Life gets busy. Has The Laws of Human Nature been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
The Laws of Human Nature delves deep into what drives and motivations humans. These motivations can be conscious or unconscious. Importantly, we all can utilize these motivations to better ourselves and those around us. This book utilizes guidance and examples from some of the most influential people in history, from Martin Luther King Jr to Queen Elizabeth I. These insights are pulled together to provide guidance that applies to everyone.
About Robert Greene
Robert Greene is a highly successful American author. His books primarily focus on strategy, power, and seduction. Many of his ideas are supported by Zen Buddhist principles, as he is a student of Zen Buddhism. He is currently the author of six international bestsellers.
Irrationality Is Part of Human Behavior
“You like to imagine yourself in control of your fate, consciously planning the course of your life as best you can. But you are largely unaware of how deeply your emotions dominate you. They make you veer toward ideas that soothe your ego. They make you look for evidence that confirms what you already want to believe. They make you see what you want to see, depending on your mood, and this disconnect from reality is the source of the bad decisions and negative patterns that haunt your life. Rationality is the ability to counteract these emotional effects, to think instead of react, to open your mind to what is really happening, as opposed to what you are feeling. It does not come naturally; it is a power we must cultivate, but in doing so we realize our greatest potential.”– Robert Greene
It is often claimed that modern society is based on rationality and reason. However, the reality is that we make a large proportion of our decisions based on emotional reactions. These emotional reactions have no association with logic. Hence, as humans, we are highly prone to making irrational choices.
This dilemma of seeking rationality and failing dates back to the fifth century BC. Robert Greene describes an Athenian statesman, Pericles, who is supposedly one of the first people to encourage rational behavior. During this time, there were rumors that the Spartans were set to attack Athens. Pericles encouraged the leaders of Athens to show restraint rather than making the first attack. If the leaders acted on their emotions, they could have started a full-blown war. Soon after, Pericles passed away from the plague. Without his rational insight, Athens based its decisions on emotions. Athens fought the Spartans, and it nearly destroyed Athens.
We can learn a lot from Pericles. Pericles showed patience. Patience is fundamental to making decisions based on rationality rather than making quick decisions based on emotions. Pericles would also consider every option when making decisions. He would pull all the information together and make informed decisions. This sometimes meant disagreeing with the majority of people and those in power. However, it is more important that your decisions are based on logic and reason rather than being popular.
In addition to this, even when humans take time to make a rational decision, there are still several biases that humans are prone to when deciding:
- Confirmation bias – Seeking out information that supports ideas that you already hold
- Conviction bias – Believing that our ideas are more likely to be true because we have stronger emotions regarding the topic
- Appearance bias – People who look appealing, whether that be based on looks or wealth, are automatically a good person
- Group bias – Automatically believing things that our in-group believes
Robert does not recommend being emotionless. Instead, try to balance your thoughts with your emotions and give yourself time to make informed decisions that are mainly based on evidence.
Accept People as They Are
“Our continual connection to social media makes us prone to new forms of viral emotional effects. These are not media designed for calm reflection. With their constant presence, we have less and less mental space to step back and think.”– Robert Greene
As humans, we have a fetish for changing other people. We are the biggest reason for trauma in other humans. We are always judging people and wishing they’ll become something that they are not. However, the sooner we accept that we cannot change other people, the happier we will be. Robert provides the example of parents who threaten their child with punishment so their child will comply. Punishment and threats do not change the troublemaking child. Instead, they will teach the child how to better avoid being caught.
If we accept that we are all different, we will be far less frustrated. Try to understand and accept people rather than trying to change them. Attempt to understand their motives and what makes them who they are. Genuinely listen to them when you ask them about their motives, gathering as much information as possible. People love talking about themselves, so this shouldn’t be difficult. After acquiring this information, you should stop to analyze this information. Adopting these approaches will help you better understand who this person is and how you can help them prosper.
Additionally, we should seek to use our empathy to obtain a greater recognition of others’ characters. Utilizing our empathy will help us understand when people are wearing a mask in life. This is an important skill, as you can then aim to help this individual genuinely express themselves. We can better understand a person’s true character by observing how this person reacts to adversity.
Strive to Be a Better Version of Yourself
Robert explains that we all go through life wearing a mask. We are always seeking to show the best of ourselves to the world, even if what we are presenting isn’t accurate. This approach is encouraged from a young age, as we do what our parents say so we can gain certain benefits. This is how society works. Our society promotes teamwork and kindness. Therefore, presenting strong feelings about an individual or being selfish is frowned upon. Thus, these behaviors are not engaged with even if we dislike another individual or just want what is best for ourselves.
