The 50th Law - Robert Greene

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Rated: 9/10

Available at: Amazon

ISBN: 006177460X

Related: The 48 Laws of Power, Mastery, The 33 Strategies of War

Summary/High Level Thoughts

An excellent book from Robert Greene - one of my favourites among his work, and much more digestible than some of his others.  

The general concepts explored come down to fearlessness, and what he calls The 50th Law: 

    "The 50th Law, however, states that there is one thing we can actually control — the mind - set with which we respond to these events around us. And if we are able to overcome our anxieties and forge a fearless attitude towards life, something strange and remarkable can occur — that margin of control over circumstance increases. At its utmost point, we can even create the circumstances themselves, which is the source of the tremendous power that fearless types have had throughout history. And the people who practice the 50th Law in their lives all share certain qualities — supreme boldness, unconventionality, fluidity, and a sense of urgency — that give them this unique ability to shape circumstance.”

The book goes on to break down this law into its components, and details examples of each, as well as actionable guidelines for how to cultivate qualities and skills yourself.  

It’s a book you should read and digest, and then refer back to constantly.  Perhaps one of Greene’s most relevant books to life in general, it provides the set of principles by which you should live.   Definitely recommend.

Favorite Quotes

  • This must be the power and the direction of your mind whenever you encounter some problem — to bore deeper and deeper until you get at something basic and at the root.
  • The real poetry and beauty in life comes from an intense relationship with reality in all its aspects. Realism is in fact the ideal we must aspire to, the highest point of human rationality.
  • Keep in mind the following: what you really value in life is ownership, not money. If ever there is a choice — more money or more responsibility — you must always opt for the latter. A lower - paying position that offers more room to make decisions and carve out little empires is infinitely preferable to something that pays well but constricts your movements.
  • Make your enterprise a reflection of your individuality.
  • Events in life are not negative or positive. They are completely neutral...Things merely happen to you. It is your mind that chooses to interpret them as negative or positive.
  • Most people wait too long to go into action, generally out of fear. They want more money or better circumstances. You must go the opposite direction and move before you think you are ready.
  • Understand: it is not only what you do that must have flow, but also how you do things. It is your strategies, your methods of attacking problems, that must constantly be adapted to circumstances.
  • Forgetting is a skill that you must develop in order to have emotional flow. If you cannot help but feel anger or disgust in the moment, make it a point to not let it remain the following day.
  • It might seem that intense feelings of love, hate, or anger can be used to impel you forward on some project, but that is an illusion. Such emotions give you a burst of energy that falls quickly and leaves you as low as you were high.
  • In general, you must be less respectful of the rules that other people have established. They do not necessarily fit the times or your temperament. And there is great power to be had by being the one to initiate a new order.
  • Sometimes in life you find yourself in a negative situation that cannot be improved no matter what you do...You can recognize this dynamic by your emotional need to somehow solve the problem, mixed with your complete frustration in finding any kind of reasonable answer. In truth the only viable solution is to terminate the relationship — no arguing, no bargaining, no compromising. You leave the job (there are always others); you leave the person who is tormenting you with as much finality as possible. Resist the temptation to feel any guilt. You need to create as much distance as possible, so they cannot inveigle these emotions into you. They must become dead to you so you can go on with your life.
  • To make this work you must choose a career or a craft that excites you in some deep way.  You are creating no dividing line between work and pleasure.  Your pleasure comes in mastering the process itself, and in the mental immersion it requires.
  • The fearless types in history inevitably display in their lives a higher tolerance than most of us for repetitive, boring tasks.  This allows them to excel in their field and master their craft.
  • “All of man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still, alone in a room.” - Blaise Pascal
  • Understand: the real secret, the real formula for power in this world, lies in accepting the ugly reality that learning requires a process, and this in turn demands patience and the ability to endure drudge work. It is not sexy or seductive at first glance, but this truth is based on something real and substantial—an age-old wisdom that will never be overturned.
  • Your sense of who you are will determine your actions and what you end up getting in life.  If you see your reach as limited, that you are mostly helpless in the face of so many difficulties, that it is best to keep your ambitions low, then you will receive the little that you expect...Knowing this dynamic, you must train yourself for the opposite - ask for more, aim high, and believe that you are destined for something great.  Your sense of self-worth comes from you alone - never the opinion of others.  With a rising confidence in your abilities, you will take risks that will increase your chances of success.  People follow those who know where they are going, so cultivate an air of certainty and boldness.
  • Understand: people will constantly attack you in life. One of their main weapons will be to instill in you doubts about yourself—your worth, your abilities, your potential. They will often disguise this as their objective opinion, but invariably it has a political purpose—they want to keep you down. You are continually prone to believe these opinions, particularly if your self-image is fragile. In every moment of life you can defy and deny people this power. You do so by maintaining a sense of purpose, a high destiny you are fulfilling. From such a position, people’s attacks do not harm you; they only make you angry and more determined. The higher you raise this self-image, the fewer judgments and manipulations you will tolerate. This will translate into fewer obstacles in your path.
  • When you choose to affirm life by confronting your mortality, everything changes. What matters to you now is to live your days well, as fully as possible.
  • In our normal perspective we see death as something diametrically opposed to life, a separate event that ends our days. As such, it is a thought that we must dread, avoid, and repress. But this is false, an idea that is actually born out of our fear. Life and death are inextricably intertwined, not separate; the one cannot exist without the other...If we try to avoid or repress the thought, keep death on the outside, we are cutting ourselves off from life as well.

Detailed Notes

Introduction:

  • Fear creates its own self - fulfilling dynamic — as people give in to it, they lose energy and momentum.
  • Understand: we are all too afraid — of offending people, of stirring up conflict, of standing out from the crowd, of taking bold action.
  • The Fearless Type:
    • There are two ways of dealing with fear — one passive, the other active. In the passive mode, we seek to avoid the situation that causes us anxiety. This could translate into postponing any decisions in which we might hurt people’s feelings.
    • The active variety is something most of us have experienced at some point in our lives: the risky or difficult situation that we fear is thrust upon us. It could be a natural disaster, a death of someone close to us, or a reversal in fortune in which we lose something. Often in these moments we find an inner strength that surprises us. What we feared is not so bad. We cannot avoid it and have to find a way to overcome our fear or suffer real consequences. Such moments are oddly therapeutic because finally we are confronting something real — not an imagined fear scenario fed to us by the media.
    • Understand: no one is born this way. It is unnatural to not feel fear. It is a process that requires challenges and tests. What separates those who go under and those who rise above adversity is the strength of their will and their hunger for power.
    • At some point, this defensive position of overcoming fears converts to an offensive one — a fearless attitude.
    • Testing and proving his courage in this way gave him a feeling of tremendous power. He quickly learned the value of boldness, how he could push others on their heels by feeling supreme confidence in himself.
    • Fifty, however, had greater ambitions than to become merely a successful hustler, and so he forced himself to face and overcome this one powerful fear. At the age of twenty and at the peak of his hustling success, he decided to cut his ties to the game and dive into the music racket without any connections or a safety net. Because he had no plan B, because it was either succeed at music or go under, he operated with a frantic, bold energy that got him noticed in the rap world.
  • The 50th Law:
    • The 50th Law, however, states that there is one thing we can actually control — the mind - set with which we respond to these events around us. And if we are able to overcome our anxieties and forge a fearless attitude towards life, something strange and remarkable can occur — that margin of control over circumstance increases. At its utmost point, we can even create the circumstances themselves, which is the source of the tremendous power that fearless types have had throughout history. And the people who practice the 50th Law in their lives all share certain qualities — supreme boldness, unconventionality, fluidity, and a sense of urgency — that give them this unique ability to shape circumstance.
    • Those who follow the 50th Law are not afraid of change or chaos; they embrace it by being as fluid as possible. They move with the flow of events and then gently channel them in the direction of their choice, exploiting the moment. Through their mind - set, they convert a negative (unexpected events) into a positive (an opportunity).
    • The key to possessing this supreme power is to assume the active mode in dealing with your fears. This means entering the very arenas you normally shy away from: making the very hard decisions you have been avoiding, confronting the people who are playing power games with you, thinking of yourself and what you need instead of pleasing others, making yourself change the direction of your life even though such change is the very thing you dread. 
    • You deliberately put yourself in difficult situations and you examine your reactions. In each case, you will notice that your fears were exaggerated and that confronting them has the bracing effect of bringing you closer to reality. 
    • At some point you will discover the power of reversal — overcoming the negative of a particular fear leads to a positive quality — self - reliance, patience, supreme self - confidence, and on and on.
    • Understand: you do not have to grow up in Southside Queens or be the target of an assassin to develop the attitude. All of us face challenges, rivals, and setbacks. We choose to ignore or avoid them out of fear. It is not the physical reality of your environment that matters but your mental state, how you come to deal with the adversity that is part of life on every level. Fifty had to confront his fears; you must choose to.

