How to Be More Mysterious: Don’t Show All Your Cards

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Why is mystery so attractive? What do mysterious people do that makes them so irresistible?

People are attracted to those who seem mysterious, so cultivate an air of mystery yourself. Be vague about what you’re doing or plan to do. Don’t show all your cards and you’ll create an atmosphere of anticipation—people will pay attention to see what you do next. You can use mystery to deceive, enthrall, and intimidate.

Here’s how to be more mysterious, according to Robert Greene.

The Power of Mystery

In ancient times, when the world seemed frightening and inexplicable, people invented gods and myths to explain diseases, natural wonders, disasters, and other things they couldn’t understand. Today, we explain natural phenomena with science and reason, but people still crave the inexplicable and mysterious. People gravitate to enigmas. They have drawing power because they’re open to interpretation, imagination, and awe, unlike our most familiar and predictable world.

Con artists attract people by seeming mysterious, then distract them while fleecing them. For example, Victor Lustig pretended to be a count; he dressed expensively, but always wore an odd accessory. He hung around hotels acting in ways that got people buzzing. He was so interesting and distracting that people who got close to him didn’t notice they were being robbed.

You can attract attention the same way, by being inscrutable. You don’t need to be extraordinary to create a sense of mystery about yourself—you can succeed while being more subtle, making mystery part of your mien.

In his book The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene explains how to be more mysterious yet subtle: practice silence and restraint, make occasional ambiguous remarks, be purposely inconsistent, and appear eccentric. You’ll project an aura of mystery, which others will build up by trying to interpret what you say and do.

Some benefits of seeming mysterious include:

An element of mystery can make you appear brilliant and profound, even if you’re average or mediocre. For example, Mata Hari, the famed dancer, wasn’t a great beauty or an extraordinary dancer, but she enthralled her audiences because she seemed exotic and kept changing her background story.

You have the upper hand when you force others to try and figure you out. It puts them on the defensive.

You can inspire fear because people are unnerved by uncertainty and things they don’t understand.

Mystery draws attention and gives you an intimidating presence as a leader. Example: Mao Tse-tung mystified everyone, including his wife, by being unpredictable and contradicting himself. People felt they had to pay attention because no one knew what he might do next. If you can’t be mysterious all the time, create enigmas.

Do something periodically that doesn’t jibe with others’ perceptions and expectations of you, to keep them on edge and focused on you.

How to Be More Mysterious: Don’t Show All Your Cards

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  • Why you should never outshine your boss
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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