Social media has made it even easier to craft your persona. Robert says that we should wear masks displaying our best persona. If we all displayed our true selves, the world would be a worse place. On top of this, putting on a persona helps protect ourselves from our insecurities. It helps us feel like we already have what we want, and believing this means you will soon become that person.
We Are Short-Sighted
Humans tend to react to obvious problems rather than those that have less impact on their daily lives. For example, more money and attention is being spent on fighting terrorism than climate change. This tendency has evolutionary origins. Historically, humans had to focus on immediate threats rather than those that had the potential for greater impact.
Robert Greene recommends that we adopt a farsighted perceptive rather than our current short-sighted nature. We should take a step back and look at the potential options, as well as what the consequences of neglecting a less obvious problem might be. One way to understand this is that our current problems are often the result of previous short-sightedness. If we can understand this point, then we can more effectively prioritize the most critical problems.
Arrogance After Success Holds Us Back
We tend to be self-absorbed. Robert describes humans as being naturally narcissistic. People span from healthy levels of narcissism to deep narcissism. Those who are profoundly narcissistic view others as extensions of themselves. Robert attributes this type of narcissism to parents being too involved with a child or not enough attention. The former prevents the child from developing an individual identity while the latter leads to low self-esteem. Interestingly, deep narcissists lack the self-love that is usually associated with narcissism. Hence, Robert Greene suggests that creating a sense of self you can love is a useful tool for creating healthier narcissism levels.
Robert Greene describes how success often goes to people’s heads. This effect is called the Law of Grandiosity. A great example of the Law of Grandiosity is the career of Michael Eisner. Eisner became Disney’s CEO in the 1980s. During this time, he released fourteen hit movies. These movies ended up reviving the struggling Disney brand. The way Eisner saw it, everything he touched turned to gold. However, when he turned his attention toward theme parks instead and building Euro Disney in France, this endeavor was less successful. Instead of accepting any blame, Eisner looked to blame other people. This is because his ego had grown too large. In 1994, he shocked the industry by firing his underling Jeffrey Katzenberg. Jeffrey had been mostly responsible for many recent hits, including The Lion King. In September of 2005, board members voted out Eisner after Disney’s stock prices began to dwindle.
Often people experience success and then forget how they attained that success. Success requires support from others and mentors. Plus, a degree of luck. Reminding ourselves of these features helps us remain realistic.
We Should Not Let Our Genders Define What We Can and Can’t Do
We all have a masculine and feminine side. Robert Greene suggests that we should learn to indulge both sides so we can become strong figures. Examples of influential celebrities such as David Bowie adopted a more feminine side to utilize all of his strengths. A similar approach was taken by Caterina Sforza, an example that Robert Greene gives in this book. Caterina was born into a powerful Italian dynasty back in 1463. She enjoyed combat training, as well as fashion and the arts. Her ability to adopt both traditionally masculine and feminine hobbies meant she was considered a strong figure.
Robert Greene explains in The Laws of Human Nature that our views of masculinity and femininity are a product of our genes and environment. However, if we can learn to embrace both of these views, we can improve our relationships. Specifically, Robert explains how a man embracing his feminine side will be better able to empathize with women.
Robert claims that we should aim to acquire the strengths of both men and women. Men tend to categorize things, while women search for patterns and connections. A combination of these two approaches is ideal for problem-solving.
Don’t Conform to a Group Mentality If It’s Dragging You Down
Humans tend to identify themselves in relation to others. We spend a large proportion of our time worrying about what others think and whether we fit into certain groups. A group mentality can be highly beneficial, as teamwork helps keep everyone focused on a common goal.
Despite the strengths associated with working as a group, there are also multiple risks associated with groups. Firstly, when we are among others, we behave differently. Our principles are lost in the group; these principles start to mimic those in the group. Hence, we lose what makes us unique, including our ability to think independently. Additionally, Robert explains that being part of a group can lead to us making more irrational decisions than we usually would. The primary reason for this is that we often do things just because others are, instead of thinking logically about decisions.
