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January 1: Discover Your Calling
You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task—what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live. In childhood this force was clear to you. It directed you toward activities and subjects that fit your natural inclinations, that sparked a curiosity that was deep and primal. In the intervening years, the force tends to fade in and out as you listen more to parents and peers, to the daily anxieties that wear away at you. This can be the source of your unhappiness—your lack of connection to who you are and what makes you unique. The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process.
Daily Law: Mastery is a process and discovering your calling is the starting point.
January 16: There Are No Superior Callings
Keep in mind that your contribution to the culture can come in many forms. You don’t have to become an entrepreneur or figure largely on the world’s stage. You can do just as well operating as one person in a group or organization, as long as you retain a strong point of view that is your own and use this to gently exert your influence. Your path can involve physical labor and craft—you take pride in the excellence of the work, leaving your particular stamp on the quality. It can be raising a family in the best way possible. In any event, you will want to go as far as you can in cultivating your uniqueness and the originality that goes with it. In a world full of people who seem largely interchangeable, you cannot be replaced. You are one of a kind. Your combination of skills and experience is not replicable. That represents true freedom and the ultimate power we humans can possess.
Daily Law: No calling is superior to another. What matters is that it be tied to a personal need and inclination, and that your energy moves you toward improvement and continuous learning from experience.
February 1: Submit to Reality
After your formal education, you enter the most critical phase in your life—a practical education known as The Apprenticeship. Every time you change careers or acquire new skills, you reenter this phase of life. The goal of The Apprenticeship is not to make money. It’s not to get fame or to get attention or to get some cushy position with a nice title. The goal of an apprenticeship is to literally transform yourself. You enter the apprenticeship as someone who’s essentially naive. We all do. You’re someone who doesn’t yet have the skills that are necessary. You’re probably someone who’s a little bit impatient. And in the end, you are going to transform yourself into someone who’s skilled, who’s realistic, who understands the political nature of people, and who learns the rules that govern your field.
Daily Law: Learning how to learn is the most important skill to acquire.
February 16: Love the Detailed Work
Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, had to spend his first three years as an understudy to one of the best, Brett Favre. It meant little or no opportunities to showcase himself during a real game. For those years, all he did was practice and watch. He’d later say, “Those first three years were critical to my success.” It taught him patience and humility. He spent that time honing every possible skill a quarterback could need—hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, footwork, throwing mechanics. Not exciting stuff. He taught himself to watch from the sidelines with complete attention, absorbing as many lessons as possible. All of this not only elevated his skill level but also caught the attention of his coaches, who were very impressed by his work ethic and his ability to learn. Through those years, he was able to master his impatience and elevate his game. In essence, Rodgers had taught himself to love the detailed work itself, and once you develop that there is no stopping you.
Daily Law: Master the details and the rest will fall into place.
March 1: Awaken the Dimensional Mind
As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. What will impede this natural creative dynamic from flourishing is not a lack of talent, but your attitude. Feeling anxious and insecure, you will tend to turn conservative with your knowledge, preferring to fit into the group and sticking to the procedures you have learned. Instead, you must force yourself in the opposite direction. As you emerge from your apprenticeship, you must become increasingly bold. Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. You must experiment and look at problems from all possible angles. As your thinking grows more fluid, your mind will become increasingly dimensional, seeing more and more aspects of reality.
Daily Law: Expand your knowledge to related fields. Pick an auxiliary skill and start practicing.
March 16: Alter Your Perspective
The lesson is simple—what constitutes true creativity is the openness and adaptability of our spirit. When we see or experience something we must be able to look at it from several angles, to see other possibilities beyond the obvious ones. We imagine that the objects around us can be used and co-opted for different purposes. We do not hold on to our original idea out of sheer stubbornness, or because our ego is tied up with its rightness. Instead, we move with what presents itself to us in the moment, exploring and exploiting different branches and contingencies. We thus manage to turn feathers into flying material. The difference then is not in some initial creative power of the brain, but in how we look at the world and the fluidity with which we can reframe what we see.
Daily Law: Creativity and adaptability are inseparable. Look at things today from every possible angle.
April 1: Never Outshine the Master
In your desire to please and impress, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite—inspire fear and insecurity. Everyone has insecurities. When you show yourself in the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity. This is to be expected. You cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others. With those above you, however, you must take a different approach: When it comes to power, outshining the master is perhaps the worst mistake of all. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are, and you will attain the heights of power. If your ideas are more creative than your master’s, ascribe them to him, in as public a manner as possible. Make it clear that your advice is merely an echo of his advice.
