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Book:  The Laws of Human Nature

Author:  Robert Greene

Purchase:  PrinteBookAudiobook

Citation:  Greene, R. (2018). The laws of human nature. New York: Viking.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. There are certain traits that are always seen as positive and that you must know how to display. For instance, the appearance of saintliness never goes out of fashion. This means showing yourself as progressive, supremely tolerant, and open-minded. You will want to be seen as giving generously to certain causes and supporting them on social media. Projecting sincerity and honesty always plays well. A few public confessions of your weaknesses and vulnerabilities will do the trick. For some reason people see signs of humility as authentic, even though people might very well be simulating them. Learn how to occasionally lower your head and appear humble. (pg. 100)

  2. Get rid of the natural tendency to take what people do and say as something personally directed at you, particularly if what they say or do is unpleasant. Even when they criticize you or act against your interests, more often than not it stems from some deep earlier pain they are reliving; you become the convenient target of frustrations and resentments that have been accumulating over the years. They are projecting their own negative feelings. If you can view people this way, you will find it easier not to react and get upset or become embroiled in some petty battle. (pg. 228)

  3. If you have any natural gifts that elevate you above others, you must be aware of the dangers and avoid flaunting such talents. Instead, you want to strategically reveal some flaws to blunt people's envy and mask your natural superiority. Show your intellectual clumsiness at subjects outside your expertise. (pg. 284)


Other Key Ideas:

When some event or interaction requires a response, you must train yourself to step back. This could mean physically removing yourself to a place where you can be alone and not feel any pressure to respond. Or it could mean writing that angry email but not sending it. you sleep on it for a day or two. You do not make phone calls or communicate while feeling some sudden emotion. Cool the emotions down. The longer you can take the better, because perspective comes with time. (pg. 38)

You must be engaged in the conversation while talking less and trying to get them to talk more. Try to mirror them, making comments that play off something they have said and reveal you are listening to them. This will have the effect of making them relax and want to talk more. (pg. 83)

It has been demonstrated how much people tend to judge based on first impressions and the difficulties they have in reassessing these judgments. Knowing this, you must give extra attention to your first appearance before an individual or group. (pg. 99)

How people handle power and responsibility will tell you a lot about them. Some people stay true to the values they had before attaining a high position - they remain respectful and empathetic. On the other hand, far more people suddenly feel entitled to treat others differently now that they have the power. In general, there are always signs of these character traits in the past if you look closely enough, but, more important, you need to take notice of what people reveal once they are in power. So often we think that power has changed people, when in fact it simply reveals more of who they are. (pg. 117)

Awareness that a year from now the current problem you are experiencing will hardly seem so important will help you lower your anxiety and adjust your priorities. (pg. 170)

In the normal flow of conversation, our attention is divided. We hear parts of what other people are saying, in order to follow and keep the conversation going. At the same time, we're planning what we'll say next, some exciting story of our own. Or we are even daydreaming about something irrelevant. The only solution is to somehow be motivated to reverse this dynamic. People will become chatty without realizing it. Almost everyone likes to talk about their childhood, their family, the ins and outs of their work, or some cause that is dear to them. An occasional question or comment plays off something they have said. You convey that you are listening by maintaining relatively consistent eye contact and nodding as they talk. The best way to signal how deeply you are listening is to occasionally say something that mirrors what they have said. Your goal is to make them come away from the encounter feeling better about themselves. You have let them be the star of the show. You have drawn out their personality. They will love you and look forward to the next encounter. As they become increasingly relaxed in your presence, you will have great latitude for planting ideas and influencing their behavior. (pg. 188)

Just as the body tightens with age, however, so does the mind. And just as our sense of weakness and vulnerability motivated the desire to learn, so does our creeping sense of superiority slowly close us off to new ideas and influences. Some may advocate that we all become more skeptical in the modern world, but in fact a far greater danger comes from the increasing closing of the mind that afflicts us as individuals as we get older, and seems to be afflicting our culture in general. (pg. 199)

In general, you can safely push yourself beyond what you think are your physical limits by feeling excited and challenged by a project or endeavor. People get old and prematurely age by accepting physical limits to what they can do, making a self-fulfilling cycle. Those who age well continue to engage in physical activity, only moderately adjusted. (pg. 228)

