Master Your Emotions: The Secret Source of Power

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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How can you master your emotions? How can mastering your emotions increase your power?

You’re more powerful, in work and in life, when you learn to master your emotions and stay calm and level. Read on to learn how mastering your emotions can contribute to your success and magnify your power.

Master Your Emotions to Become an Expert Player

There’s no point in trying to opt-out of the power game. You’ll only end up with less power and you’ll be miserable. Rather than resisting the inevitable or feeling guilty, it’s better to be a master player of the power game.

To do this, master your emotions: Like an actor, learn to disguise your real feelings and produce whatever emotion is required. Control your facial expressions too.

In order to master your emotions to become more powerful, you must view the world in a different way. You’ll need to learn some overarching skills and mindsets that won’t come naturally: 

Overview: Master Your Emotions

This is the most important skill because emotions interfere with reason — if you can’t view a situation objectively, you can’t prepare for it and respond to it in a controlled way.

Responding emotionally is a mistake that will cost you more than the momentary satisfaction of venting. Anger is the most destructive emotional response because it blinds you the most. It also escalates situations and strengthens your opponent’s resolve. It’s better to keep an opponent off guard by pretending to be friendly than by revealing your anger.  Love can also be dangerous — it can blind you to the self-serving behavior of those closest to you.

Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean repressing them, however. Just be careful in expressing them — and don’t let them affect your plans and strategies.

Master Your Emotions to Rattle Your Opponents

Always stay calm and objective. When you get angry, you’ve lost control. But if you can make your enemies angry, you gain an advantage. Rattle your enemies to put them off balance. This involves mastering your emotions.

Principles of Rattling Your Opponents

When someone gets irrationally angry at you, realize two things:

  • They will end up looking foolish, and will lose others’ respect because they’ve lost control. Their behavior is a sign of helplessness.
  • Their anger isn’t personal— it mostly stems from past experiences. Rather than a personal grudge, it’s an effort to punish or control you, which you can and should counter.

Instead of getting caught up in someone’s emotions, think calmly about how to use them.

You may want to deliberately trigger someone, either to demonstrate their instability to all, or to bait them to behave foolishly. There are numerous ways to do this, including mocking your opponent’s manhood, or injuring their pride or vanity. When they react, you can win easily.

Example: Mastering Your Emotions

Losing control of your emotions may be the beginning of the end for you. Napoleon’s decline began when he exploded at a meeting with his ministers over Talleyrand’s attempts to undermine him. Talleyrand remained calm while Napoleon became increasingly unhinged. His meltdown turned out to be emblematic of the way his regime was beginning to unravel, and others saw it that way.

Losing your temper in an unhinged way may cause people to fear you at first, but fear soon gives way to disrespect and doubts about your stability. When you publicly show anger or frustration, you’re showing powerlessness, like a child having a tantrum. When you expose weakness in this way, you’re headed for a fall.

Master Your Emotions to Mirror the Emotions of Others

Use the mirroring technique to control people. When you mirror opponents’ actions, doing as they do, they can’t figure out your strategy. Seduce people by mirroring their emotions and interests; create the illusion that you share their values. Few can resist when you reflect their deepest needs and desires.

Principles of the Mirroring Technique

When you pass by a mirror and suddenly see yourself, it has a startling and powerful effect. You can create a similarly powerful effect on others when you use the psychological technique of mirroring. 

You can neutralize an opponents’ impact by doing what they do. Repeating their actions or words frustrates and distracts them from their objectives. Throwing their words or actions back at them can also disguise what you’re up to and give you time to maneuver. It works well in military and political campaigns.

But more commonly, you’ll want to use mirroring psychologically to charm, manipulate, and deceive. Most people try to dominate interactions with their opinions, feelings and experiences, and that’s what others expect. When you instead mirror or reflect back (and appear to share) their deepest thoughts and feelings, they’re disarmed.

Find out what sets the other person apart and reflect it; fuel their fantasies. Watch their expressions and gestures for indications of their emotions; consider their clothing and style, whom they associate with, and their habits. To do so, you’ll have to master your emotions so they don’t get in the way of mirroring others’.

Surprise them with your deep understanding of their psyche and they’ll be so touched and grateful that they become putty in your hands.

Don’t overdo mirroring, or people will feel used. But, in general, if you can master your emotions and reflect the emotions of others, you’ll find that you’re more powerful as a result.

Master Your Emotions to Avoid Catching Others’ Misery

People who are perpetually miserable spread misery like an infection, and they’ll drown you in it. Avoid these people like the plague. Conversely, if you associate with happy people, you’ll share in the good fortune they attract and spread. Seek them out.

People who are hurt by circumstances beyond their control deserve sympathy and help. But others bring unhappiness on themselves and spread it to those around them by their destructive acts and influence on others. You can’t change or improve them — they will change you by afflicting you with their problems. Master your emotions by avoiding these people altogether.

Principles of Avoiding Misery

People are highly susceptible to the emotions and pathologies of those they spend time with. Chronically miserable and unstable people have the greatest influence because of their intensity. Because they paint themselves as victims, it can take you a while to see that they cause their own problems. By the time you realize this, these infectors have sucked you in.

When your goal is power, those you associate with can make or break you. One of the most damaging types of infectors is the person who is perpetually dissatisfied and aggrieved.

Cassius, who conspired against Caesar, is an example of a miserable person. He couldn’t stand anyone more talented and accomplished than he. His dissatisfaction and hatred of Caesar infected Brutus (who likely would have waited to ascend the throne). The result was one of the great tragedies of history.

The best way to protect yourself is by paying close attention to the people you surround yourself with, so you see any ominous signs. Start by considering their effects on others, rather than on who/what they blame for their problems.

Watch for these characteristics of infectors:

  • They bring misery on themselves and others.
  • They exude discontent.
  • They have tumultuous histories.
  • They’ve left behind a trail of failed relationships.
  • They’ve had unstable careers.
  • They have a charisma that overwhelms people, especially their ability to reason.

Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for them — you’ll entangle yourself in trying to help. While you’re beside yourself with frustration, they’ll carry on unchanged.

Happiness is Contagious, Too

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who attract happiness and spread it. Do everything you can to associate with these people, so you share in the positive vibes and good fortune they attract.

Happiness and success aren’t the only positive qualities you should seek out. Any positive quality of someone else — friendliness, charm, creativity, generosity, etc. — can infect you in a good way.

You can do the same thing: Strive to associate with people who have traits and qualities you lack. If you’re moody, hang out with cheerful people; if you’re cheap, associate with generous people.

However, always avoid people with the same character flaws as yours — they’ll reinforce your worst traits. Make associating with positive people a rule you live by, and you won’t need a therapist.

Master your emotions, and you’ll find that power comes to you more easily.

Master Your Emotions: The Secret Source of Power

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  • Why you should never outshine your boss
  • How to appear like a friend but behave like a spy
  • The 6 rules you absolutely must not violate, if you want to be successful

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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