Subsequently, we must aim to avoid being dragged down by the group. Individuals with a weak character will struggle more with getting out of the grip of the group. Here are the main ways Robert Greene suggests that we can avoid being dragged down by the group:
- Retain independence and rationality regardless of what others tell you
- Develop self-awareness
- Ensure you are concentrated in the present moment every time you’re in a group
Use Your ‘Weaknesses’ in a Positive Way
One trait that is often seen as a weakness is aggression. Robert Greene claims that we should channel our aggression in a positive way. To do this, he provides the example of John D. Rockefeller from the 19th century. Rockefeller was in business with a man named Maurice Clark, but Maurice found Rockefeller irritating. Rockefeller would always pressure Maurice to expand the business. Maurice found this so irritating that he sold his shares of the business at auction. Rockefeller bought these shares and turned their small business into the Standard Oil Company. This would become of the most powerful companies ever created. The only way Rockefeller could turn this small business into a business that is still impactful today is through being a sophisticated aggressor.
Our aggression is what made us the most dominant species on the planet. Hence, we should not repress this aggression. Repression leads to passive aggression. Instead, we should accept our aggression, and where it stems from, and use it for our benefit. For example, we can use this aggressive energy to be tenacious and fearless.
The 18 Laws of Human Nature
The fundamental backbone of this book is the 18 laws that Robert Greene has identified. We have already considered the essential laws above, but now we will provide you with a concise outline of all 18 laws.
Irrationality is one of the most significant flaws in humans. Irrationality is often driven by our emotions and makes us see and look for evidence that fits our narrative. This disconnect from the world’s reality around us can lead to us making a variety of bad decisions. Robert provided the example of Pericles, spoken of earlier. As a rational man, Athens prospered.
We must recognize our biases and the triggers that lead to us making decisions based on emotions. Additionally, we must take a step back and give ourselves time to calm down before making important decisions. Energy, combined with rational thought, is the ideal balance.
We are all focused on ourselves, and we crave attention and approval from others. Robert gives the example of Stalin. Stalin was charming at first, but he was ruthless to anybody who challenged him. He was riddled with insecurities. Insecurities are what underpin narcissism.
Cultivate empathy for other people and avoid making snap judgments without putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Learn as much as you can about others. Robert gives the example of Ernest Shackleton as a healthy narcissist. When his team was trapped for months in Antarctica in late 1915, Shackleton figured out that their attitude would be the difference between life and death. He paid attention to individuals as well as the group as a whole. This approach developed confidence within the group, and they all survived.
People are always portraying emotions that are different than they feel. We must understand how to identify people’s genuine emotions. Plus, we learn how to present the best version of ourselves.
How to Role-Play and Understand Others’ Role-Playing
Try and be more like Milton Erickson. Milton was a pioneer in hypnotherapy. After months of physical paralysis due to polio, Milton learned how to read physical cues better. Physical cues are the best indicators of people’s genuine feelings. Therefore, focus more on hand gestures, voice pitches, and minor facial expressions. Plus, learn how to role-play yourself by practicing displaying the correct emotions in different circumstances.
People will have specific reputations or surface images. However, these reputations are never a true reflection of this person’s character. Robert uses the example of businessman Howard Hughes. Howard appeared highly successful and happy, but he actually struggled from deep anxiety and control issues. He then became addicted to pain medication.
We have to embrace our circumstances and identify clear visions for the future. It is easy for humans to think that the grass is always greener on the other side. Only a connection with your reality will bring you calmness and focus. Robert provides the example of Coco Chanel. This French fashion designer became successful because she understood that people desire what they don’t have. Therefore, she developed a degree of mystery surrounding her work and products.
We are animals, which means we are most impressed by what we see and feel. We often forget to think about the consequences of our actions or the bigger picture. However, a lack of perspective can lead to negative repercussions. For example, individuals investing in housing lost millions of dollars during the housing bubble when it finally burst. This applies to the example Robert provides, which is the South Sea Company. The company did not have long-term viability, but this did not stop people from investing in shares and the South Sea Bubble finally bursting.
How to Overcome Short-sightedness
Try not to be overwhelmed by information about the future. Consider essential information so you can make decisions that will reap long-term benefits. If you are truly overwhelmed by the amount of information regarding the future, you could always delegate work.
We are all defensive about certain things. This approach limits our creative nature. Hence, we should always be open to new ideas and thoughts. If we are given a piece of constructive criticism, we should use it as an opportunity to think differently. Robert provides the example of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was the 36th president of the United States. He did not gain power by overpowering people; instead, he gained it by letting others do the talking and be the stars of the show.
Humans have a habit of making their biggest fears a reality through self-sabotage. If we are fearful about the future, we will see the negative in everything. This will unconsciously impact on our decisions and lead to self-sabotage. Robert provides the example of Anton Chekhov. Anton was a Russian playwright who had a particularly tough childhood. Despite this, he avoided self-sabotage and instead decided to always turn a negative into a positive.