You might imagine that envy is a somewhat rare occurrence in the modern world. After all, it is a primitive, childish emotion, and we live in such sophisticated times. But the truth is that envy is more prevalent now than ever before, largely because of social media. Through social media we have a continual window into the lives of friends, pseudo friends, and celebrities. And what we see is not some unvarnished peek into their world but a highly idealized image that they present. We see only the most exciting images from their vacations, the happy faces of their friends and children, and examples of success in their endeavors. Are we having as much fun? Are our lives as seemingly fulfilled as theirs? We generally believe that we are all entitled to share in the good life, but if our peers seem to have more, someone or something must be to blame. (pg. 286)

Technology gives us the impression that everything in life can be as fast and as simple as the information we can glean online. It instills the believe that we no longer have to spend years learning a skill; instead, through a few tricks and with a few hours a week of practice we can become proficient at anything. (pg. 307)

People have always pursued fame and attention as a way to feel enlarged and more important. But this false sense of purpose has become greatly widespread through social media. Now almost any of us can have the quantity of attention that past kings could only dream about. Our self-image and our self-esteem become tied to the attention we get on a daily basis. In social media, this often requires becoming increasingly outrageous to capture eyeballs. It is an exhausting and alienating quest, as we become more of a clown, than anything else. And each moment that the attention lessens ever so slightly, concern eats away at us: Are we losing it? Who is stealing the flow of attention that was ours? (pg. 388)

No matter what type of culture, or how disruptive it might have been in its origins, the longer a group exists and the larger it grows, the more conservative it will become. This is an inevitable result of the desire to hold on to what people have made or built, and to rely on tried-and-true ways to maintain the status quo. This creeping conservatism will often be the death of the group, because it slowly loses the ability to adapt. (pg. 417)

In a dysfunctional culture, the members are often confused about their roles and the overall direction of the group. Amid such confusion, people start to think more about their own interests and agendas, and they form factions. Worried more about their status than the health of the group, their egos become touchy, and they obsess over who's getting more. In this contentious atmosphere, the bad apples find numerous ways to stir trouble and promote themselves. Those who excel at playing politics rise to the top and become lieutenants. Not wasting time on endless political games, such a group can accomplish ten times more than the dysfunctional variety. It brings out the best in human nature - people's empathy, their ability to work with others on a high level. (pg. 432)

As the leader of a group, you need the ability to focus on the larger picture and overall goals. You have only so much mental energy, and you must marshal it wisely. The greatest obstacle to this is your fear of delegating authority. If you succumb to micromanaging, your mind will become clouded with all the details you try to keep on top of and the battles among your people. Your own confusion then filters down through the group. (pg. 434)

Let information and ideas flow freely. As the group evolved, your greatest danger is the slow formation of a bubble around you. The lieutenants, trying to ease your burdens, may eventually isolate you from what is happening throughout the group and filter the information they provide you. Without realizing it, they tell you what they believe will please you and keep out the noise that is important to hear. Your perspective on reality slowly becomes distorted and your decisions reflect this. To avoid this, encourage frank discussion up and down the line, with members trusting that they can do so. You listen to your foot soldiers. You want your meeting to be lively, and you want a diversity of opinions. To allow for such openness, you must be careful to not signal your own preference for a particular option, as this will subtly tip the team into following your lead. (pg. 435)

As the leaders, you must be seen working as hard as or even harder than everyone else. You set the highest standards for yourself. If there are sacrifices that need to be made, you are the first to make them for the good of the group. The members will feel compelled to raise themselves up to your level and gain your approval. They will internalize your values and subtly imitate you. You will not have to yell and lecture to make them work harder. They will want to. (pg. 466)

You must avoid overpromising to people. At the moment, it might feel good to let them hear of the great things you will do for them, but people generally have an acute memory for promises, and if you fail to deliver, it will stick in their mind. If this happens a second time, your authority begins to erode. Not giving what you promised to deliver will feel like something you have taken away. (pg. 468)

Almost nothing in the world can resist persistent human energy. Things will yield if we strike enough blows with enough force. The trick is to want something badly enough that nothing will stop you or dull your energy. Fill yourself with the requisite desire to reach a goal. Keep attacking from new angles, in new ways. Drop the background doubts and continue striking with full force, knowing that you can break through anything if you don't give up. Once you sense the power in this form of attack, you will keep returning to it. (pg. 514)

Aging has a psychological component and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy - we tell ourselves we are slowing down and cannot do or attempt as much as we did in the past, and as we act on these thoughts, we intensify the aging process, which makes us depressed and prone to slow down even more. (pg. 557)

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