From the beginning of our existence as a species, we humans have depended on our connection to reality for our very survival and success. What this meant for our ancestors was that they had to become highly sensitive to their environment, detecting any changes in the weather, anticipating the presence of predators, discerning where opportunities for food might lie. They had to be aware, alert, and continually thinking about what the environment was telling them.
In such an atmosphere, with the pressures so immediate and the consequences of any inattention being life or death, the human brain evolved as an instrument for helping humans to not only detect dangers, but also to slowly gain control of a treacherous environment. The moment our ancestors began to turn inward and give in to wishes and fantasies, reality rigorously punished them for their delusions and bad decisions.
Today, so many hundreds of thousands of years later, we have the same brain designed for the same purpose. But because we have increasingly gained control of our environment and the physical pressures have loosened dramatically, the dangers have become much more subtle—they come in the form of people (not leopards) and their tricky psychology, and the delicate political and social games we have to play. And because of these less obvious dangers, our greatest problem is that our minds tend to become less sensitive to the environment; we turn inward, absorbed in our dreams and fantasies. We become naive.
To add to this dangerous brew, our culture tends to fill our heads with all kinds of false notions, making us believe things about what the world and human nature should be like, rather than what they are actually like. We take all of this for the truth and act on these misconceptions and, just as in the past, the environment and reality eventually punish us for our delusionary behavior. We may not lose our lives, but our careers and relationships take wrong turns. We blame other people for our woes when all along the problem is inside us, stemming from our naiveté and the
fantasies we’ve absorbed, which unconsciously guide our actions.
The following are some of the common false notions in our culture that can lead us astray: For instance, when it comes to our career, we believe that where we went to school, who we know, and who we are connected to is the key to our future success. We think that making mistakes or failing or any kind of conflict are to be avoided at all costs, and that we need to be in a hurry to make money, gain attention, and rise to the top. We imagine that work should be fun, that boredom is bad, and that we can take shortcuts to becoming really good at things. We have the idea that creativity is
something we are born with, a natural gift. We feel that everyone is equal, and that hierarchies are a thing of the past.
With people, we operate under the belief that most of our friends and colleagues like us and want the best for us. We think that those with a pattern of bad behavior can be trusted if they say they’ve reformed, that people full of conviction and a sense of outrage must be telling the truth, and that those in power, including our bosses, are not insecure. We imagine that people who are extremely nice and accommodating are not potentially masking a dark and devious nature, that those who espouse progressive ideas have a corresponding virtuous character, and that people will be grateful for any favors we do for them.
With ourselves, we think that it’s important to be honest and to tell others what’s exactly on our minds. We feel that it’s good to show off our best qualities—our intelligence, our industriousness, etc. We think that if bad things happen to us, we’re just victims and not responsible in any way. We of course see that some people are narcissistic, aggressive, envious, grandiose, and manipulative, but we believe that these are just a few bad apples and that we ourselves have none of these qualities.
What often happens is that at a fairly young age, burdened with such delusions, we enter the work world, and reality suddenly slaps us in the face. We discover that some people have fragile egos and can be devious and not at all what they seem. We are blindsided by their indifference or sudden acts of betrayal. Being ourselves and just saying what we think can land us in all kinds of trouble. We come to realize that the work world is riddled with political games that nobody has prepared us for.
Some of our career decisions, based on the desire for money and attention, lead to emotional burnout, disenchantment, and dead ends. And by not looking at ourselves in an honest way, and glossing over our own
flaws and weaknesses, we become trapped in patterns of behavior that we cannot control. As the years go by, and the misreadings, missteps, and unrealistic decisions pile up, we can become bitter, confused, and damaged.
The Daily Laws is designed to reverse these toxic patterns and to reconnect you to reality. It takes aim at the various delusions we have all absorbed and seeks to attune your mind instead to the most entrenched traits of human nature and how our brains actually operate. Its goal is to transform you into a radical realist, so that when the book is finished, you will continue, on your own, to see people and events through this clarifying lens, and become ever more sensitive to the dangers and opportunities in your social environment. It is based on twenty-five years of intense research
on the subjects of power, persuasion, strategy, mastery, and human nature, and is the distillation of all the lessons in my books.
The entries in the first three months will help rid you of all the external voices telling you about which career path to follow, and instead will connect you to your own voice, to what makes you unique, to your purpose and calling in life. Once this connection is made, you will have a guide for all your subsequent career decisions. These entries will show you that what matters is not education or money, but your persistence and the intensity of your desire to learn; that failures, mistakes, and conflicts are often the best education of all; and how true creativity and mastery emerge from all this.
The next three months will train you to see the political nature of the work world and how dangerous it is to take appearances for reality. They will help you to recognize the toxic types before they immerse you in their emotional maelstroms and teach you how to consciously outwit the great manipulators out there.
The ensuing three months will attempt to show you how real persuasion and influence work—not by thinking first of yourself and saying what’s on your mind, but from getting into the mindset of others and appealing to their self-interest. They will also help you to become a superior strategist in life, effectively advancing those causes you so deeply believe in and realizing your goals.
And the last three months will immerse you in the underlying motivations that drive human behavior, including your own. By making you reflect on who you are and realize that you are a flawed human being like everyone else, you will not only have greater empathy and acceptance of people, but you will have the key to altering your own negative patterns. These entries will show you that by confronting your deepest fears about mortality, you can open yourself up to the truly awesome nature of life, appreciating every moment that remains to you for absorbing its sublimity.
The entries have been culled from five of my books, and from part of the book I am currently working on, The Law of the Sublime; from interviews and talks over the years; and from blog posts and online essays I have written. At the end of each entry, I share the title and the chapter of the book the entries come from, so that you can deepen your study on any specific idea. Each month has a specific title and subtheme, and begins with a short essay. These essays illustrate the connection of the ideas in my books to my own experiences, the hardships that I have encountered, and the realistic lessons I have derived from them.
This book can be read in a pick-and-choose manner, skipping around as you desire, fitting the ideas to your own issues at this particular moment in your life. But it is best to read The Daily Laws from cover to cover, beginning with whichever date the book happens to land in your hands. In this way the book will immerse you in each subject, infiltrating your mind and helping you develop the essential habit of seeing things as they are. As part of this habit, it’s best to take notes as often as you can, relating the entries to your own experiences past and present. And it’s even better to occasionally put some of the ideas into practice and reflect on the real world experiences that ensue.
Finally, consider The Daily Laws as a kind of bildungsroman. The bildungsroman—from the German meaning a “development” or “education novel”—was a literary genre that began in the eighteenth century and continues into the present. In these stories, the protagonists, often quite young, enter life full of naive notions. The author takes them on a journey through a land teeming with miscreants, rogues, and fools. Slowly, the protagonists learn to shed themselves of their various illusions as the real world educates them. And they come to see that reality is infinitely more interesting and richer than all the fantasies they had been fed on. They emerge enlightened, battle-tested, and wise beyond their years.
The Daily Laws will take you, the protagonist, on a similar journey through a land full of dangerous and toxic types of people, helping you shed your illusions and hardening you for the battles ahead so that you may find solace and pleasure in seeing people and the world in their true light