CHAPTER 1 See Things for What They Are — Intense Realism

  • The firmer your grasp on reality, the more power you will have to alter it for your purposes.
  • The Fearless Approach:
    • Truth’s words apply to you as much as to Fifty: the greatest danger you face is your mind growing soft and your eye getting dull.
    • When things get tough and you grow tired of the grind, your mind tends to drift into fantasies; you wish things were a certain way, and slowly, subtly, you turn inward to your thoughts and desires.
    • If things are going well, you become complacent, imagining that what you have now will continue forever. You stop paying attention.
    • Understand: you need this code even more than Fifty. His world was so harsh and dangerous it forced him to open his eyes to reality and never lose that connection. Your world seems cozier and less violent, less immediately dangerous. It makes you wander and your eyes mist over with dreams. The competitive dynamic (the streets, the business world) is in fact the same, but your apparently comfortable environment makes it harder for you to see it. Reality has its own power — you can turn your back on it, but it will find you in the end, and your inability to cope with it will be your ruin. Now is the time to stop drifting and wake up — to assess yourself, the people around you, and the direction in which you are headed in as cold and brutal a light as possible. Without fear.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • Understand: as an individual you cannot stop the tide of fantasy and escapism sweeping a culture. But you can stand as an individual bulwark to this trend and create power for yourself. You were born with the greatest weapon in all of nature — the rational, conscious mind.
    • Regard the following as exercises for your mind — to make it less rigid, more penetrating and expansive, a sharper gauge of reality. Practice all of them as often as you can.
    • REDISCOVER CURIOSITY — OPENNESS
      • His superiority, he realized, was that he knew that he knew nothing. This left his mind open to experiencing things as they are, the source of all knowledge.
      • This position of basic ignorance was what you had as a child.
      • What you need to do in life is return to that mind you possessed as a child, opening up to experience instead of closing it off. Just imagine for a day that you do not know anything, that what you believe could be completely false. Let go of your preconceptions and even your most cherished beliefs. Experiment. Force yourself to hold the opposite opinion or see the world through your enemy’s eyes.
    • KNOW THE COMPLETE TERRAIN — EXPANSION
      • Your goal is to follow the path of Napoleon. You want to take in as much as possible with your own eyes. You communicate with people up and down the chain of command within your organization. You do not draw any barriers to your social interactions. You want to expand your access to different ideas. Force yourself to go to events and places that are beyond your usual circle. If you cannot observe something firsthand, try to get reports that are more direct and less filtered, or vary the sources so that you can see things from several sides. Get a fingertip feel for everything going on in your environment — the complete terrain.
    • DIG TO THE ROOTS — DEPTH
      • When you do not get to the root of a problem, you cannot solve it in any meaningful manner. People like to look at the surfaces, get all emotional and react, doing things that make them feel better in the short term but do nothing for them in the long term. 
      • This must be the power and the direction of your mind whenever you encounter some problem — to bore deeper and deeper until you get at something basic and at the root.
    • SEE FURTHER AHEAD — PROPORTION
      • It is a law of power, however, that the further and deeper we contemplate the future, the greater our capacity to shape it according to our desires.
      • If you have a long - term goal for yourself, one that you have imagined in detail, then you are better able to make the proper decisions in the present. You know which battles or positions to avoid because they don’t advance you towards your goal.
    • LOOK AT PEOPLE’S DEEDS, NOT WORDS — SHARPNESS
      • In war or any competitive game, you don’t pay attention to people’s good or bad intentions. They don’t matter. It should be the same in the game of life.
      • All you look at are people’s maneuvers — their actions in the past and what you might expect in the future. In this area, you are fiercely realistic.
    • REASSESS YOURSELF — DETACHMENT
      • Your increasing powers of observation must occasionally be aimed at yourself. Think of this as a ritual you will engage in every few weeks — a rigorous reassessment of who you are and where you are headed. Look at your most recent actions as if they were the maneuvers of another person.
      • The endgame of such an exercise is to cultivate the proper sense of detachment from yourself and from life.
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • Let us take this further. The real poetry and beauty in life comes from an intense relationship with reality in all its aspects. Realism is in fact the ideal we must aspire to, the highest point of human rationality.

CHAPTER 2 Make Everything Your Own — Self - Reliance

  • Your goal in every maneuver in life must be ownership, working the corner for yourself.  When it is yours to lose - you are more motivated, more creative, more alive.  The ultimate power in life is to be completely self-reliant, completely yourself.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • True ownership can come only from within. It comes from a disdain for anything or anybody that impinges upon your mobility, from a confidence in your own decisions, and from the use of your time in constant pursuit of education and improvement.
    • Only from this inner position of strength and self - reliance will you be able to truly work for yourself and never turn back.
    • Understand: we are living through an entrepreneurial revolution, comparable to the one that swept through Fifty’s neighborhood in the 1980s, but on a global scale.
    • Think of it this way: dependency is a habit that is so easy to acquire. We live in a culture that offers you all kinds of crutches — experts to turn to, drugs to cure any psychological unease, mild pleasures to help pass or kill time, jobs to keep you just above water. It is hard to resist.
    • Before it is too late, you must move in the opposite direction.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • Your life must be a progression towards ownership — first mentally of your independence, and then physically of your work, owning what you produce. Think of the following steps as a kind of blueprint for how to move in this direction.
    • STEP ONE: RECLAIM DEAD TIME
      • Remember: your bosses prefer to keep you in dependent positions.  It is in their interest that you do not become self-reliant, and so they will tend to hoard information.  You must secretly work against this and seize the information for yourself.
    • STEP TWO: CREATE LITTLE EMPIRES
      • While still working for others, your goal at some point must be to carve out little areas that you can operate on your own, cultivating entrepreneurial skills.
      • Keep in mind the following: what you really value in life is ownership, not money. If ever there is a choice — more money or more responsibility — you must always opt for the latter. A lower - paying position that offers more room to make decisions and carve out little empires is infinitely preferable to something that pays well but constricts your movements.
    • STEP THREE: MOVE HIGHER UP THE FOOD CHAIN
      • Your goal in life must be to always move higher and higher up the food chain, where you alone control the direction of your enterprise and depend on no one.  Since this goal is a future ideal, in the present you must strive to keep yourself free of the unnecessary entanglements and alliances.  And if you cannot avoid having partners, make sure that you are clear as to what function they serve for you and how you will free yourself of them at the right moment.
      • You must remember that when people give you things or do you favours it is always with strings attached.  They want something from you in return - assistance, unquestioned loyalty, and so forth.  You want to keep yourself free of as many of these obligations as possible, so get in the habit of taking what you need for yourself instead of expecting others to give it to you.
    • STEP FOUR: MAKE YOUR ENTERPRISE A REFLECTION OF YOUR INDIVIDUALITY
      • Understand: you are one of a kind. Your character traits are a kind of chemical mix that will never be repeated in history. There are ideas unique to you, a specific rhythm and perspective that are your strengths, not your weaknesses. You must not be afraid of your uniqueness and you must care less and less what people think of you.
      • This has been the path of the most powerful people in history.
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • In our culture we tend to elevate those who are smooth talkers, seem more gregarious, and fit in better, conforming to certain norms.
      • This is a superficial appraisal of character; if we reverse our perspective and look at this from the fearless point of view we come to the opposite conclusion.
      • People who are self - sufficient are generally types who are more comfortable with themselves. They do not look for things that they need from other people. Paradoxically this makes them more attractive and seductive.
      • The only way to gain self - reliance or any power is through great effort and practice.