Daily Law: Always make those above you feel comfortably superior.
April 16: Do Not Commit to Anyone
It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others—playing people against one another, making them pursue you. If you allow people to feel they possess you to any degree, you lose all power over them. By not committing your affections, they will only try harder to win you over. Stay aloof and you gain the power that comes from their attention and frustrated desire.
Daily Law: Play the Virgin Queen: give them hope but never satisfaction.
May 1: Everyone Is a Player in the Game
You can recognize supposed nonplayers by the way they flaunt their moral qualities, their piety, their exquisite sense of justice. But since all of us hunger for power, and almost all of our actions are aimed at gaining it, the nonplayers are merely throwing dust in our eyes, distracting us from their power plays. If you observe them closely, you will see in fact that they are often the ones most skillful at indirect manipulation, even if some of them practice it unconsciously. And they greatly resent any publicizing of the tactics they use every day.
Daily Law: The world is like a giant scheming court and we are all trapped inside it. There is no opting out of the game. Everyone is playing.
May 16: The Fake Traditionalist
A strategy the clever nonplayer uses to disguise change: making a loud and public display of support for the values of the past. Renaissance Florence had a centuries-old republic and was suspicious of anyone who flouted its traditions. Cosimo de’ Medici made a show of enthusiastic support for the republic, while in reality he worked to bring the city under the control of his wealthy family. In form, the Medicis retained the appearance of a republic; in substance, they rendered it powerless. They quietly enacted a radical change, while appearing to safeguard tradition.
Daily Law: Don’t let the person who seems to be a zealot for tradition fool you. Notice how unconventional they really are.
June 1: Wear the Appropriate Mask
You cannot succeed at deception unless you take a somewhat distanced approach to yourself—unless you can be many different people, wearing the mask that the day and the moment require. With such a flexible approach to all appearances, including your own, you lose a lot of the inward heaviness that holds people down. Make your face as malleable as the actor’s, work to conceal your intentions from others, practice luring people into traps.
Daily Law: Playing with appearances and mastering arts of deception are among the aesthetic pleasures of life. They are also key components in the acquisition of power.
June 16: Get Others to Play with the Cards You Deal
Words like “freedom,” “options,” and “choice” evoke a power of possibility far beyond the reality of the benefits they entail. When examined closely, the choices we have—in the marketplace, in elections, in our jobs—tend to have noticeable limitations: they are often a matter of a choice simply between A and B, with the rest of the alphabet out of the picture. Yet as long as the faintest mirage of choice flickers on, we rarely focus on the missing options. We “choose” to believe that the game is fair, and that we have our freedom. We prefer not to think too much about the depth of our liberty to choose.
This unwillingness to probe the smallness of our choices stems from the fact that too much freedom creates a kind of anxiety. The phrase “unlimited options” sounds infinitely promising, but unlimited options would actually paralyze us and cloud our ability to choose. Our limited range of choices comforts us.
Daily Law: There is a saying: if you can get the bird to walk into the cage on its own, it will sing that much more prettily. Give people options that come out in your favor, whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose.
July 1: Look at the World through the Eyes of a Seducer
To have seductive power does not require a total transformation in your character or any kind of physical improvement in your looks. Seduction is a game of psychology, not beauty, and it is within the grasp of any person to become a master at the game. All that is required is that you look at the world differently, through the eyes of a seducer. A seducer sees all of life as theater, everyone an actor. Most people feel they have constricted roles in life, which makes them unhappy. Seducers, on the other hand, can be anyone and can assume many roles. Seducers take pleasure in performing and are not weighed down by their identity, or by some need to be themselves, or to be natural.
Daily Law: Seduction is a kind of theater in real life, the meeting of illusion and reality.
July 16: Enter Their Spirit
All of us are narcissists. When we were children our narcissism was physical: we were interested in our own image, our own body, as if it were a separate being. As we grow older, our narcissism grows more psychological: we become absorbed in our own tastes, opinions, experiences. A hard shell forms around us. Paradoxically, the way to entice people out of this shell is to become more like them, in fact a kind of mirror image of them. You do not have to spend days studying their minds; simply conform to their moods, adapt to their tastes, play along with whatever they send your way. In doing so you will lower their natural defensiveness. Their sense of self-esteem does not feel threatened by your strangeness or different habits. People truly love themselves, but what they love most of all is to see their ideas and tastes reflected in another person.
