This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.
Worksheet: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
People are rarely sincere and they surely don’t care about you and your desires. The Laws of Human Nature is a detailed guide for helping us read people and their true emotions. It’s a brutally realistic dissection of our species, unveiling who we really are, so we can operate with more awareness. The author stays true to himself by including stories of world-famous people all over the book to prove his point and help us decode people’s behavior.
The Core Idea:
We’ll inevitably encounter individuals who will make our lives difficult and unpleasant. Robert Green’s general idea is to assist us with spotting who those guys are and swiftly disarming them (check other summaries here, here, here, and here). Also, help us understand what drives people so we can avoid and defend ourselves from the life-sucking bastards who want to hurt us or use us as a stepping-stone for their career.
7 Key Lessons from The Laws Of Human Nature:
- Lesson #1: Accept People As They Are
- Lesson #2: Play A Role
- Lesson #3: There are Certain Types of Toxic People You Should Avoid
- Lesson #4: Don’t Constantly Wait For Something Better
- Lesson #5 Resist the Downward Pull of the Group
- Lesson #6: Society Needs True Figures of Authority
- Lesson #7: We’re Emotional Creatures With A Tendency To Slack Off
Lesson #1: Accept People As They Are
Nothing hurts like interacting with another fellow human. We’re the best when it comes down to traumatizing others. Not only, but we’re also continually judging people and wishing they’ll become something they’re not, especially when you’re managing a team or when you’re raising a child. You’ll often want your child to stop playing with his food and remain still when you’re grocery shopping, for example. You’ll also want your team to work as hard as possible if you’re their manager.
Changing others is everyone’s fetish. We want people to think and act in a certain way. A lot of times wanting to adjust their behavior so it can be directly beneficial for us. To our disappointment, this is not possible. Or to be 100% correct, not something that will have a long-lasting effect. You can threaten your child with punishment to make him comply with your direct order but this won’t make the young troublemaker obedient in the future. He’ll only learn how to better cover up his deeds.
Everyone is different and if we continuously get upset and frustrated when people are not following our advice we’ll soon become mentally unstable. I mean, you can go nuts if you’re managing a team of people – no matter the size of the team – and you’re constantly reviewing their work and trying to find flaws in their actions.
Work with what you’ve got. Don’t try to change people, rather, try to understand them. To see what are their true motives. Listen to what they have to say and observe their behavior. Ask questions and focus on what they have to say, without mentioning your desires. People love to talk about themselves so it won’t be hard to gather as much information as possible. After that, use the acquired details and analyze. This way you’ll build your own case for a specific person and you’ll know what buttons to press in order to point his act towards where you want in the future.
Lesson #2: Play A Role
Don’t think that only Hollywood superstars get the chance to be someone they’re not. The world is like a big theater and we’re all involved in this play.
From a very early age, we learn how to get what we want from our parents by putting a certain look. Later, we understand that we need to present the best possible front to the world if we want to get along with others. This includes repressing our true feelings towards specific people.
To our disappointment, life is less real than ever. We live in a society that promotes teamwork and kindness. We’re all about human rights and world peace. Yet, we all have strong negative emotions towards specific people and even towards certain institutions. And since society will reject us if we show our true ugly feelings publicly, we cover them with smiles and kind words.
Nowadays you have the power to create the persona that suits you best: A caring father; Inspirational leader; Creative video producer… you name it. Thanks to social media you can craft an individual that’s better than yourself, and that’s good.
Here are the main benefits for putting a mask in front of the world directly from the book: “The word personality comes from the Latin persona, which means “mask.” In the public we all wear masks, and this has a positive function. If we display exactly who we are and spoke our minds truthfully, we would offend almost everyone and reveal qualities that are best concealed. Having a persona, playing a role well, actually protects us from people looking closely at us, with all of the insecurities that would churn up. In fact, the better you play your role, the more power you will accrue, and with power, you will have the freedom to express more of your peculiarities.”
I know what you think, “This is absurd. I don’t want to play a role. I want to be myself!”
Yeah, I get it. It’s not something you can easily digest. Even though being yourself it’s a good direction, it’s what everyone else is saying, there are a lot of facts that are in favor of the opposing side.
Actually, most people aren’t happy with themselves – what they do and how they feel. That’s when role-playing comes to the rescue. Act as if you already have what you want. Soon you’ll become that person. A better version of yourself. You 2.0.