CHAPTER 3 Turn Shit into Sugar — Opportunism

  • Every negative situation contains the possibility for something positive, an opportunity.  It is how you look at it that matters.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • Events in life are not negative or positive. They are completely neutral.
    • Things merely happen to you. It is your mind that chooses to interpret them as negative or positive.
    • Mentally framing a negative event as a blessing in disguise makes it easier for you to move forward. It is a kind of mental alchemy, transforming shit into sugar.
    • Understand: we live in a society of relative prosperity, but in many ways this turns out to be a detriment to our spirit. We come to feel that we naturally deserve good things, that we have certain privileges due to us. When setbacks occur, it is almost a personal affront or punishment.
    • We either blame other people or we blame ourselves. In both cases, we lose valuable time and become unnecessarily emotional.
    • You must adopt an attitude that is the opposite to how most people think and operate. When things are going well, that is precisely when you must be concerned and vigilant. You know it will not last and you will not be caught unprepared. When things are going badly, that is when you are most encouraged and fearless.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • This attitude is what we shall call “opportunism.” True opportunists do not require urgent, stressful circumstances to become alert and inventive. They operate this way on a daily basis.
    • This power is open to each and every one of us if we put into practice the following four principles of the art.
    • MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT YOU HAVE
      • But a different possibility exists for us as well — the realization that more resources are not necessarily coming from the outside and that we must use what we already have to better effect.
      • When we go to work with what is there, we find new ways to employ this material. We solve problems, develop skills we can use again and again, and build up our confidence. If we become wealthy and dependent on money and technology, our minds atrophy and that wealth will not last.
    • TURN ALL OBSTACLES INTO OPENINGS
      • An opportunist in life sees all hindrances as instruments for power. The reason is simple: negative energy that comes at you in some form is energy that can be turned around — to defeat an opponent and lift you up.
      • In general, obstacles force your mind to focus and find ways around them. They heighten your mental powers and should be welcomed.
    • LOOK FOR TURNING POINTS
      • Opportunities exist in any field of tension — heated competition, anxiety, chaotic situations. Something important is going on and if you are able to determine the underlying cause, you can create for yourself a powerful opportunity.
      • Look for any sudden successes or failures in the business world that people find hard to explain. These are often indications of shifts going on under the surface; perhaps someone has inadvertently hit upon a new model for doing things and you must analyze this.
      • Examine the greatest anxieties of those on the inside of any business or industry. Deep changes going on usually register as fear to those who do not know how to deal with them. You can be the first to exploit such changes for positive purposes.
      • Keep your eye out for any kind of shifts in tastes or values. People in the media or the establishment will often rail against these changes, seeing them as signs of moral decline and chaos. People fear the new. You can turn this into an opportunity by being the first to give some meaning to this apparent disorder, establishing it as a positive value. You are not looking for fads, but deep - rooted changes in people’s tastes. One opportunity you can always bank on is that a younger generation will react against the sacred cows of the older generation.
    • MOVE BEFORE YOU ARE READY
      • Most people wait too long to go into action, generally out of fear. They want more money or better circumstances. You must go the opposite direction and move before you think you are ready. It is as if you are making it a little more difficult for yourself, deliberately creating obstacles in your path. But it is a law of power that your energy will always rise to the appropriate level. When you feel that you must work harder to get to your goal because you are not quite prepared, you are more alert and inventive. This venture has to succeed and so it will.
      • Remember: as Napoleon said, the moral is to the physical as three to one — meaning the motivation and energy levels you or your army bring to the encounter have three times as much weight as your physical resources.
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • Opportunism comes with a belief system that is eminently positive and powerful — one known to the Stoic philosophers of ancient Rome as amor fati, or love of fate.

CHAPTER 4 Keep Moving — Calculated Momentum

  • Keep moving and changing your appearances to fit the environment.  If you encounter walls or boundaries, slip around them.  Do not let anything disrupt your flow.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • The first and most important step is to let go of this need to control in such a direct manner. This means that you no longer see change and chaotic moments in life as something to fear, but rather as a source of excitement and opportunity.
    • As part of this new concept, you are replacing the old stalwart symbols of power — the rock, the oak tree, etc. — with that of water, the element that has the greatest potential force in all of nature. Water can adapt to whatever comes its way, moving around or over any obstacle. It wears away rock over time. This form of power does not mean you simply give in to what life brings you and drift. It means that you channel the flow of events in your direction, letting this add to the force of your actions and giving you powerful momentum.
    • Understand: it is not only what you do that must have flow, but also how you do things. It is your strategies, your methods of attacking problems, that must constantly be adapted to circumstances. Strategy is the essence of human action — the bridge between an idea and its realization in the world. Too often these strategies become frozen into conventions, as people mindlessly imitate what worked before. By keeping your strategies attuned to the moment, you can be an agent of change, the one who breaks up these dead ways of acting, gaining tremendous power in the process. Most people in life are rigid and predictable; that makes them easy targets. Your fluid, unpredictable strategies will drive them insane. They cannot foresee your next move or figure you out. That is often enough to make them give way or fall apart.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • Understand: momentum in life comes from increased fluidity, a willingness to try more, to move in a less constricted fashion. On many levels it remains something hard to put into words, but by understanding the process, becoming more conscious of the elements involved, you can place your mind in a readied position, better able to exploit any positive movement in your life. Call this calculated momentum. For this purpose you must practice and master the following four types of flow.
    • MENTAL FLOW
      • Knowledge has once again hardened into rigid categories, with intellectuals shut off in various ghettos. Intelligent people are considered serious by virtue of how deeply they immerse themselves in one field of study, their viewpoint becoming more and more myopic. Someone who crosses these rigid demarcations is inevitably considered a dilettante.
      • We end up strangling ourselves in the narrowness of our interests. With all of these restrictions, knowledge has no flow to it.
      • All of the greatest innovations in history come from an openness to discovery, one idea leading to another, sometimes coming from unrelated fields. You must develop this spirit and the same insatiable hunger for knowledge. This comes from widening your fields of study and observation, letting yourself be carried along by what you discover.
    • EMOTIONAL FLOW
      • Forgetting is a skill that you must develop in order to have emotional flow. If you cannot help but feel anger or disgust in the moment, make it a point to not let it remain the following day.
      • When you hold on to emotions like that, it is as if you put blinders on your eyes. For that amount of time, you see and feel only what this emotion dictates, falling behind events. Your mind stops on feelings of failure, disappointment, and mistrust, giving you that awkwardness of someone out of tune with the moment.
      • To combat this, you must learn the art of counterbalance. When you are fearful, force yourself to act in a bolder fashion than usual. When you feel inordinate hate, find some object of love or admiration that you can focus on with intensity. One strong emotion tends to cancel out the other and help you move past it.
      • It might seem that intense feelings of love, hate, or anger can be used to impel you forward on some project, but that is an illusion. Such emotions give you a burst of energy that falls quickly and leaves you as low as you were high.
      • Rather, you want a more balanced emotional life, with fewer highs and lows.
    • SOCIAL FLOW
      • This should be your model in any venture that involves groups of people. You provide the framework, based on your knowledge and expertise, but you allow room for this project to be shaped by those involved in it. They are motivated and creative, helping to give the project more flow and force. You are not going too far in this process; you set the overall direction and tone.
    • CULTURAL FLOW
      • Understand: you exist in a particular cultural moment, with its own flow and style. When you are young you are more sensitive to these fluctuations in taste and so you generally keep up with the present. But as you get older the tendency is for you to become locked in a style that is dead, one that you associate with your youth and its excitement. If enough time passes, your style - lock can become quite ludicrous; you look like a museum piece. Your momentum will grind to a halt as people come to categorize you in a narrow period of time.
      • Instead you must find a way to periodically reinvent yourself. You are not trying to mimic the latest trend — that will make you look equally ludicrous. You are simply rediscovering that youthful attentiveness to what is happening around you and incorporating what you like into a newer spirit. You are taking pleasure in shaping your personality, wearing a new mask. The only thing you really have to fear is becoming a social and cultural relic.
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • This is how you must operate: you actively work to overcome this fixed nature, deliberately trying a different approach and style than your usual one, to get a sense of a different possibility. You come to view periods of stability and order with mistrust. Something isn’t moving in your life and in your mind.
      • On the other hand, moments of change and apparent chaos are what you thrive on — they make your mind and spirit jump to life. If you reach such a point, you have tremendous power. You have nothing to fear from moments of transition. You welcome, even create them. Whenever you feel rooted and established in place, that is when you should be truly afraid.