How to Prevent Self-Sabotage
Adopting a hostile attitude will only lead to you seeing everything as a threat. You need to try and develop an expansive attitude where you see yourself as an explorer. View adversity as a challenge and acknowledge that you have the skills and capabilities to determine your response.
We all repress our insecurities, aggression, and selfish impulses. You can learn to control this dark side of yourself and prevent it from leaking out. Identify and accept your tendency to project emotions or bad qualities onto people that you know. Express these dark thoughts through a harmless avenue e.g., art. Robert provides the example of Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. Although he always had a positive image in public, he repressed his angry tendencies and his real personality was revealed after the Watergate scandal.
Humans naturally compare themselves to others. However, envy is not socially acceptable. We must notice our envy before it becomes dangerous. Envy is natural, and this means we cannot completely eradicate it. However, we can turn it into something more positive. Turn envy into emulation: use your envy to motivate yourself to improve. Robert provides the example of Mary Shelley. Mary was the author of Frankenstein; however, she was betrayed by her envious friend.
Extreme grandiosity can mean we lose our concept of reality. You can identify grandiosity in yourself or others by observing behaviors like overstated certainty of success, excessive touchiness when criticized, and disdain for authority. We can turn our grandiosity into practical grandiosity. Practical grandiosity involves channeling our energy into problem-solving and improving relationships. As aforementioned, Robert uses the example of Michael Eisner when talking about grandiosity. The previous CEO of Walt Disney attributed all Disney’s previous success to himself, and this eventually led to him isolating himself and ultimately failing.
There are strengths of feminine and masculine characteristics for different circumstances. Therefore, we should try and make use of both our masculine and feminine sides. Again, the example Robert provides for gender rigidity has already been spoken about. Caterina Sforza was a noblewoman who was admired for utilizing both her feminine and masculine qualities.
We can be pulled in many directions by our emotions and the opinions of others. This can lead to a lack of direction in our lives. Some people love change, while others are frightened by chaos. However, we should all develop a sense of purpose and use it to flourish throughout our lives, irrespective of change. Martin Luther King Jr. is a fine example of somebody who used very direct action to help him overcome failures. He utilized nonviolence and civil disobedience to advance civil rights.
We all want to fit in. However, this can lead to us behaving in ways we do not necessarily agree with. To overcome this, we have to develop a sense of self-awareness. Robert describes how Gao Yuan’s book, Born Red, showcases how people behave emotionally. Therefore, people generally lack the nuanced thinking and analysis required to excel.
We all look to follow powerful people. However, this means that we tend to turn our backs on people as soon as they become weak. Therefore, to lead effectively, we have to give off a feeling of power, legitimacy, and fairness. Doing this will help people to trust you more. Robert provides the example of Elizabeth I as somebody who was not fickle. She had to constantly prove herself as leader of the country, so she did not rely on her royal blood to do so. Instead, she led by example.
We all have stressors and frustrations in our daily lives. Occasionally these can become too much, and we display aggressive behaviors. We have to learn the signs that indicate aggressive individuals. There are a few ways to overcome aggression. Firstly, you can mirror their behavior. Alternatively, if the individual is consistently aggressive towards you, it is sometimes better to separate yourself from this person. This might involve quitting your job if the aggressive person is your boss. Robert provides the example of John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller became one of the most wealthy people in US history based on his aggressive strategies to gain power and control. However, he used his aggression in a productive rather than destructive way.
“Right now, you are living off the fruits of millions of people in the past– Robert Greene
who have made your life incomparably easier through their struggles
and inventions. You have benefited from an education that embodies
the wisdom of thousands of years of experience. It is so easy to take
this all for granted, to imagine that it all just came about naturally and
that you are entitled to have all of these powers. That is the view of
spoiled children, and you must see any signs of such an attitude within
you as shameful. This world needs constant improvement and renewal.
You are here not merely to gratify your impulses and consume what
others have made but to make and contribute as well, to serve a higher
Generations always want to separate themselves from the generation before them. Each new generation wants to change the world. Try and be more aware of the common features that you share with other generations. Plus, try and think about things from other generations’ perspectives. Robert provides the example of King Louis XVI of France. He was out of tune with his generation and this ultimately led to him falling victim to the French Revolution.
We try to avoid thinking about death. However, we should be thinking about death. Awareness of our mortality gives our life goals a greater purpose. Robert provides the example of Mary Flannery O’Connor. Mary was an American Novelist who was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 27. This diagnosis gave her a sense of urgency that helped her overcome squabbles she had in life and deepen her understanding of the world.
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