The Daily Laws: Robert Greene’s 366 Meditations (Overview)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Laws" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

As an adult, how do you approach learning? How well can you read people? Do you know how to lower someone’s guard?

In The Daily Laws, Robert Greene contends that we are steeped in false beliefs and that they direct our lives. His book provides a lesson for each day of the year on how to be more in tune with reality and, thus, find more fulfillment.

Continue reading for an overview of The Daily Laws by Robert Greene, a bestselling author and an expert on power.

Overview of The Daily Laws

In The Daily Laws, Robert Greene argues that we lead our lives guided by false beliefs: We believe that chasing money will make us happy, that others always have our best interests at heart, and that our flaws are smaller than other peoples’, among other things. However, because these beliefs aren’t based on reality, they leave us miserable and unfulfilled. We one day discover that money hasn’t made us happy, that our colleague has swiped the promotion from us, and that our flaws are more significant than we thought. 

Greene elaborates that, in the past, humans needed to be acutely attuned to their surroundings—in other words, to their reality—to survive. Lose yourself in a daydream for a moment, and you could be a bear’s lunch. However, since we’ve conquered our environment and eliminated immediate threats to our well-being, so, too, have we eliminated our attunement to reality. This has made us prone to delusions and fantasies and susceptible to the false beliefs outlined above. Greene’s message is that to lead a meaningful and fulfilled life, we must reconnect with reality, and he provides advice on how to do so. 

Robert Greene is the author of six internationally best-selling books such as The 48 Laws of Power, The Laws of Human Nature, and Mastery. Although Greene has no formal education in psychology, The Daily Laws is based on 25 years of research on power, mastery, and human nature and compiles core maxims from five of his other books.

We’ll first describe how and why many of us develop incorrect perceptions of reality. Then, we’ll explore Greene’s lessons on how to see and live with clarity in three parts:

  • In Part 1, we’ll discuss how you can break free from false notions of success and happiness by identifying your unique life purpose and pursuing mastery in your field.
  • In Part 2, we’ll explore truths about human nature and how you can take control of your life by applying Greene’s strategies of power, seduction, and persuasion.
  • In Part 3, we’ll show how you can live a fulfilling life anchored in reality by learning to manage your emotions and developing rationality.

Drop False Beliefs and Reengage With Reality

According to Greene, you can live a happier and more successful life by developing an honest and realistic perspective on the world. He argues that many of us are disconnected from reality—we’re guided by false assumptions of what’s important. Society floods us with ideas of how to achieve happiness, such as by earning money or becoming socially popular. Additionally, we might believe that most people share our values and aren’t self-centered. These beliefs, Greene argues, aren’t realistic and often lead us to pursue things that don’t make us happy in the long term.

(Shortform note:  In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson echoes Greene’s argument that we care too much about the wrong things, calling these false assumptions about what’s important destructive values. He says misplaced values are a major source of our unhappiness: Our cultural norms lead us to believe that happiness comes from avoiding problems, having a lot of material wealth, and being positive all the time. Manson argues that real happiness, however, is derived from overcoming challenges.)

Part 1: Reconnect With Reality by Pursuing Your Unique Purpose

Greene writes that you can reconnect with reality and live with more clarity by dedicating yourself to your unique purpose. Your purpose is a task or skill that you’re naturally drawn to do. When you dedicate yourself to your unique purpose, you’ll free yourself from unimportant distractions and find a direction in life that will bring you true happiness.

Discover Your Unique Purpose

So what is your life purpose? Greene says that chances are, you already know it—deep down you’ve always liked certain things more than others. Some of us devote ourselves to art while others tinker with mathematical puzzles because these activities naturally energize and excite us. Greene argues that when you learn to shape your unique interests into a life purpose, you can make your greatest personal impact in the world.

To develop your unique purpose, Greene offers three suggestions:

  • Reflect on your childhood passions.
  • Identify what makes you different.
  • Develop your unique beliefs.