CHAPTER 5 Know When to Be Bad — Aggression

  • Before it is too late you must master the art of knowing when and how to be bad - using deception, manipulation, and outright force at the appropriate moments.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • Life involves constant battle and confrontation. This comes on two levels. On one level, we have desires and needs, our own interests that we wish to advance. In a highly competitive world, this means we must assert ourselves and even occasionally push people out of position to get our way. On the other level, there are always people who are more aggressive than we are. At some point they cross our path and try to block or harm us. On both levels, playing offense and defense, we have to manage people’s resistance and hostility.
    • What you want instead is to feel secure and strong from within. You are willing to occasionally displease people and you are comfortable in taking on those who stand against your interests. From such a position of strength, you are able to handle friction in an effective manner, being bad when it is appropriate. 
    • This inner strength, however, does not come naturally. What is required is some experience. This means that in your daily life you must assert yourself more than usual — you take on an aggressor instead of avoiding him; you strategize and push for something you want instead of waiting for someone to give it to you.
    • By a paradoxical law of human nature, trying to please people less will make them more likely in the long run to respect and treat you better.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • The following are the most common foes and scenarios that you will encounter in which some form of badness is required to defend or advance yourself.
    • AGGRESSORS
      • FDR had understood the basic principle in squaring off against aggressors who are direct and relentless. If you meet them head on, you are forced to fight on their terms. Unless you happen to be an aggressive type, you are generally at a disadvantage against those who have simple ideas and fierce energy. It is best to fight them in an indirect manner, concealing your intentions and doing what you can behind the scenes — hidden from the public — to create obstacles and sow confusion. Instead of reacting, you must give aggressors some space to go further with their attacks, getting them to expose themselves in the process and provide you plenty of juicy targets to hit. If you become too active and forceful in response, you look defensive.
    • PASSIVE AGGRESSORS
      • These types are masters at disguise. They present themselves as weak and helpless, or highly moral and righteous, or friendly and ingratiating. This makes them hard to pick out at first glance. They send all kinds of mixed signals — alternating between friendly, cool, and hostile — creating confusion and conflicting emotions.
      • Catherine was a classic fearless type. She understood that with passive aggressors you must not get emotional and drawn into their endless intrigues. If you respond indirectly, with a kind of passive aggression yourself, you play into their hands — they are better at this game than you are. Being underhanded and tricky only spurs on their insecurities and intensifies their vindictive nature. The only way to treat these types is to take bold, uncompromising action that either discourages further nonsense or sends them running away. They respond only to power and leverage.
      • To recognize such types, look for extremes in behavior that are not natural — too kind, too ingratiating, too moral. These are most likely disguises that are worn to deflect attention from their true nature. Better to be proactive and take precautionary measures the moment you feel they are trying to get into your life.
    • UNJUST SITUATIONS
      • In facing an unjust situation, you have two options. You can loudly proclaim your intentions to defeat the people behind it, making yourself look good and noble in the process. But in the end, this tends to polarize the public (you create one hardened enemy for every sympathizer won over to the cause), and it makes your intentions obvious. If the enemy is crafty, this makes it almost impossible to defeat them. Or, if it is results you are after, you must learn instead to play the fox, letting go of your moral purity. You resist the pull to get emotional, and you craft strategic maneuvers designed to win public support. You shift your position to suit the circumstance, baiting the enemy into actions that will win you sympathy.
      • You conceal your intentions. Think of it as war — short of unnecessary violence, you are called to do whatever it takes to defeat the enemy. There is no nobility in losing if an injustice is allowed to prevail.
  • STATIC SITUATIONS
    • In any venture, people quickly create rules and conventions that must be followed. This is often necessary to instill some discipline and order. But most often these rules and conventions are arbitrary — they are based on something that was successful in the past but might have little relevance to the present. They are often instruments for those in power to maintain their grip and keep the group unified. If this goes on long enough, they become stultifying and crowd out any new ways for doing things. In such a situation, what is called for is the total destruction of these dead conventions, creating space for something new. In other words you must be the complete lion, as bad as can be.
    • In general, you must be less respectful of the rules that other people have established. They do not necessarily fit the times or your temperament. And there is great power to be had by being the one to initiate a new order.
  • IMPOSSIBLE DYNAMICS
    • Sometimes in life you find yourself in a negative situation that cannot be improved no matter what you do.
    • You can recognize this dynamic by your emotional need to somehow solve the problem, mixed with your complete frustration in finding any kind of reasonable answer. In truth the only viable solution is to terminate the relationship — no arguing, no bargaining, no compromising. You leave the job (there are always others); you leave the person who is tormenting you with as much finality as possible. Resist the temptation to feel any guilt. You need to create as much distance as possible, so they cannot inveigle these emotions into you. They must become dead to you so you can go on with your life.
  • Reversal of Perspective
    • The problem with confrontational moments, and why we often seek to avoid them, is that they churn up a lot of unpleasant emotions. We feel personally aggrieved that someone is trying to hurt or harm us. This makes us wonder about ourselves and feel insecure.
    • It is essential that you develop the reverse perspective: life naturally involves conflicting interests; people have their own issues, their own agendas, and they collide with yours. Instead of taking this personally or concerning yourself with people’s intentions, you must simply work to protect and advance yourself in this competitive game, this bloody arena.
    • Focus your attention on their maneuvers and how to deflect them.
    • When you have to resort to something that isn’t conventionally moral, it is just another maneuver you are executing in the game — nothing to feel guilty about. You accept human nature and the idea that people will resort to aggression. This calm, detached perspective will make it that much easier to design the perfect strategy for blunting their aggression.

