Notes & Quotes: The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

The following are my favorite quotes from Robert Greene's The Laws of Human Nature.

  1. The ability to gauge people's true worth, their degree of loyalty and conscientiousness, is one of the most important skills you can possess, helping you avoid the bad hires, partnerships, and relationships that can make your life miserable.
  2. Like everyone, you think you are rational, but you are not. Rationality is not a power you are born with but one you acquire through training and practice.
  3. In the end, people want to hear their own ideas and preferences confirmed by an expert opinion. They will interpret what you say in light of what they want to hear; and if your advice runs counter to their desires, they will find some way to dismiss your opinion, you so-called expertise. The more powerful the person, the more they are subject to this form of the confirmation bias.
  4. Whenever you experience unusual gains or losses, that is precisely the time to step back and counterbalance them with some necessary pessimism or optimism. Be extra wary of sudden success and attention--they are not built on anything that lasts and they have an addictive pull. And the fall is always painful.
  5. In the backgrounds of almost all deep narcissists we find either abandonment or enmeshment. The result is that they have no self to retreat to, no foundation for self-esteem, and are completely dependent on the attention they can get from others to make them feel alive and worthy.
  6. Nonverbal communication cannot be experienced simply through thinking and translating thoughts into words but must be felt physically as one engages with the facial expressions or locked positions of other people. It is a different form of knowledge, one that connects with the animal part of our nature and involves our mirror neurons.
  7. Take notice of people who praise or flatter you without their eyes lighting up. This could be a sign of hidden envy.
  8. People will tend to leak out more of their true feelings, and certainly hostile ones, when they are drunk, sleepy, frustrated, angry, or under stress. They will later tend to excuse this, as if they weren't themselves for the moment, but in fact they are actually being more themselves than ever.
  9. Since your success depends on the people you work with and for, make their character the primary object of your attention. You will spare yourself the misery of discovering their character when it is too late.
  10. Nobody likes to believe that they are operating under some kind of compulsion beyond their control. It is too disturbing a thought.
  11. The quality of attachment that we had in our earliest years will create deep tendencies within us, in particular the way we use relationships to handle or modulate our stress.
  12. People will never do something just once. They might try to excuse themselves, to say they lost their heads in the moment, but you can be sure they will repeat whatever foolishness they did on another occasion, compelled by their character and habits. In fact, they will often repeat actions when it is completely against their self-interest, revealing the compulsive nature of their weaknesses.
  13. So often we think that power has changed people, when in fact it simply reveals more of who they are.
  14. Another realm to examine is how people behave in moments away from work. In a game or sport they might reveal a competitive nature that they cannot turn off. They have a fear of being overtaken in anything, even when they are driving. They must be ahead, out in front. This can be channeled functionally into their work, but in off hours it reveals deep layers of insecurities.
  15. Once you understand you are dealing with someone of the other variety than yourself, you must reassess their character and not foist your own preferences on them. 
  16. People of real strength are as rare as gold, and if you find them, you should respond as if you had discovered a treasure. 
  17. Instead of focusing on what you want and covet in the world, you must train yourself to focus on others, on their repressed desires and unmet fantasies.
  18. More and more people have come to believe that others should simply desire them for who they are. This means revealing as much as they can about themselves, exposing all of their likes and dislikes, and making themselves as familiar as possible. They leave no room for imagination or fantasy, and when the man or woman they want loses interest in them, they go online to rant at the superficiality of men or the fecklessness of women.
  19. Remember: it is not possession but desire that secretly impels people.
  20. Instead of constantly chasing after the latest trends and modeling our desires on what others find exciting, we should spend our time getting to know our own tastes and desires better, so that we can distinguish what is something we truly need or want from that which has been manufactured by advertisers or viral effects.
  21. Avoid deep contact with those whose time frame is narrow, who are in continual react mode, and strive to associate with those with an expanded awareness of time.
  22. Put the focus on others. Let them do the talking. Let them be the stars of the show. Their opinions and values are worth emulating. The causes they support are the noblest. Such attention is so rare in this world, and people are so hungry for it, that giving them such validation will tower their defenses and open their minds to whatever ideas you want to insinuate.
  23. It is always better to praise people for their effort, not their talent.
  24. People often won't do what others ask them to do, because they simply want to assert their will.
  25. When it comes to the ideas and opinions you hold, see them as toys or building blocks that you are playing with. Some you will keep, others you will knock down, but your spirit remains flexible and playful.
  26. The world simply exists as it is--things or events are not good or bad, right or wrong, ugly or beautiful. It is we with our particular perspectives who add color to or subtract it from things and people.
  27. You are not a pawn in a game controlled by others; you are an active player who can move the pieces at will and even rewrite the rules.
  28. How to view the world: See yourself as an explorer. With the gift of consciousness, you stand before a vast and unknown universe that we humans have just begun to investigate.
  29. Although adversity and pain are generally beyond your control, you have the power to determine your response and the fate that comes from that.