Daily Law: Lure people out of their natural intractability and self-obsession by entering their spirit. Soon you can shift the dynamic: once you have entered their spirit you can make them enter yours, at a point when it is too late to turn back.
August 1: The Hypnotist’s Art
The goal of persuasive speech is often to create a kind of hypnosis: you are distracting people, lowering their defenses, making them more vulnerable to suggestion. Learn the hypnotist’s lessons of repetition and affirmation, key elements in putting a subject to sleep. Repetition involves using the same words over and over, preferably a word with emotional content: “taxes,” “liberals,” “bigots.” The effect is mesmerizing—ideas can be permanently implanted in people’s unconscious simply by being repeated often enough. Affirmation is simply the making of strong positive statements, like the hypnotist’s commands. Seductive language should have a kind of boldness, which will cover up a multitude of sins. Your audience will be so caught up in your bold language that they won’t have time to reflect on whether or not it is true.
Daily Law: Cut out “I believe,” “Perhaps,” “In my opinion.” Head straight for the heart.
August 16: Use Their Rigidity
Rigidity stems from deep fear of change and the uncertainty it could bring. They must have everything on their terms and feel in control. You play into their hands if you try with all your advice to encourage change—it gives them something to react against and justifies their rigidity. They become more stubborn. Stop fighting with such people and use the actual nature of their rigid behavior to effect a gentle change that could lead to something greater.
Daily Law: People often won’t do what others ask them to do, because they simply want to assert their will. If you heartily agree with their rebellion, they will rebel again and assert their will in the opposite direction, which is what you wanted all along—the essence of reverse psychology.
September 1: Elevate Yourself Above the Battlefield
In war, strategy is the art of commanding the entire military operation. Tactics, on the other hand, is the skill of forming up the army for battle itself and dealing with the immediate needs of the battlefield. Most of us in life are tacticians, not strategists. We become so enmeshed in the conflicts we face that we can think only of how to get what we want in the battle we are currently facing. To think strategically is difficult and unnatural. You may imagine you are being strategic, but in all likelihood you are merely being tactical. To have the power that only strategy can bring, you must be able to elevate yourself above the battlefield, to focus on your long-term objectives, to craft an entire campaign, to get out of the reactive mode that so many battles in life lock you into.
Daily Law: Tactical people are heavy and stuck in the ground; strategists are light on their feet and can see far and wide. Where are you on that spectrum?
September 16: Force Them Off the Negative
It is always easier to argue from the negative side—criticizing other people’s actions, dissecting their motives, etc. And that is why most people will opt for this. If they had to describe a positive vision of what they want in the world, or how they would accomplish a particular task, this would open them up to all kinds of attacks and criticisms. It takes effort and thought to establish a positive position. It takes less effort to work on what other people have done, and poke endless holes. It also makes you look tough and insightful, because people delight in hearing someone tear an idea apart. Facing these negative-mongers in a debate or argument is infuriating. They can come at you from all angles: hit you with sarcasm and snide comments, weave all kinds of abstractions that can make you look bad. If you lower yourself to their position, you end up like a boxer throwing punches into thin air
Daily Law: Avoid the temptation to fight back on the same level as the opponent. You must always shift the terms of the battle onto the terrain of your choice. In that moment of shifting, you have the initiative and the upper hand.
October 1: The Primary Law of Human Nature
The truth is we all evolved from the same source, from the same small number of people. Our brains are basically the same. We are wired in a similar way. We experience the world, emotionally, the same way that hunter-gatherers experienced the world. Very little has changed in that sense. So if we all come from the same source, why would it be that only a small number of people are aggressive or are irrational? We are all the same.
Daily Law: Accept the nature you share with others. Stop separating yourself out as special or superior.
October 16: Test for Envy
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer devised a quick way to test for envy. Tell suspected enviers some good news about yourself—a promotion, a new and exciting love interest, a book contract. You will notice a very quick expression of disappointment. Their tone of voice as they congratulate you will betray some tension and strain. Equally, tell them some misfortune of yours and notice their uncontrollable microexpression of joy in your pain, what is commonly known as schadenfreude. Their eyes light up for a fleeting second. People who are envious cannot help feeling some glee when they hear of the bad luck of those they envy.
Daily Law: If you see such looks in the first few encounters with someone, and they happen more than once, be on the lookout for a dangerous envier entering your life.