CHAPTER 6 Lead from the Front — Authority

  • In any group, the person on top consciously or unconsciously sets the tone.
  • You must adopt the opposite style: imbue your troops with the proper spirit through your actions, not words.  They see you working harder than anyone, holding yourself to the highest standards, taking risks with confidence, and making tough decisions.  This inspires and binds the group together.  In these democratic times, you must practice what you preach.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • This should be your perspective as well. You start with nothing in this world. Any titles, money, or privilege you inherit are actually hindrances. They delude you into believing you are owed respect. If you continue to impose your will because of such privileges, people will come to disdain and despise you. Instead only your actions can prove your worth. They tell people who you are. You must imagine that you are continually being challenged to show that you deserve the position you occupy. In a culture full of fakery and hype, you will stand out as someone authentic and worthy of respect.
    • The greatest leaders in history all inevitably learned by experience the following lesson: it is much better to be feared and respected than to be loved.
    • Understand: to be a leader often requires making tough choices, getting people to do things against their will. If you have chosen the soft, pleasing, compliant style of leadership, out of fear of being disliked, you will find yourself with less and less room to compel people to work harder or make sacrifices. If you suddenly try to be tough, they often feel wounded and personally upset. They can move from love to hate. The opposite approach yields the opposite result. If you build a reputation for toughness and getting results, people might resent you, but you will establish a foundation of respect. You are demonstrating genuine qualities of leadership that speak to everyone. Now with time and a well - founded authority, you have room to back off and reward people, even to be nice. When you do so, it will be seen as a genuine gesture, not an attempt to get people to like you, and it will have double the effect.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • To master the art of leadership you must see yourself as playing certain parts that will impress your disciples and make them more likely to follow you with the necessary enthusiasm. The following are the four main roles you must learn to perform.
    • THE VISIONARY
      • Understand: a group of any size must have goals and long - term objectives to function properly. But human nature serves as a great impediment to this. We are naturally consumed by immediate battles and problems; we find it very difficult, if not unnatural, to focus with any depth on the future. Thinking ahead requires a particular thought process that comes with practice. It means seeing something practical and achievable several years down the road, and mapping out how this goal can be achieved. It means thinking in branches, coming up with several paths to get there, depending on circumstances. It means being emotionally attached to this idea, so that when a thousand distractions and interruptions seem to push you off course, you have the strength and purpose to keep at it.
    • THE UNIFIER
      • Understand: the natural dynamic of any group is to splinter into factions. People want to protect and promote their narrow interests, so they form political alliances from within. If you force them to unite under your leadership, stamping out their factions, you may take control but it will come with great resentment — they will naturally suspect you are increasing your power at their expense. If you do nothing, you will find yourself surrounded by lords and dukes who will make your job impossible.
      • A group needs a centripetal force to give it unity and cohesion but it is not enough to have that be you and the force of your personality. Instead it should be a cause that you fearlessly embody. This could be political, ethical, or progressive — you are working to improve the lives of people in your community, for instance. This cause elevates your group above others.
      • To play this role effectively, you must be a living example of this cause, much as Louis exemplified the civilizing power of France in his own carefully crafted behavior.
    • THE ROLE MODEL
      • You cannot control a large group on your own. You will turn into a micromanager or dictator, making yourself exhausted and hated. You need to develop a team of lieutenants who are infused with your ideas, your spirit, and your values. Once you have such a team, you can give them latitude to operate on their own, learning for themselves and bringing their own creativity to the cause.
      • Operating with a mission statement is an effective way of softening your image and disguising the extent of your power. You are seen as more than just a leader; you are a role model, instructing, energizing, and inspiring your lieutenants. In crafting this team, look for people who share your values and are open to learning.
      • Once you feel they have the proper training, you must not be afraid to let go of the reins and give them more independence. In the end, this will save you much energy and allow you to continue focusing on the greater strategic picture.
    • THE BOLD KNIGHT
      • Every group has a kind of collective energy, and on its own this will tend towards inertia. This comes from people’s powerful desires to keep things comfortable, easy, and familiar.
      • Since you are the leader, you are the one who can alter this and set a pace that is more alive and active. You remain the bold and enterprising knight. You force yourself to initiate new projects and domains to conquer; you take proactive measures against possible dangers on the horizon; you seize the initiative against your rivals. You keep your group marching and on the offensive.
  • Reversal of Perspective
    • As a leader this is how you must view yourself as well. You are an author creating a new order, writing a new act in some drama. You never rest on your laurels or past achievements. Instead you are constantly taking action that moves the group forward and brings positive results; that record speaks for itself.

CHAPTER 7 Know Your Environment from the Inside Out — Connection

  • Most people think first of what they want to express or make, then find the audience for their idea.  You must work the opposite angle, thinking first of the public.
  • Do not be afraid of people’s criticisms - without such feedback your work will be too personal and delusional. 
  • The Fearless Approach
    • Understand: the opposite approach is the way to power in this world. It begins with a fundamental fearlessness — you do not feel afraid or affronted by people who have different ways of thinking or acting. You do not feel superior to those on the outside. In fact, you are excited by such diversity. Your first move is to open up your spirit to these differences, to understand what makes the Other tick, to gain a feel for people’s inner lives, how they see the world. In this way, you continually expose yourself to wider and wider circles of people, building connections to these various networks. The source of your power is your sensitivity and closeness to this social environment. You can detect trends and changes in people’s tastes well before anyone else.
    • In such a melting pot as the modern world, with people’s tastes changing at a faster pace than ever before, our success depends on our ability to move outside ourselves and connect to other social networks. At all costs, you need to continually force yourself outward. You must reach a point where any sense of losing this connection to your environment translates into a feeling of vulnerability and peril.
    • This has great application beyond the realms of science. Normally when you study something, you begin with certain preconceived notions about the subject.
    • Instead, like Goodall, you must let go of this need to control and narrow your field of vision. When you study an individual or a group, your goal is to get inside their minds, their experiences, their way of looking at things. To do this, you must interact with them on a more equal plane. With this open and fearless spirit, you will discover things no one had suspected before. You will have a much deeper appreciation for the targets of your actions or the public you are trying to reach. And with such understanding will come the power to move them.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • Understand: you cannot disguise your attitude towards the public. If you feel superior at all, part of some chosen elite, then this seeps out in the work. It is conveyed in the tone and mood. It feels patronizing. If you have little access to the public you are trying to reach but you feel that the ideas in your head cannot fail to be interesting, then it almost inevitably comes across as something too personal, the product of someone who is alienated. In either case, what is really dominating the spirit of your work is fear. To interact closely with the public and get its feedback might mean having to adjust your “ brilliant ” ideas, your preconceived notions.
    • We are social creatures who make things in order to communicate and connect with those around us. Your goal must be to break down the distance between you and your audience, the base of your support in life.
    • The following are four strategies you can use to bring yourself closer to this ideal.
    • CRUSH ALL DISTANCE
      • Understand: in this day and age, to reach people you must have access to their inner lives — their frustrations, aspirations, resentments. To do so, you must crush as much distance as possible between you and your audience. You enter their spirit and absorb it from within. Their way of looking at things becomes yours, and when you re-create it in some form of work, it has life.
    • OPEN INFORMAL CHANNELS OF CRITICISM AND FEEDBACK
      • As Eleanor understood, any kind of group tends to close itself off from the outside world. It is easier to operate this way. From within this bubble, people will delude themselves into thinking they have insight into how their audience or public feels—they read the papers, various reports, the poll numbers, etc. But all of this information tends to be flat and highly filtered. It is much different when you interact directly with the public and hear in the flesh their criticisms and feedback.
      • You create a back-and-forth dynamic in which their ideas, involvement, and energy can be harnessed for your purposes. If some distance between you and the public must be maintained, by the nature of your group or enterprise, then the ideal is to open up as many informal channels as possible, getting your feedback straight from the source.
    • RECONNECT WITH YOUR BASE
      • We see the following occur over and over: a person has success when they are younger because they have deep ties with a social group. What they produce and say comes from a real place and connects with an audience. Then slowly they lose this connection. Success creates distance. They come to spend most of their time with other successful people. Consciously or unconsciously, they come to feel separated and above their audience. The intensity in their work is gone and with it any kind of real effect on the public.
      • The goal in connecting to the public is not to please everyone or to spread yourself out to the widest possible audience. Communication is a power of intensity, not extensity and numbers. In trying to widen your appeal, you will substitute quantity for quality and you will pay a price. You have a base of power—a group of people, small or large, which identifies with you. This base is also mental—ideas you had when you were younger, which were tied to powerful emotions and inspired you to take a particular path. Time and success tend to diffuse the sense of connection you have to this physical and mental base. You will drift and your powers of communication will diminish. Know your base and work to reconnect with it. Keep your associations with it alive, intense, and present. Return to your origins—the source of all inspiration and power.
    • CREATE THE SOCIAL MIRROR
      • Instead of turning inward, consider people’s coolness to your idea and their criticisms as a kind of mirror they are holding up to you. A physical mirror turns you into an object; you can see yourself as others see you. Your ego cannot protect you—the mirror does not lie.
      • When your work does not communicate with others, consider it your own fault—you did not make your ideas clear enough and you failed to connect with your audience emotionally. This will spare you any bitterness or anger that might come from people’s critiques. You are simply perfecting your work through the social mirror.
  • Reversal of Perspective
    • Science and the scientific method are very powerful and practical pursuits of knowledge that have come to dominate much of our thinking for the past few centuries. But they have also spawned a peculiar preconception—that to understand anything we must study it from a distance and with a detached perspective.