Pursue Mastery

With your purpose to guide you, Greene says that to make a successful impact in your field and produce innovative and quality work, you must pursue mastery—a process of learning and exploration to deeply understand your field. The path doesn’t have an end but instead requires a lifelong commitment to expanding your knowledge and skills. Throughout history, many famous innovators, whether they engineered scientific breakthroughs or composed revolutionary musical pieces, went through the same process.

Phase 1: Devote Yourself to Learning

Greene explains that the journey to mastery begins with a fundamental phase of intense and self-directed learning. According to Greene, this learning stage often takes five to 10 years.

Greene offers four suggestions on how to approach your learning:

  • Make learning your primary goal.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Practice by doing.
  • Expand your skills.
Phase 2: Experiment and Apply Your Personal Style

After your learning phase, you have the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to experiment with techniques and apply your personal style to create valuable and unique work. Greene says you’ll know you’ve reached this stage when the basics of your craft feel intuitive—you’ve internalized the ins and outs of your field. Rather than stumbling over technical mistakes and beginner struggles, your mind is free to experiment and innovate. He offers two suggestions to help you create a masterful work.

1. Develop a flexible mind. Seek uncertainty, challenge your instinctive beliefs, and explore all angles of an idea or situation—consider not just what’s there but what’s missing.

2. Hone your concentration. Seek pleasure in the creation process itself—not in the completion of the project. When you feel frustrated or distracted, try taking a break.

Part 2: Control Your Reality Through Power, Persuasion, and Seduction

In addition to reconnecting with reality by pursuing your unique purpose, Greene contends you must adapt to the reality of power dynamics. According to Greene, power dynamics play a role in all areas of life. You must learn how to navigate them to get what you want and achieve success in both your personal and professional life.

Greene says we falsely believe others are kind-hearted and generally won’t deceive us for personal gain. However, the reality is that everyone seeks power to some degree, and people often resort to dishonest or manipulative tactics to get it. Greene advises you to accept that the “game” of power can’t be avoided and learn how to play it to your advantage. If you refuse to accept this reality, you risk being manipulated or sidelined.

Power Dynamics and Human Nature

To use power dynamics to your advantage, Greene says you must first develop a realistic understanding of human nature: People are irrational and driven by emotions, including greed and envy.

In public, everyone wears a mask that hides unpleasant emotions and socially unacceptable behaviors like hatred to avoid disagreement or rejection. To gain power, use these truths about human nature to help you read the true emotions behind people’s masks and guide you in your social interactions.

How to Read People

Greene writes that to read people’s true emotions, you must develop empathy—the ability to see from another person’s perspective. This allows you to view people more rationally, rather than through the filter of your own emotions, and to distinguish allies from rivals. To develop empathy, refrain from judging others immediately based on how they look or behave. Instead, accumulate concrete evidence to better understand people’s true feelings and intentions.

Greene offers three tips on how to read people:

  • Past behaviors. Greene says you should judge people based on their past actions rather than on their words or reputation.
  • Extreme behaviors. People who are suppressing negative emotions or intentions often compensate by exaggerating the opposite behavior.
  • Self-interest. According to Greene, you can often judge a person’s real motives by reflecting on who benefits from a situation or event.
How to Interact With People

To gain power, you must learn how to behave around people with different degrees of power. In many social situations, you’ll encounter people with more power than you and people who want to take power from you. Greene writes that you must curry favor with your superiors and outwit your rivals to put yourself in good social standing.

Praise and honor people who have higher authority than you. When you make them feel superior or subtly compliment them on what they care most about (such as their charitability or intelligence), they’ll naturally want to reward you. Greene cautions you never to overshadow your superiors or you’ll become a threat they’ll want to get rid of.

