen Klemich & Mara Klemich, Ph.D.
Contributing writers
Stephen and Mara Klemich, a husband and wife team, are the co-founders of Heartstyles and co-creators of the Heartstyles Indicator tool, a tool that measures effective and ineffective thinking and behavior. They are also the co-authors of Above the line – living and leading with heart.
Woman With Her Eyes Closed Meditating
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Every day, most of us have moments when we think, "Why did I say that?" or, "If I had just..." We're sharp with our kids or partners over small things. We criticize our teammate in front of the others. We agree to a deadline we know isn't realistic. Or maybe the issues are bigger. Maybe we've lied about something important. Maybe we've taken an unethical shortcut, cheated, or lied.

The good news? These behaviors don't make us bad; they simply make us human. They are the coping strategies we use to survive in life—and they've been with us a long time. Often they are grounded in good intentions that are turned upside down by our less-than-effective coping strategies—all because we have connected to fear. We all can be afraid, and much of the time we don't even realize what we're doing, let alone why.

But every day, we also make our best intentions a reality. Within 10 minutes of wishing we could pull words back into our mouths or make a different choice, we can be supportive, focused, honest, patient, and committed. How quickly the heart can shift from selfish to selfless, from judging to compassionate, motivated to depressed, constructive to destructive, full of doubt to confident. We can be effective one minute and ineffective the next.

We are all an and. Life is an and. Ineffective, below-the-line behavior coexists with effective, above-the-line behavior, and we are all able to switch from one to the other and back again in the blink of an eye.

That and is the essence of the line that exists within our heart and the four universal principles of life that drive our behavior. They are:

  • Courageous humility: focusing on personal growth
  • Growth-driven love: focusing on growing others
  • Ego-driven pride: focusing on self-promoting
  • Self-limiting fear: focusing on self-protecting

In its entirety, the model represents the circle of life, and on any given day, moment, or situation our heart can go around this circle—from fear to pride to humility to love. Around and around!


Here's how each universal principle works.

When the heart is operating out of self-limiting fear, it displays self-protecting thoughts and behaviors, and it limits us with behaviors like passivity, dependence, and the need to please.

When our heart is operating out of ego-driven pride, it displays self-promoting thoughts and behaviors. Through behaviors like aggressiveness, superiority, perfectionism, and winning at all costs, it blocks us from really connecting with others. Certainly there is a positive pride that is an expression of love—the delight we take in people, our personal achievements, and things we are pleased or thrilled by—but negative pride places importance on our ego: proving, performing, power, or control.

When our heart is operating out of courageous humility, it displays thoughts and behaviors of personal growth through behaviors like authenticity, diligence, vulnerability, and achievement.

And when it's operating out of growth-driven love, it displays thoughts and behaviors of growing with others through respect, loyalty, honor, and compassion.

The bottom line?

The four universal principles explain what drives the incredible range of human behavior we manifest around that circle of life. We can watch the same behaviors play out around the planet and repeat throughout history, in people with completely different backgrounds and life experiences and in entirely different situations.

We see these behaviors daily in how we work, how we play sports and games, how we parent, and how we build (or can damage) relationships. They turn up in the movies we make and the books we write and the art we create. They shape our families, communities, teams, and organizations.

Excerpted from Above the Line. Copyright © 2020 by Heart Brands U.K. Limited. Reprinted here with permission of Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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