November 1: Hope for Us All
Despite our pronounced irrational tendencies, two factors should give us all hope. First and foremost is the existence throughout history and in all cultures of people of high rationality, the types who have made progress possible. They serve as ideals for all of us to aim for. These include Pericles, the ruler Aśoka of ancient India, Marcus Aurelius of ancient Rome, Marguerite de Valois in medieval France, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, the writer Anton Chekhov, the anthropologist Margaret Mead, and the businessman Warren Buffett, to name but a few. All of these types share certain qualities—a realistic appraisal of themselves and their weaknesses; a devotion to truth and reality; a tolerant attitude toward people; and the ability to reach goals that they have set.
The second factor is that almost all of us at some point in our lives have experienced moments of greater rationality. This often comes with what we shall call the maker’s mindset. We have a project to get done, perhaps with a deadline. The only emotion we can afford is excitement and energy. Other emotions simply make it impossible to concentrate. Because we have to get results, we become exceptionally practical. We focus on the work—our mind calm, our ego not intruding. If people try to interrupt or infect us with emotions, we resent it.
Daily Law: These moments—as fleeting as a few weeks or hours—reveal the rational self that is waiting to come out. It just requires some awareness and some practice.
November 16: Integrate the Shadow Side
From an early age, Abraham Lincoln liked to analyze himself, and a recurrent theme in his self-examinations was that he had a split personality—on the one hand an ambitious almost cruel streak to his nature, and on the other a sensitivity and softness that made him frequently depressed. Both sides of his nature made him feel uncomfortable and odd. On the rough side, for instance, he loved boxing and thoroughly thrashing his opponent in the ring. In law and politics he had a rather scathing sense of humor. On his soft side, he loved poetry, felt tremendous affection for animals, and hated witnessing any kind of physical cruelty. At his worst, he was prone to fits of deep melancholy and brooding over death. All in all, he felt himself to be far too sensitive for the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
Instead of denying this side of himself, he channeled it into incredible empathy for the public, for the average man and woman. Caring deeply about the loss of lives in the war, he put all his efforts into ending it early. He did not project evil onto the South but rather empathized with its plight and planned on a peace that was not retributive. He also incorporated it into a healthy sense of humor about himself, making frequent jokes about his ugliness, high-pitched voice, and brooding nature. By embracing and integrating such opposing qualities into his public persona, he gave the impression of tremendous authenticity. People could identify with him in a way never seen before with a political leader.
Daily Law: Your goal must be not only complete acceptance of your Shadow side but also the desire to integrate it into your present personality. By doing so, you will be a more complete human and will radiate an authenticity that will draw people to you.
December 1: The Infinite and the Awesome
We can define the Cosmic Sublime in the following way: it is an encounter with any physical object that embodies or implies a sense of the infinite, in space or time. In the ancient world, our ancestors understood this deep human need. In cultures all around the world, they created rituals, often rites of initiation, that triggered an awareness of the magnificent forces that transcend the human. Shamans or wise elders often served as guides. In our culture we do not easily find such guides or accepted means for encountering the Cosmic Sublime. In fact, we find the opposite: the media that dominates our minds gluts us on trivia and the exaggerated dramas of the moment. If we seek the expansion that will pull us out of our mental ruts, we are largely on our own.
Fortunately, however, this is not as difficult as we might imagine: we are surrounded by embodiments of the infinite and the awesome. The infinite comes in many forms—silence, seemingly endless horizons, blank spaces, et cetera. What matters is our level of attunement to these places—our desire to expand and transcend our usual limits, and our willingness to let go of any distractions and open ourselves to the elements. We are after an experience—not more talk.
Daily Law: Pull your mind away from the dramas of the moment and seek the expansion.
December 16: The Near-Death Experience
There are books written by people who’ve had near-death experiences and they’re fascinating. The effect is usually as follows: Normally we go through life in a very distracted, dreamlike state, with our gaze turned inward. Much of our mental activity revolves around fantasies and resentments that are completely internal and have little relationship to reality. The proximity of death suddenly snaps us to attention as our whole body responds to the threat. We feel the rush of adrenaline, the blood pumping extra hard to the brain and through the nervous system. This focuses the mind to a much higher level and we notice new details, see people’s faces in a new light, and sense the impermanence in everything around us, deepening our emotional responses. This effect can linger for years, even decades.
Daily Law: We cannot reproduce that experience without risking our lives, but we can gain some of the effect through smaller doses. We must begin by meditating on our death and seeking to convert it into something more real and physical.