How to Predict the Future
The FICO Principle
My colleague, fellow relationship therapist Greg Dudzinski, posted this on his Facebook page recently.*
Believe patterns, not apologies, it says. Wow. There’s some sage counsel right there.
After all, you have a FICO score for a reason.
What, you may ask, does my FICO score have to do with it?
FICO is a number assigned to you based on what? Your intention to pay promptly on your loan? Your desire to do it? Your promise that you will do it? Your apology for not paying on your last one?
Banks don’t care what you say you’ll do, intend to do, feel bad about not having done, desire to do, or plan on trying very hard to do. They know, to the tune of billions of dollars a year, that none of these things matter when it comes to predicting human behavior, in this case the likelihood a person will pay back a loan. They know only one measure is reliable, only one thing can give them a really good sense of who is and is not a good risk to bet on.
That one reliable measure is behavior.
Here’s the principle in a nutshell that both Greg and I are talking about here:
Past behavior predicts future behavior.
In other words. look for the patterns. Overwhelmingly, people will continue to do as they have done. The stronger the pattern, the more certain the prediction that a person will behave in the same way as before.
- Have you been in a relationship with a person who has been abusing you? They will likely continue to do that, because the pattern shows that’s the kind of person they are.
- The long-term gambler will probably continue to gamble.
- The long-term drinker will most likely keep drinking.
- The serial cheater is likely to continue cheating.
- The lifelong selfish and narcissistic person will very likely continue to be selfish and narcissistic.
Behavior Tells You What You Need to Know
Of course change is possible, but as Greg also points out, you don’t want to make important decisions for your life based on “potential,” or “possibility.” Banks don’t give you money because you might possibly pay it back, but only if your FICO score tells them you’re the kind of person who will because, over and over again, you have. It’s behavior that matters.
760 is considered an excellent FICO score. People with a score in this range nearly always or always make payments on time. They never, ever default on a loan. In other words, they are rock solid reliable. You can depend on them to follow through with the commitment they make to repay any loan that is extended to them.
It’s About Trust and Reliability
What would you say your relational FICO score is? How reliable and dependable are you? How consistently do you keep the commitments you make in personal relationships?
Just as important, what would you say is the average relational FICO score of the people you allow to be close to you?
Before committing to a relationship, do you make sure that person is a commitment-keeper? Because there’s a way to know.
If you have to make a decision about whether to trust someone with confidential information, can you be nearly certain, based on their track record, their past behavior with secrets, that your secret would be safe with them?
Is it a safe bet that someone you’re dating will be faithful in a relationship with you based on how they have actually lived?
If someone is promising you they won’t drink anymore, what does their track record suggest?
If someone has promised you they’ll stop hitting you, criticizing you, embarrassing you, ignoring you, how credible is their promise? Based on their history, are they a promise-keeper?
You don’t have to leave these immensely important decisions up to chance. You don’t have to guess, or hope for the best. You don’t have to jump off the cliff and hope for a soft landing. There’s a reliable way to predict the future, to know what a person is likely to do based on what they have done in the past.
Like Greg says, believe patterns, not promises and apologies.
Predicting the Future is Boring
So that’s how you predict the future. It’s not very sexy is it? It’s not magic or alchemy. In fact it’s actually kind of boring. It’s so boring, so routine, that banks routinely do it. It’s so boring it’s like math (with apologies to my math-loving readers–the world needs you!). You can actually assign a number to the likelihood that a person is going to come through on a commitment they make to you. Joe Blow = 257. Tina Bena = 394. John Ron = 560. Terry Berry = 790. Nine times out of ten, you’re way safer trusting Terry than trusting Joe or Tina.
How to Give Money to an Unreliable Person and Be Happy
Don’t get me wrong. You’re a human being with free will. When Joe Blow asks you for a few hundred bucks and promises to pay you back, you can definitely choose to give it to him if you want to.