Greene suggests you convert your rivals into potential allies, if possible, so that they become useful to you. If you can’t do this, he says you must defeat enemies by studying them, targeting their core weaknesses, and undermining their reputations. However, since power dynamics are ever-changing, Greene cautions against ever letting your guard down, since your rivals might become more powerful in the future.

Appearance and Power

In addition to paying attention to others, be mindful of how you appear in social settings. To gain power, you must adopt a suitable appearance based on the expectations of your current situation. Greene explains that people make decisions about you based on how you present yourself, and learning to change how you behave, dress, and speak allows you to leave good impressions and achieve social success.

While you’ll want to adjust your appearance depending on the situation, here are three of Greene’s strategies that will increase your control over any situation:

Element 1: Reputation

According to Greene, you can control how others perceive you by developing a strong reputation—a public image that people associate you with. A strong reputation gives people the impression that you’re powerful, allowing you to influence and intimidate others. Greene suggests you base your reputation on a unique quality that you have, such as a quirky personality trait or style of dress. Then, build your reputation further by adopting universally positive traits such as humility, open-mindedness, and generosity. While appearing ordinary may be relatable, it won’t make you seem alluring or valuable. When you act special, people treat you as such.

Element 2: Independence 

Greene argues that the more control you have over your emotions and choices, the more power you have. To maintain control, you must stay independent and detached in your social interactions. When you take things personally, you lose the ability to approach situations rationally and with control. Avoid taking sides, making commitments, and getting dragged into unnecessary conflicts—if someone you know is angry at someone else, stay calm and objective. Similarly, be careful when accepting gifts because they make you feel obligated to give something in return.

Element 3: Mystery

According to Greene, a person of power maintains an element of mystery and unpredictability. If you’re an open book, people can easily tell what you want and what your next move will be, which leaves you vulnerable and not in control. Greene suggests three methods to appear mysterious and unpredictable:

  • Say less and keep the meaning of your words as open to interpretation as possible.
  • Be absent from time to time.
  • Be unpredictable.

Seduction and Persuasion

According to Greene, the ability to seduce and persuade others is a crucial form of power that allows you to control people and get what you want out of your interactions. Rather than use intimidation or force, you can take advantage of their natural desires and charm them into falling under your influence. Three ways to seduce and persuade others are to make them lower their guard, play into their fantasies, and appeal to their emotions.

Lower Their Guard 

According to Greene, to influence others, you must lower their guard by making yourself seem similar to them. Try to mirror their values, tastes, and beliefs in your words and behaviors. This makes them feel validated and increases their sense of security, which helps them feel more comfortable and open to your ideas and suggestions.

To figure out what others like and value, encourage them to talk for most of your interaction. Greene explains that people are driven most by self-interest, so you won’t be persuasive if you focus on what you personally value or need. Rather, frame the conversation around their needs and interests.

Cultivate Fantasy and Desire

To persuade others, play to their fantasies, Greene says. This makes you so likable and charming that people fall under your influence. He explains that everyone has an idea of how they’d like the world to be. When you present that fantasy to them, people are more likely to agree with what you say or do what you want.

When appealing to other people’s fantasies, present yourself as the only person who can satisfy those fantasies. Identify something they’re lacking in their life and show them how only you can fill that void.

Another way to generate desire is to associate yourself with something forbidden or unfamiliar. Greene says that people want what they can’t have and secretly long to transgress barriers. Tempt your target with alluring words, but wait to deliver on them. Don’t make it seem like you’re trying to get something out of them—focus on cultivating desire through suspense.

Use Visuals and Appeal to Emotions

According to Greene, you can persuade others more effectively by using images to create lasting emotional impressions. Surround yourself with symbols and imagery that evoke positive feelings, whether you wear a bright piece of clothing or post exciting pictures on social media. When you associate yourself with positive visuals, people will view you more positively, allowing you to control what sort of impression they have of you. Greene explains that visuals are more powerful than words because people’s brains retain them longer. Similarly, people pay more attention to the emotions they feel when you talk than they pay to the words you say.