CHAPTER 8 Respect the Process — Mastery

  • You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure - mastery of a craft and of yourself.  Your goal is to reach the ultimate skills level - an intuitive feel for what must come next.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • This is the pattern that boredom has created for the human animal ever since: we look outside ourselves for diversions and grow dependent on them. These entertainments have a faster pace than the time we spend at work. Work then is experienced as something boring—slow and repetitive. Anything challenging, requiring effort, is viewed the same way—it’s not fun; it’s not fast. If we go far enough in this direction, we find it increasingly difficult to muster the patience to endure the hard work that is required for mastering any kind of craft. It becomes harder to spend time alone. Life becomes divided between what is necessary (time at work) and what is pleasurable (distractions and entertainment).
    • There is, however, another possible relationship to boredom and empty time, a fearless one that yields much different results than frustration and escapism. It goes as follows: you have some large goal that you wish to achieve in your life, something you feel that you are destined to create. If you reach that goal, it will bring you far greater satisfaction than the evanescent thrills that come from outside diversions. To get there you will have to learn a craft—educate yourself and develop the proper skills. All human activities involve a process of mastery. You must learn the various steps and procedures involved, proceeding to higher and higher levels of proficiency. This requires discipline and tenacity—the ability to withstand repetitive activity, slowness, and the anxiety that comes with such a challenge. 
    • Once you start down this path, two things will happen: First, having the larger goal will lift your mind out of the moment and help you endure the hard work and drudgery. Second, as you become better at this task or craft, it becomes increasingly pleasurable. You see your improvement; you see connections and possibilities you hadn’t noticed before. Your mind becomes absorbed in mastering it further, and in this absorption you forget all your problems—fears for the future or people’s nasty games. But unlike the diversion that comes from outside sources, this one comes from within.
    • To make this work you must choose a career or a craft that excites you in some deep way.  You are creating no dividing line between work and pleasure.  Your pleasure comes in mastering the process itself, and in the mental immersion it requires.
    • The fearless types in history inevitably display in their lives a higher tolerance than most of us for repetitive, boring tasks.  This allows them to excel in their field and master their craft.  Part of this comes from seeing early on in life the tangible results that come from such rigorousness and patience.
    • When we look at those who stand out in history, we tend to focus on their achievements. From such an angle, it is easy for us to be dazzled and see their success as stemming from genetics and perhaps some social factors. They are gifted. We could never reach their level, or so we think. But we are choosing to ignore that telling period in their lives, when each and every one of them underwent a rather tedious apprenticeship in their field. What kept them going was the power they quickly discovered through mastery of certain steps. Sudden insights came to them that seem like genius to us, but are actually part of any intense learning process.
    • If only we were to study that part of their lives as opposed to the legends they later became, we would understand that we too could have some or all of that power by a patient immersion in any field of study. Many people cannot handle the boredom this might entail; they fear starting out on such an arduous process. They prefer their distractions, dreams, and illusions, never aware of the higher pleasures that are there for those who choose to master themselves and a craft.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • “All of man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still, alone in a room.” - Blaise Pascal
    • Understand: the real secret, the real formula for power in this world, lies in accepting the ugly reality that learning requires a process, and this in turn demands patience and the ability to endure drudge work. It is not sexy or seductive at first glance, but this truth is based on something real and substantial—an age-old wisdom that will never be overturned.
    • The key is the level of your desire. If you are really after power and mastery, then you will absorb this idea deeply and engrave it in your mind: there are no shortcuts. You will distrust anything that is fast and easy. You will be able to endure the initial months of dull, repetitive labor, because you have an overall goal. This will prevent you from short-circuiting, knowing many things but mastering none of them. In the end, what you really will be doing is mastering yourself—your impatience, your fear of boredom and empty time, your need for constant fun and amusement. 
    • The following are five principal strategies for developing the proper relationship to process.
    • PROGRESS THROUGH TRIAL AND ERROR
      • Too often our concept of learning is to absorb ideas from books, to do what others tell us to, and perhaps to do some controlled exercises. But this is an incomplete and fearful concept of learning—cut off from practical experience. We are creatures who make things; we don’t simply imagine them. To master any process you must learn through trial and error. You experiment, you take some hard blows, and you see what works and doesn’t work in real time. You expose yourself and your work to public scrutiny. Your failures are embedded in your nervous system; you do not want to repeat them.
    • MASTER SOMETHING SIMPLE 
      • Often we have a general feeling of insecurity because we have never really mastered anything in life. Unconsciously we feel weak and never quite up to the task. Before we begin something, we sense we will fail. The best way to overcome this once and for all is to attack this weakness head-on and build for ourselves a pattern of confidence.  And this must be done by first tackling something simple and basic, giving us a taste for the power we can have.
      • When you take the time to master a simple process and overcome a basic insecurity, you develop certain skills that can be applied to anything. You see instantly the reward that comes from patience, practice, and discipline. You have the sense that you can tackle almost any problem in the same way. You create for yourself a pattern of confidence that will continue to rise. 
    • INTERNALIZE THE RULES OF THE GAME
      • Understand: when you enter a group as part of a job or a career, there are all kinds of rules that govern behavior—values of good and bad, power networks that must be respected, patterns to be followed for successful action. If you do not patiently observe and learn them well, you will make all kinds of mistakes without knowing why or how. Think of social and political skills as a craft that you must master as well as any other. In the initial phase of your apprenticeship you must do as Marshall did and mute your colors. Your goal here is not to impress people with your brilliance but to learn these conventions from the inside. Watch for telling mistakes that others have made in the group and for which they have paid a price—that will reveal particular taboos within the culture. With a deepening knowledge of these rules you can begin to maneuver them for your purpose. If you find yourself confronting an unjust and corrupt system, it is much more effective to learn its codes from the inside and discover its vulnerabilities.  Knowing how it works, you can take it apart - for good.
    • ATTUNE YOURSELF TO THE DETAILS
      • Often when you begin a project of any kind, it is from the wrong end. You tend to think first of what you want to accomplish, imagining the glory and money it will bring you if it succeeds. You then proceed to make this concept come to life. But as you go forward you often lose patience, because the small steps to get there are not nearly as exciting as the ambitious visions in your head. You must try instead the opposite approach, which can lead to very different results. You have a project you wish to bring to life, but you begin by immersing yourself in the details of the subject or field. You look at the materials you have to work with, the tastes of your target audience, and the latest technical advances in the field. You take pleasure in going deeper and deeper into these fine points—your research is intense. From this knowledge, you shape the project itself, grounding it in reality rather than in airy concepts in your head. Operating this way helps you slow your mind down and develop patience for detailed work, an essential skill for mastering any craft. 
    • REDISCOVER YOUR NATURAL PERSISTENCE 
      • This is the dilemma we all face: to accomplish anything worthwhile in life generally takes some time—often in blocks of years. But we are creatures who find it very hard to manage such long periods.
      • To force yourself past any obstacle or temptation, you must be persistent. As children we all had this quality because we were single-minded; you must simply rediscover and redevelop this character trait. First, you must understand the role that your energy level plays in mastering a process and bringing something to completion. If you take on added goals or new tasks, your focus will be broken up and you will never attain what you wanted in the first place. You cannot persist on two or three paths, so avoid that temptation. Second, try breaking things up into smaller blocks of time. You have a large goal, but there are steps along the way, and steps within the steps. These steps represent months instead of years. Reaching these smaller goals gives you a sense of tangible reward and progress. This will make it easier for you to resist any diversions along the way and fearlessly push ahead. Remember: anything will give way to a sustained, persistent attack on your part. 
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • Try to look at boredom from the opposite perspective—as a call for you to slow yourself down, to stop searching for endless distractions. This might mean forcing yourself to spend time alone, overcoming that childish inability to sit still. When you work through such self-imposed boredom, you will find your mind clicks into gear—new and unexpected thoughts will come to you to fill the void.
      • On a higher level of this reeducation, you might choose a book to overcome your boredom, but instead of reading being a passive process of diversion, you actively mentally engage the author in an argument or discussion, making the book come to life in your head. At a further point, you take up a side activity—cultural or physical—that requires a repetitive process to master. You discover a calming effect in the repetitive element itself.