Lesson #3: There are Certain Types of Toxic People You Should Avoid
It might seem that we’re unique and exceptional but if you carefully observe the people around, you can easily spot recurring deeds. Some of these performances in people are rather toxic. Evil and manipulative. Such that you should avoid – the people I mean.
Here are the 9 types of toxic people mentioned in the book and how you can easily spot them:
- The Hyperperfectionist: You will be easily drawn to their ability to handle a tremendous amount of work. These people put in long hours and seemingly have a high standard. Even though their unhuman effort might be inspiring to a lot of people, you can’t easily cope with them. They have intolerance towards mediocre work and will often explode in your face if you’re not doing the job according to their standards. These people have issues with delegating tasks. They want to supervise everything mainly because they want to be in control.
- The Relentless Rebel: At first, they seem fun and exciting mostly because they don’t obey any rules. They don’t like being told what to do and always act according to their view. It’s fun to be around such rebels but it’s impossible to manage and actually work with them. They will always do what they feel like it’s the best, ignoring what you have to say. They secretly crave for power and will defend their idea with great passion.
- The Personalizer: Such people are sensitive and nice. They’re usually quite intelligent and good to work with. However, they can’t take a critique. They take everything personally and remember old events so vividly that it can change their mood once they see you. If you did something bad to them in the past, they’ll want to get even. Since you can’t really please everyone they will surely get back to you at some point in your life.
- The Drama Magnet: They always have a story to tell. Even if it’s something old they have their ways to make it sound exciting and animated. It’s fun to listen to their stories but at some point, things get really ugly. They are always the victim and others are always to blame. If you get too involved in their life you will eventually be the one to blame.
- The Big Talker: It seems like they are always doing something big and exciting. These type of people talk a lot about what’s going to happen. About new and exciting projects. According to them, everything they do is unique. In reality, though, they are full of crap. They announce their big idea with a desire to lure you into the project and make you do all the work for them. If you’re weak, you’ll comply and later they will take all the credit for the hard work you’ve done.
- The Sexualizer: They seem enhanced with sexual energy and have a tendency to mix work with pleasure. Most of these people suffered from sexual abuse when they were little. They see every relationship as potentially sexual one and consider the act itself is a way for self-validation. After a while, when they get older and when the frequency of sexual relationship decreases, they get depressed and lose hope. These people cheat, get addicted to pornography and tend to sexually abuse others.
- The Pampered Prince/Princess: They are confident and instill a feeling of superiority. It’s like they are destined to wear a crown. However, we all know that these types are not easy to deal with. If they don’t get what they want, they will pout, and can even explode in uncontrollable anger. Everything should be on their terms. All of this usually comes from an early life where their parents have always pleased them.
- The Pleaser: The one who is always happy to help, no matter the circumstances. You will rarely see them angry or not willing to assist. Yet, behind the smiles and the niceness, there is another persona. Someone who is either trying to survive or such who is trying to take your position. Always be alert when you’re dealing with such people.
- The Savior: Most of the people in the self-help industry, basically. You will hear them talking about “how they can help you achieve success” and “assist you on your way up.” However, there is something they are not displaying. Their desire to control you and use you is greater than their official statement. There’s a lot you can learn from them but don’t get too involved in their always-trying-to-help pattern.
Lesson #4: Don’t Constantly Wait For Something Better
Life is inherently chaotic and unpredictable until it becomes boring and monotonous.
We settle with a certain job. Get married. Have kids. And at some point, our day-to-day life feels colorless. Like a painful existence deprived of any form of joy. We must work in order to provide for our family and our needs are no longer important.
A lot of times, in order to install some excitement in our rather dull life, a lot of us consider changing jobs. Others, go a step further and decide that their partner is a life-sucking bastard who shouldn’t be entitled to sit with them at the same table and they ask for a divorce.
On some occasions, the above two actions are required, but in most of the cases, we’re simply fantasizing. Desperate in our desire for something new to happen, we engage in a drama-type situation worthy of a soap opera.
Our chronic displeasure prompts us to act stupid: quitting a good job, leaving someone who loves us, abandoning our home. As mentioned, sometimes the above things should be pursued but generally, our mind simply wants entertainment.
A new job will require learning new skills and acquiring new contacts. In essence, this might be good but it can also waste a lot of our precious time. The same applies when considering another partner. At first, the new relationship will feel exciting. You’ll cuddle and have sex all the time but as times go by you might see flaws in the new person that you can’t tolerate.