I’d recommend either giving it to him in full knowledge that you’ll never see it again, or don’t give it to him at all. But don’t give it to him actually expecting that he’s going to break character and do something he almost never does in your one specific case because he promised, or he has potential to change, or he really seems to be sincere.
If you do, then when, probably not if, Joe doesn’t come through, you’re going to be mad at him, and frustrated with yourself for trusting him. You don’t have to put yourself through that. Here is a chance for you to freely give to someone knowing you’re donating the money, which is fine!
You can also choose to base your decision on Joe’s relational FICO, set a healthy boundary, and take a pass. Either of those are healthy decisions and you can be okay either way.
Past behavior predicts future behavior. Bank on it. Seriously, base your decisions on the rock-solid principle banks use to make billions of dollars a year. Past behavior predicts future behavior. If you do that, I promise you will see chaos and drama in your life begin to melt away.
Objections and Responses
Here are answers to possible objections/questions to this post:
Objection: “But Dave, you’re a therapist, you must believe people can change. What about that?”
People can and do change. My job as a therapist is to help them do that. It’s very hard work and people often stumble, often fail, even when they are so serious about it they are going to therapy to work on it. This is nothing like that person who casually says, “I’ll pay you back” because they need something from you in the moment.
Objection: “But Dave, I’m already in a committed relationship with someone with a low relational FICO score.”
Admittedly, this is very different. The best way to use relational FICO is to apply it before making a commitment. Once the commitment is made, things change. If you’re dating someone and they cheat on you, then promise you’ll they’ll never cheat again, but you find out they have cheated in many past relationships, ending the relationship is fairly simple to do, although not necessarily easy. If you married an alcoholic and have invested 20 years into the relationship, co-own a business together, and have three children together, this is much more complex. It makes sense that you don’t necessarily end the relationship if they go on another bender, but it would also make a great deal of sense to be skeptical about their current promise to never drink again, and work on protecting yourself and your own boundaries. On the other hand, it also makes sense that at some point, no matter how long you have been together, you might choose to say, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Objection: “But Dave, I’m really in love with someone who has been verbally abusing me, and we’ve been together for two years, and now they are going to church with me and promising they’ll never do it again and haven’t done it four months.”
I hope that works out for you. I really do, I want people to have awesome relationships! But four months isn’t very long if a person’s track record is they have done something most of their life. Anyone can stick to a budget, stop drinking, stop gambling, be nicer, or anything else, for four months. Whether you decide to stay in the relationship or not, FICO-wise, at this point you still don’t have real reason to trust them. You can love them without being naive, and you can decide what your boundary is going to be if and when they abuse you again. And if it turns out this is one of the rare cases where the person really follows through, you’ll be none the worse for having set your boundaries. When a person with a track record of abuse promises to stop abusing you, you’re not being unloving if you don’t really believe them. You’re wisely asking them to “show you the money.”
“Love and relationships aren’t math. You can’t look at it that way.”
Relationships and love are far more mathematical and less mysterious than most people realize. The air of mystery and alchemy people think surrounds relationships is there mostly because when you’re inside a relationship, it can be very hard to see clearly what’s going on. But anyone with some objectivity and some training in what to look for can pretty easily understand a lot of the things people inside the relationship find baffling.
Objection: “But I’ve been traumatized. I tend to trust untrustworthy people and not trust trustworthy people, or I find it hard to trust anyone at all.”
Valid concern, and I would always recommend working through trauma in whatever way is best for any individual. But the fact that a person has valid reasons why they might struggle with this doesn’t indicate that it’s not a good thing to do.
There is important nuance I did not include in this post, which is that FICO scores have ranges. When someone has a relational FICO of 760 and someone else has a score of 320, you can predict what each is going to do with very high accuracy. But there’s a whole range in the middle where this is not as clear.
Even then the point is each of get to decide how much uncertainty we will tolerate when it comes to the people around us following through on their commitments. When the issue is a big one (affairs, abuse, major financial issues), incredible consistency (a high relational FICO) is hugely important.