CHAPTER 9 - Push Beyond Your Limits - Self-Belief

  • Your sense of who you are will determine your actions and what you end up getting in life.  If you see your reach as limited, that you are mostly helpless in the face of so many difficulties, that it is best to keep your ambitions low, then you will receive the little that you expect.
  • Knowing this dynamic, you must train yourself for the opposite - ask for more, aim high, and believe that you are destined for something great.  Your sense of self-worth comes from you alone - never the opinion of others.  With a rising confidence in your abilities, you will take risks that will increase your chances of success.  People follow those who know where they are going, so cultivate an air of certainty and boldness.
  • The Hustler’s Ambition:
    • “Let me point out to you that freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.” - James Baldwin
  • The Fearless Approach:
    • Understand: you are in fact a mystery to yourself. You began life as someone completely unique—a mix of qualities that will never be repeated in the history of the universe. In your earliest years, you were a mass of conflicting emotions and desires. Then something foreign to you is placed over this reality. Who you are is much more chaotic and fluid than this surface character; you are full of untapped potential and possibility. 
    • As a child you had no real power to resist this process, but as an adult you could easily rebel and rediscover your individuality. You could stop deriving your sense of identity and self-worth from others. You could experiment and push past the limits people have set for you. You could take action that is different from what they expect. But that is to incur a risk. You are being unconventional, perhaps a bit strange in the eyes of those who know you. You could fail in this action and be ridiculed. Conforming to people’s expectations is safer and more comfortable, even if doing so makes you feel miserable and confined. In essence, you are afraid of yourself and what you could become. 
    • There is another, fearless way of approaching your life. It begins by untying yourself from the opinions of others. This is not as easy as it sounds. You are breaking a lifelong habit of continually referring to other people when measuring your value. You must experiment and feel the sensation of not concerning yourself with what others think or expect of you. You do not advance or retreat with their opinions in mind. You drown out their voices that often translate into doubts inside you. Instead of focusing on the limits you have internalized, you think of the potential you have for new and different behavior. Your personality can be altered and shaped by your conscious decision to do so.
    • Understand: people will constantly attack you in life. One of their main weapons will be to instill in you doubts about yourself—your worth, your abilities, your potential. They will often disguise this as their objective opinion, but invariably it has a political purpose—they want to keep you down. You are continually prone to believe these opinions, particularly if your self-image is fragile. In every moment of life you can defy and deny people this power. You do so by maintaining a sense of purpose, a high destiny you are fulfilling. From such a position, people’s attacks do not harm you; they only make you angry and more determined. The higher you raise this self-image, the fewer judgments and manipulations you will tolerate. This will translate into fewer obstacles in your path. If someone like Douglass could forge this attitude amid the most unfree of circumstances, then we should surely be able to find our own way to such inner strength.
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • In today’s world our idea of freedom largely revolves around the ability to satisfy certain needs and desires.
    • There is, however, a completely different concept of liberty. It is not something that people grant us as a privilege or right. It is a state of mind that we must work to attain and hold on to—with much effort. It is something active and not passive. It comes from exercising free will. In our day-to-day affairs much of our actions are not free and independent. We tend to conform to society’s norms in behavior and thinking. We generally act out of habit, without much thought as to why we do things. When we act with freedom, we ignore any pressures to conform; we step beyond our usual routines. Asserting our will and our individuality, we move on our own.
    • Understand: at any moment you could kick this philosophy and its ideas into the trashcan by doing something irrational and unexpected, contrary to what you have done in the past, an act not possibly explained by your upbringing or nervous system. What prevents you from taking such action is not mommy, daddy, or society, but your own fears. You are essentially free to move beyond any limits others have set for you, to re-create yourself as thoroughly as you wish.
    • Moving to this more active form of freedom does not mean that you are giving yourself over to wild and ill-considered action.
    • The risks you take are not emotional and for the sake of a thrill; they are calculated.  The need to conform and please others will always play a role in our actions, consciously or unconsciously.  To be completely free is impossible and undesirable.  You are merely exploring a freer range of action in your life and the power it could bring you.
    • What blocks us from moving in this direction are the pressures we feel to conform; our rigid, habitual patterns of thinking; and our self-doubts and fears.  
    • The following are five strategies to help you push past these limits.
    • DEFY ALL CATEGORIES
      • Understand: the day you were born you became engaged in a struggle that continues to this day and will determine your success or failure in life. You are an individual, with ideas and skills that make you unique. But people are constantly trying to fit you into narrow categories that make you more predictable and easier to manage. They want to see you as shy or outgoing, sensitive or tough. If you succumb to this pressure, then you may gain some social acceptance, but you will lose the unconventional parts of your character that are the source of your uniqueness and power. You must resist this process at all costs, seeing people’s neat and tidy judgments as a form of confinement. Your task is to retain or rediscover those aspects of your character that defy categorization, and to give them even greater play. Remaining unique, you will create something unique and inspire the kind of respect you would never receive from tepid conformity. 
    • CONSTANTLY REINVENT YOURSELF
      • Understand: people judge you by appearances, the image you project through your actions, words, and style. If you do not take control of this process, then people will see and define you the way they want to, often to your detriment. You might think that being consistent with this image will make others respect and trust you, but in fact it is the opposite—over time you seem predictable and weak. Consistency is an illusion anyway—each passing day brings changes within you. You must not be afraid to express these evolutions. The powerful learn early in life that they have the freedom to mold their image, fitting the needs and moods of the moment. In this way, they keep others off balance and maintain an air of mystery. You must follow this path and find great pleasure in reinventing yourself, as if you were the author writing your own drama.
    • SUBVERT YOUR PATTERNS
      • We succumb to mental patterns, which makes our actions repetitive as well.
      • What often prevent us from using the mental fluidity and freedom that we naturally possess are the physical routines in our lives. We see the same people and do the same things, and our minds follow these patterns. The solution then is to break this up. For instance, we could deliberately indulge in some random, even irrational act, perhaps doing the very opposite of what we would normally do in our day-to-day life. By taking an action we have never done before, we place ourselves in unfamiliar territory—our minds naturally awaken to the novel situation. In a similar vein, we can force ourselves to take different routes, visit strange places, encounter different people, wake up at odd hours, or read books that challenge our minds instead of dull them. We should practice this when we feel particularly blocked and uncreative. In such moments, it is best to be ruthless with ourselves and our patterns. 
    • CREATE A SENSE OF DESTINY
      • The story of Jeanne d’Arc demonstrates a simple principle: the higher your self-belief, the more your power to transform reality.  Having supreme confidence makes you fearless and persistent, allowing you to overcome obstacles that stop most people in their tracks. It makes others believe in you as well. And the most intense form of self-belief is to feel a sense of destiny impelling you forward. This destiny can come from otherworldly sources or it can come from yourself. Think of it in these terms: you have a set of skills and experiences that make you unique. They point towards some life task that you were meant to accomplish. You see signs of this in the predilections of your youth, certain tasks you were naturally drawn to. When you are involved in this task, everything seems to flow more naturally. Believing you are destined to accomplish something does not make you passive or unfree, but the opposite. You are liberated of the normal doubts and confusions that plague us. You have a sense of purpose that guides you but does not chain you to one way of doing things. And when your willpower is so deeply engaged, it will push you past any limits or dangers. 
    • BET ON YOURSELF 
      • It is always easy to rationalize your own doubts and conservative instincts, particularly when times are tough. You will convince yourself that it is foolhardy to take any risks, that it is better to wait for when circumstances are more propitious. But this is a dangerous mentality. It signifies an overall lack of confidence in yourself that will carry over to better times.
      • The truth is that the greatest inventions and advances in technology or business generally come in negative periods because there is a greater necessity for creative thinking and radical solutions that break with the past. These are moments that are ripe for opportunity. While others retrench and retreat, you must think of taking risks, trying new things, and looking at the future that will come out of the present crisis. 
      • You must always be prepared to place a bet on yourself, on your future, by heading in a direction that others seem to fear. This means you believe that if you fail, you have the inner resources to recover. This belief acts as a kind of mental safety net. When you move ahead on some new venture or direction, your mind will snap to attention; your energy will be focused and intense. By making yourself feel the necessity to be creative, your mind will rise to the occasion. 
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • But there is another way to look at it: we all have an ego, a sense of who we are.  And this ego, or self-relationship, is either strong or weak.
      • People with a weak ego do not have a secure sense of their worth or potential. They pay extra attention to the opinions of others. They might perceive anything as a personal attack or affront. They need constant attention and validation from others. To compensate for and disguise this fragility, they will often assume an arrogant, aggressive front. This needy, dependent, self-obsessed variety of ego is what we find irritating and distasteful. 
      • A strong ego, however, is completely different. People who have a solid sense of their own value and who feel secure about themselves have the capacity to look at the world with greater objectivity. They can be more considerate and thoughtful because they can get outside of themselves. People with a strong ego set up boundaries—their sense of pride will not allow them to accept manipulative or hurtful behavior. We generally like to be around such types. Their confidence and strength is contagious. To have such a strong ego should be an ideal for all of us. 
      • So many people who attain the heights of power in this culture—celebrities, for instance—have to make a show of false humility and modesty, as if they got as far as they did by accident and not by ego or ambition. They want to act as if they are no different from anyone else and are almost embarrassed by their power and success. These are all signs of a weak ego. As an egotist of the strong variety, you trumpet your individuality and take great pride in your accomplishments.  If others cannot accept that, or judge you as arrogant, that is their problem, not yours.