Running after the latest trends won’t lead to anything productive. Life will get boring at some point, whether we like it or not. It’s best to focus on strengthening your relationship with the people around you than seeking for creating other shallow ones. The same applies to our work. It’s (usually) better to focus on being the best at what you’re doing now than involving yourself in new industries you know nothing about.
Lesson #5 Resist the Downward Pull of the Group
When among others we behave differently. We often forget our principles and desires and we start to imitate what others are saying and doing, slowly losing a sense of our uniqueness and the ability to think for ourselves. Our only concern is to fit in. To feel that we are part of the group. That’s why we experience different emotions when we are surrounded by others.
Even though this group thinking has its positives – you are more prone to taking risks, meaning, you can finally talk to the girl standing on the bar – it surely has nasty side effects. When we’re surrounded by others we act irrationally, we do things we don’t normally do because everyone else is doing them. Eventually, this personality hungry for social approval can come to dominate who we are and eventually do a lot of stupid things – drink ounces of alcohol and probably other, not so legal stuff. Our thinking stops and we naturally look for some type of authority to show us the way. However, often the authority is someone who thinks only of himself, thus he can easily take advantage of our blurred mind.
How can we resist the downward pull of the group?
Well, it’s not easy. If you’re a weak character, it won’t be easy for you to get out of the grip by the group. Especially if you want to convince others that you’re cool. You’ll feel insecure and constantly think about what they think of you.
You should retain your independence and rationality regardless of what others tell you. You should develop self-awareness and concentrated on the present moment every time you’re in a group. It will be hard initially because others will do their best to lure you into the group dynamics. They might even threaten your place in the group. But if you communicate in advance your goals and personal ambitions others respect you for that.
Lesson #6: Society Needs True Figures of Authority
It’s common these days to sit in silence and crave for more “me” time. Thanks to tech, social media, and all the cool gadgets available, people have become more self-absorbed. That’s why we need more genuine leaders. To unite people and to inspire them towards doing meaningful things.
Thankfully, Robert Greene shares a couple of strategies that will help you become an authority figure:
- Authenticity (Find your authority style): Faking it won’t work if you want others to follow you and trust you. Authority should emerge naturally from your character. That’s why you need to pick one of the authority archetypes and embrace it:
- Deliverer: An individual determined to deliver people from evil. Leaders from this group dislike of any kind of injustice.
- Founder. These are the ones who establish a new order in politics or business. They can easily spot trends and pounce on them.
- Truth Seeker: People who have no tolerance for lies and politicking.
- Quiet Pragmatist: They have infinite patience and want nothing more than to fix things that are broken.
- Healer: They can easily understand what will fulfill and unify people.
- Teacher: They can inspire others to take action and learn from their mistakes.
- Focus outwardly: the Attitude. By nature we’re self-absorbed. But if you want to inspire others you need to reverse this. How? By doing these three things: First, improve your listening skills. Stop thinking only about yourself and actually listen to what others are saying. Second, you need to earn people’s respect, you don’t get it by being promoted or after doing X amount of work. It simply happens over time. But only if you respect people’s individual needs. Third, being a leader is not about yourself, is about bringing the best out of people.
- Cultivate the third eye: the Vision. If you don’t know where you’re going the people who follow you are doomed. Don’t let emotions blur your thinking and make you narrow-minded. Force yourself to imagine the larger picture so you can start taking the appropriate steps.
- Lead from the front: the Tone. You should be working as hard as everyone else, even harder. Set high standards from the beginning for yourself and inspire others to adopt them. When you set the proper tone people will start imitating.
- Stir conflicting emotions: the Aura. Nobody likes ordinary leaders. You should strive to be mysterious by sending mixed signals and act extraordinary. You can mix sensitivity with harshness. Also, balance presence and absence. If you’re always available you seem too banal.
- Never appear to take, always to give: the Taboo. Others shouldn’t catch you even if you take more than what’s rightfully yours. You should be seen as a generous person. But never overpromise. Be honest with people and don’t say things only because people will like what they’ll hear.
- Rejuvenate your authority: Adaptability. As you get older, some might see you as a relic, thus start to rebel. As a leader, you should hold tight to your ability to sense the moods behind people’s words. This will give you an advantage and help you adapt to the newcomers. Or in other words, you should be flexible and willing to take other’s point of view into account.