You can further leave a positive impression by displaying positive emotions yourself. According to Greene, we’re highly sensitive to other people’s body language and are easily influenced by other people’s moods. If you treat the conversation as enjoyable and engage with your target deeply, they may naturally feel and do the same.

Part 3: Live Fully in Reality With a Rational Perspective

At this point, you’ve learned to clarify what truly matters to your life and navigate power dynamics. However, to live a happier and more fulfilling life, you must anchor yourself in the real world in the long term by developing your rationality—the ability to think clearly, see things as they are, and make decisions based on reality rather than emotions. Greene recommends three ways to be more rational. 

Behave More Rationally

To view and approach your life more rationally, first learn to control your emotions. Greene explains that it takes more effort to think rationally than emotionally—emotions are strong and cause us to react quickly, preventing us from making rational decisions. The first step in controlling your emotions is to accept this truth of human nature. Because we are human, we all have flaws, inaccurate beliefs, and emotional compulsions, such as the desire to be liked or gain approval. When you acknowledge these tendencies, you gain the awareness and distance to better manage them.

Second, Greene recommends developing a stronger sense of self so that you’ll care less about what others think. Since we’re social creatures, we value the approval of others, which may cause us to feel insecure or anxious at work or around our friends. However, when you build your own standards of success instead of seeking approval, you’ll feel less emotionally attached to the opinions and expectations of others. Practice feeling genuine joy for the successes of others while building the discipline to work on and feel proud of your own skills.

Third, Greene advises learning to view situations as neither positive nor negative. He adds that situations are naturally neutral—it’s your emotions that make them good or bad. With this in mind, don’t take things personally. Instead, treat difficult people or situations as curious puzzles to unravel or a learning experience. Try viewing them neutrally as you would a neutral object, such as a plant or building.

Elevate Your Perspective

According to Greene, to develop your rationality, you should look at your life from a bird’s-eye view—rise beyond the immediate present and consider things from a distance. Often, we get stuck in whatever’s happening and feel overwhelmed with emotions, choices, and false impressions that lead us to react irrationally and make bad decisions. When you elevate your perspective, you can more realistically assess your situation and better predict the consequences of your actions. To do this, Greene suggests you:

  • Take a step back. Greene suggests you back away either physically or mentally—you could leave the room or pause before reacting.
  • Embrace adaptability and opportunity. Acknowledge that nothing is stable or constant.

Embrace the Wonder of Reality

According to Greene, when you recognize and appreciate how amazing life is, you gain a focused and rational outlook on the world. In the modern world, distractions are everywhere, and it’s easy to worry about things that don’t really matter. Sometimes, eliminating these distractions is as simple as reminding yourself of the wonders that exist in your present reality.

First, reconnect with your childhood sense of wonder. The world is full of wonder, such as nature or art. When we were children, we noticed this because we were small and vulnerable. As adults, we become preoccupied with distractions and responsibilities like social media and work deadlines. To reconnect with your sense of wonder, Greene recommends becoming an explorer: Visit childhood places, travel to natural places without technology, and study different cultures. When you reopen your eyes to the grand scale of life, you’ll renew your interest in life and experience more joy.

Second, Greene argues that by becoming more aware of our mortality, we can live a life that is richer and more focused. He explains that many societies ignore the idea of death. This only makes us more anxious, however, as we’re left with a subconscious sense of time slipping away yet lose ourselves in daily distractions. Instead, Greene writes that you should accept that human life is impermanent. This awareness helps you focus on the present reality and what’s most important to you, allowing you to better appreciate your life, love the people around you, and feel motivated to achieve your life’s purpose.

The Daily Laws: Robert Greene’s 366 Meditations (Overview)

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Greene's "The Daily Laws" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Daily Laws summary:

  • Why our beliefs tend to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
  • How to attune yourself to the reality of how the world really works
  • How to manage your emotions and develop rationality

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.