CHAPTER 10 - Confront Your Mortality - the Sublime

  • In the face of our inevitable mortality we can do one of two things.  We can attempt to avoid the thought at all costs, clinging to the illusion that we have all the time in the world.  Or we can confront this reality, accept and even embrace it, converting our consciousness of death into something positive and active.  In adopting such a fearless philosophy, we gain a sense of proportion, become able to separate what is petty from what is truly important.  Knowing our days to be numbered, we have a sense of urgency and mission.  We can appreciate life all the more for it’s impermanence.  If we can overcome the fear of death, then there is nothing left to fear.
  • The Hustler’s Metamorphosis:
    • In his experience, whenever he felt as if he had too much to lose and he held on to others or to deals out of fear of the alternative, he ended up losing a lot more. He realized that the key in life is to always be willing to walk away. He was often surprised that in doing so, or even feeling that way, people would come back to him on his terms, now fearing what they might lose in the process. And if they didn’t return, then good riddance.
  • The Fearless Approach
    • When you choose to affirm life by confronting your mortality, everything changes. What matters to you now is to live your days well, as fully as possible. You could choose to do this by pursuing endless pleasures, but nothing becomes boring more quickly than having to always search for new distractions. If attaining certain goals becomes your greatest source of pleasure, then your days are filled with purpose and direction, and whenever death comes, you have no regrets. You do not fall into nihilistic thinking about the futility of it all, because that is a supreme waste of the brief time you have been given. You now have a way of measuring what matters in life—compared to the shortness of your days, petty battles and anxieties have no weight. You have a sense of urgency and commitment—what you do you must do well, with all of your energy, not with a mind shooting off in a hundred directions. 
    • To accomplish this is remarkably simple. It is a matter of looking inward and seeing death as something that you carry within. It is a part of you that cannot be repressed. It does not mean that you brood about it, but that you have continual awareness of a reality that you come to embrace. You convert the terrified, denial-type relationship to death into something active and positive—finally released from pettiness, useless anxieties, and fearful, timid responses. 
    • This third, fearless way of approaching death originated in the ancient world, in the philosophy known as Stoicism. The core of Stoicism is learning the art of how to die, which paradoxically teaches you how to live.
    • As Seneca understood, to free yourself from fear you must work backward. You start with the thought of your mortality. You accept and embrace this reality. You think ahead to the inevitable moment of your death and determine to face it as bravely as possible. The more you contemplate your mortality, the less you fear it—it becomes a fact you no longer have to repress. By following this path, you know how to die well, and so you can now begin to teach yourself to live well. You will not cling to things unnecessarily. You will be strong and self-reliant, unafraid to be alone. You will have a certain lightness that comes with knowing what matters—you can laugh at what others take so seriously. The pleasures of the moment are heightened because you know their impermanence and you make the most of them. And when your time to die comes, as it will some day, you will not cringe and cry for more time, because you have lived well and have no regrets. 
  • Keys to Fearlessness
    • Understand: to keep death out, we bathe our minds in banality and routines; we create the illusion that it is not around us in any form. This gives us a momentary peace, but we lose all sense of connection to something larger, to life itself. We are not really living until we come to terms with our mortality. Becoming aware of the Sublime around us is a way to convert our fears into something meaningful and active, to counter the repressions of our culture. The Sublime in any form tends to evoke feelings of awe and power. Through awareness of what it is, we can open our minds to the experience and actively search it out. 
    • The following are the four sensations of a sublime moment and how to conjure them. 
    • THE SENSE OF REBIRTH
      • Whenever life feels particularly dull or confining, we can force ourselves to leave familiar ground. This could mean traveling to some particularly exotic location, attempting something physically challenging (a sea voyage or scaling a mountain), or simply embarking on a new venture in which we are not certain we can succeed. In each case we are experiencing a moment of powerlessness in the face of something large and overwhelming. This feeling of control slipping out of our hands, however short and slight, is a brush with death. We may not make it; we have to raise our level of effort. In the process, our minds are exposed to new sensations. When we finish the voyage or task and come to safe ground, we feel as if we are reborn. We felt that slight pull of the handkerchief; we now have a heightened appreciation for life and a desire to live it more fully. 
    • THE SENSE OF EVANESCENCE AND URGENCY
      • Contemplating sublime time has innumerable positive effects—it makes us feel a sense of urgency to get things done now, gives us a better grasp of what really matters, and instills a heightened appreciation of the passage of time, the poignancy and beauty of all things that fade away. 
    • THE SENSE OF AWE
      • This sense of awe can be elicited by something vast or strange—endless landscapes (the sea or the desert), monuments from the distant past (the pyramids of Egypt), the unfamiliar customs of people in a foreign land. It can also be sparked by things in everyday life—for instance, focusing on the dizzying variety of animal and plant life around us that took millions of years to evolve into its present form.
    • THE SENSE OF THE OCEANIC, THE CONNECTION TO ALL LIFE
      • The truth, however, is that death makes no such discriminations. It is the ultimate equalizer. It strikes rich and poor alike. For everyone, it seems to come too early and can be experienced as tragic. Absorbing this reality should have a positive effect upon us all. We share the same fate with everyone; we all deserve the same degree of compassion. It is what ultimately links all of us together, and when we look at the people around us we should see their mortality as well. 
      • This can be extended further and further, into the Sublime—death is what links us to all living creatures as well. One organism must die so another can live. It is an endless process that we are a part of. This is what is known as an oceanic feeling—the sensation that we are not separated from the outside world but that we are part of life in all its forms. Feeling this at moments inspires an ecstatic reaction, the very opposite of a morbid reflection on death. 
    • Reversal of Perspective
      • In our normal perspective we see death as something diametrically opposed to life, a separate event that ends our days. As such, it is a thought that we must dread, avoid, and repress. But this is false, an idea that is actually born out of our fear. Life and death are inextricably intertwined, not separate; the one cannot exist without the other.
      • If we try to avoid or repress the thought, keep death on the outside, we are cutting ourselves off from life as well.