Lesson #7: We’re Emotional Creatures With A Tendency To Slack Off
The reason we cheat, steal, lie, is the same exact reason we get angry at our spouse when we’re standing on top of the toilet seat and we acknowledge that there is no paper – emotions.
No matter how strong we are, physically, most of us are weak emotionally. Often led by our emotions – which change by the day – we tend to do stupid things.
On top of that, we desire things to be rather easy in life and gravitate towards taking the path of least resistance.
The inner weakness in most people is caused by the combination of the two: laziness and the inability to control our emotions.
If this pattern is present for some time we’ll become vulnerable and each event will cause us pain, weakening our persona. And weak people don’t have the stomach for protracted battles. Don’t possess the ability to continue hustling despite the initial setbacks. They want money and pleasures but loathe the work involved in the process.
If you become such a person you’re in great danger because you won’t be able to overcome all the troubles involved in the overall process of living: The required hard work; The ability to resist temporary pleasures for greater such that will come in the future; You’ll most probably get addicted to something that will slowly destroy your life.
The solution: persistence. Become relentless in your desire to be better. Train your body and mind to endure pain. Almost nothing in the world can resist persistent human energy. Things will crack open if we strike enough blows with enough force.
“What you must understand is the following: almost nothing in the world can resist persistent human energy. Things will yield if we strike enough blows with enough force. Look at how many great people in history have succeeded in this way. It was painstaking persistence over several years that allowed Thomas Edison to invent the proper form of the lightbulb, and Marie Curie to discover radium. They simply continued where others had given up.” Robert Greene
Actionable Book Notes:
- On becoming a leader: If you want to lead people but you’re not sure how to do it, here’s a couple of notes from the book: “The fundamental task of any leader is to provide far-reaching vision, to see the global picture, to work for the greatest good of the group and maintain its unity.” Once the future is determined, set practical goals for the people around you.
- On influencing others: Instead of focusing on what you want and desire in the world, train yourself to focus on others. Let other people talk. Make them think that they are the star of the party. This friendly behavior will help you gain their trust, increase your knowledge in different fields, make others like you. Along with that, you’ll understand what others are up to (their strategies) and later have leverage over them.
- On staying up-to-date: The only thing constant in life is change. There is nothing ever static. As we age, we get disconnected from the new trends and some new practices. This leads to loopholes in our knowledge. Staying informed should be something on your to-do list, no matter your age. It might be a good idea to talk to your kids more often about what’s trending.
- On your responsibility: We’re living off the fruits of millions of people in the past who have made our life incredible easier through their struggles, work, dedication, and inventions. But since this world needs constant improvement, we should play our part and contribute to the higher purpose. Produce work that can be used from generations to come.
- On being unique: Nowadays there are thousands of online gurus telling you who you are and what you should be doing to become ultra-rich. Stop following the self-proclaimed “experts.” Decide what works for yourself. Know yourself thoroughly – your personal desires and tastes. Don’t let others influence your desires. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of being yourself – being different and unique.
Commentary And My Personal Takeaway
Our social skills are suffering because we spend more time interacting with others on social media. Along with that, the younger generation is becoming less empathetic and more self-absorbed.
In The Laws Of Human Nature, Robert Greene masterfully describes the emotions we feel as humans. He gives us the tools we need to communicate and to understand others better. On top of that, the information inside will help you find your true desire. Prompt you to describe your mission in life. And hopefully, reveal the path you need to take.
The book is full of wisdom and I can’t recommend it enough. It was really hard for me to mention only 7 key lessons. It was even harder to choose one personal takeaway. Still, I chose the following: There is more to life than sitting on your couch and scrolling through social media. Life is movement, and only by acting, you’re actually living.
“If you come across any special trait of meanness or stupidity… you must be careful not to let it annoy or distress you, but to look upon it merely as an addition to your knowledge – a new fact to be considered in studying the character of humanity. Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.” Arthur Schopenhauer
“Death is absolute stillness, without movement or change except decay. In death we have separated from others and completely alone. Life on the other hand is movement, connection to other living things, and diversity of life forms.” Robert Greene
“Sometimes the best action is nonaction – let the dynamic play itself out to understand it better; let the enemy hang itself by its aggressive actions.” Robert Greene
“Keep in mind that your life is short, that it could end any day. You must have a sense of urgency to make the most of this limited time. You don’t need deadlines or people telling you what to do and when to finish. Any motivation you need comes from within.” Robert Greene
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