  30. Reinterpret the denials as positive expressions of Shadow desires.
  31. When people are drunk and behave differently, often it is not the alcohol that is speaking but the Shadow.
  32. Behind any vehement hatred is often a secret and very unpalatable envy of the hatred person or people. It is only through such hate that it can be released from the unconscious in some form.
  33. In order for enviers to feel entitled to take harmful action, they must create a narrative: everything the other person does reveals some negative trait; they do not deserve their superior positions.
  34. Gratitude is the best antidote to envy.
  35. We want to feel significant in some way, to protest against our natural smallness, to expand our sense of self. What we experienced at the age of three or four unconsciously haunts us our entire lives. We alternate between moments of sensing our smallness and trying to deny it. This makes us prone to finding ways to imagine our superiority.
  36. Weakness comes from the inability to ask questions and to learn. Lower your self-opinion. You are not as great or skilled as you imagine. This will spur you to actually improve yourself.
  37. Experimenting with the skills and options related to your personality and inclinations is not only the single most essential step in developing a high sense of purpose, it is perhaps the most important step in life in general.
  38. If necessary, manufacture reasonably tight deadlines to intensify your sense of purpose.
  39. Always break tasks into smaller bites. Each day or week you must have microgoals. This will help you focus and avoid entanglements or detours that will waste your energy. 
  40. No matter the 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.
  41. Today, in our modern sophisticated world, you will notice this very ancient dynamic continually at play: any group will reflexively focus on some hated enemy, real or imagined, to help bring the tribe together.
  42. One faction to pay particular attention to is the one that is formed by those in the higher echelons, which we can identify as the elites in the group. Although elites themselves sometimes split into rival factions, more often than not, when push comes to shove, they will unite and work to preserve their elite status. The clan tends to look after its own, all the more so among the powerful.
  43. We must come to the conclusion that the primary group we belong to is that of the human race. That is our inevitable future. Anything else is regressive and far too dangerous.
  44. We must understand the fundamental task of any leader--to provide a far-reaching vision, to see the global picture, to work for the greater good of the group and maintain its unity. That is what people crave in their leaders.
  45. As the leader, you must be seen working as hard as or even harder than everyone else. You set the highest standards for yourself. You are consistent and accountable. If there are sacrifices that need to be made, you are the first to make them for the good of the group. This sets the proper tone.
  46. You have a responsibility to contribute to the culture and times you live in.
  47. Human aggression stems from an underlying insecurity, as opposed to simply an impulse to hurt or take from others.
  48. We must see this hypersensitivity to criticism as a sign of great inner weakness. A person who is truly strong from within can endure criticism and open discussion without feeling personally threatened.
  49. If you stop focusing on people's words and the facade they present, and concentrate on their actions and their nonverbal cues, you can almost sense the level of aggressiveness they emanate.
  50. The denial is stronger than ever--it is always the other person, the other side, the other culture that is more aggressive and destructive. We must finally come to terms with the fact that it is not the other but ourselves, all of us, no matter the time or the culture. We must own this fact of our nature before we can even begin to consider moving beyond it. It is only in our awareness that we can start to think of progress.
  51. In general, be wary about people's promises and never completely rely on them. With those who fail to deliver, it is more likely a pattern, and it is best to have nothing more to do with them.
  52. The more clearly you see what you want, the likelier you are to realize it. You ambitions may involve challenges, but they should not be so far above your capacity that you only set yourself up for failure.
  53. What makes anger toxic is the degree to which it is disconnected from reality. People channel their natural frustrations into anger at some vague enemy or scapegoat, conjured up and spread by demagogues. They imagine grand conspiracies behind simply inescapable realities, such as taxes or globalism or the changes that are part of all historical periods. They believe that certain forces in the world are to blame for their lack of success or power, instead of their own impatience and lack of effort. There is no thought behind their anger, and so it leads nowhere or it becomes destructive.
  54. Think of yourself as the enemy of the status quo, whose proponents must view you in turn as dangerous. See this task as absolutely necessary for the revitalization of the human spirit and the culture at large, and master it.
  55. Some people have even come to entertain the idea that through technology we can somehow overcome death itself, the ultimate in human denial. In general, technology gives us the feeling that we have such godlike powers that we can prolong life and ignore the reality for quite a long time. In this sense, we are no stronger than our most primitive ancestors. We have simply found new ways to delude ourselves.
  56. By connecting to the reality of death, we connect more profoundly to the reality and fullness of life. By separating death from life and repressing our awareness of it, we do the opposite.
  57. Let the awareness of the shortness of life clarify our daily actions. We have goals to reach, projects to get done, relationships to improve. This could be our last such project, our last battle on earth, given the uncertainties of life, and we must commit completely to what we do.
  58. A Philosophy of Life Through Death
    1. Make the awareness visceral.
    2. Awaken to the shortness of life.
    3. See the mortality in everyone.
    4. Embrace all pain and adversity.
    5. Open the mind to the sublime.