What you can learn from psychopaths to become more successful

Neuroscientist, psychologist and journalist Christian Jarrett is sure that people can consciously shape their personality. He talks about this in his book Be What You Want. With the permission of Alpina Publisher, Lifehacker publishes an excerpt from the eighth chapter, which deals with what qualities of psychopaths can be useful in everyday life.

Having “positive” psychopathic personality traits is not so bad if they help you achieve success (of course, what you consider success is important). In one curious study, 39 top managers and CEOs of British companies were compared to hundreds of psychopathic criminals held at Broadmoor High Security Hospital in Berkshire, England (which served as a home for the Yorkshire Ripper and other unpleasant personalities).

Unbelievable, but true: in terms of deceptive charm and manipulative abilities, big leaders have surpassed psychopathic criminals.

Like the latter, the subjects had virtually no empathy , but, and this is very important, they were less impulsive and aggressive.

Similar results have been repeatedly reproduced in other studies. In the United States, psychologists evaluated the severity of psychopathy in more than 200 professionals from various companies participating in a management development program. Confirming the British data, managers scored higher than the population average, with their scores directly correlated with scores in charisma and presentation skills. (They did outperform the rest of the subjects in teamwork and efficiency.) Based on his findings, New York psychologist Paul Babiak told The Guardian that about one in 25 business leaders can claim to be a psychopath.

Some experts even argue that the most successful US presidents have had, albeit mildly expressed, psychopathic tendencies.

One of the leading experts in the field of subclinical psychopathy, the late Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University, asked biographers to evaluate the personal qualities of all American presidents up to and including Bill Clinton and compared the results with performance ratings. And again, the key feature of the personality of these people was the desire for dominance at any cost. Presidents who scored high on this indicator (the list was topped by Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, and last by William Taft) were also considered to be more effective in terms of reputation, election results, and laws passed during their reign. .

Successful psychopaths can be found not only among senior executives, but also among representatives of professions associated with high competition and high risk. Such psychopaths can be financiers, military special forces, emergency workers, extreme athletes, and even surgeons . “There is no doubt that the psychopath will always find a place in society,” Dutton concludes in his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths.

Recently, scientists from the Royal College of Surgeons published a paper entitled “Working under Stress: Are Surgeons Psychopaths?” The authors of the article answer: of course, yes. About 200 doctors passed the psychopathy test, and although they did not score high on all indicators of this personality disorder, but on some of them (for example, stress tolerance and fearlessness), surgeons scored significantly higher than representatives of other professions. No wonder Dutton quotes a neurosurgeon in his book: “When you wash your hands before a complex operation, the blood in your veins becomes ice cold.”

Why is it that so many psychopaths, or at least people with psychopathic tendencies, are in leadership positions and are in highly paid professions (for example, surgeons)? Psychopaths are pronounced extroverts , motivated by the expectation of reward and immune to threats. They are distinguished by a special, more pronounced than others, reaction to psychostimulants. For example, when a psychopath takes amphetamines , their brain releases four times more dopamine, a chemical associated with anticipation of pleasure, than the brain of a non-psychopathic person. Similarly, psychopaths show increased activity in the brain’s response to the anticipation of monetary rewards.

But the key to the success of high-functioning psychopaths is perhaps their ability to turn off fear and anxiety at the right moment (heart surgery, saving people from a fire, closing a deal for millions of dollars, a daring raid behind enemy lines).

But how do you get the best out of psychopathy without going over to the dark side? In the long run, in terms of Big Five traits, the answer to this question is minimizing neuroticism and maximizing extraversion.

Try to be honest about your life. If you’re not a psychopath, do you often have moments when you miss opportunities for fear of not coping with a problem or even embarrassing yourself? Perhaps you were invited to speak to colleagues or offered a promotion, but you chose to play it safe and refused. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about asking someone out on a date for weeks, but never got around to doing it. In all of these cases, it was worth calling for help from an internal psychopath.

One way to do this I have already pointed out above is to rethink stressful, anxiety-provoking situations as pleasantly exciting.

Interpret the adrenaline rush not as fear, but as a high, and it will have a beneficial effect on your actions.

The reactions that are natural for a psychopath, you can learn to apply as needed.

The next useful strategy is to replace, psychologically speaking, the danger mindset with the problem-solving mindset. If you see in advance only threats in everything, the latter will certainly be realized because of the certainty that your abilities do not correspond to the complexity of the tasks before you. You are afraid to lose your temper, fail, and embarrass yourself. The natural response in this mindset is to avoid taking advantage of every opportunity.

On the contrary, the problem-solving mindset is based on self-confidence (remind yourself often of your experience and skills; if you don’t have experience yet, gain it and don’t forget to remember it next time); concentration on those aspects of the task that you can control (this is achieved by practice, as well as through established procedures and sequences of actions, that is, a kind of rituals similar to those that athletes use before competitions); looking at the task not only as a test, but also as a chance to learn something, regardless of the result. Simply put, think not about what you risk losing, but about what an attempt to solve a problem will give you, even if it is only new knowledge. Start working right now. Yes, it’s unlikely that you will feel that the blood in your veins turns ice cold, like that of the surgeon from Dutton’s book, but you can use your anxiety to your advantage, and when the next opportunity presents itself, instead of making way for an office psychopath or another cocky Lothario . you use it yourself.

It is important to note that if you adopt a problem-solving mindset, it will naturally motivate you to take action to be successful. This is also evidenced by the results of a recent study in which about 200 employees of companies took part. When it was an important and difficult day, those who, in the words of scientists, had a “positive stress mindset ” (analogous to the problem-solving mindset) actively got involved in the work and took constructive steps to cope with the situation (for example, set priorities and asked for help). People with a “negative stress mindset” who saw only threats hid their heads in the sand.

Another advantage of successful psychopaths is spontaneity, responsiveness, and a willingness to seize the moment.

While you were thinking about applying for a job or buying a house for sale, successful psychopaths have already sent a resume or called a realtor , thinking not about risks, but about rewards. In other words, psychopaths don’t like to procrastinate. To learn this quality, it is important to understand the nature of procrastination: often we put off things, including planned ones, not because we are disorganized or slow, but because we are driven by irrational fears and negative emotions that these things are associated with.

Therefore, in order to defeat procrastination, you need to get rid of your fears or turn off emotions altogether. Outline the pros and cons of the decision being made, if necessary, consult with relatives and friends. When you feel ready to move forward, stop playing the seer by imagining possible outcomes and just focus on the next action you need to take. Just do it. Submit your resume. Dial a number.

The book “Be what you want” is not only about psychopaths, but also about self-improvement. The author invites readers to assess the properties of their personality using the tests of the “big five” and “dark triad”, and also gives practical recommendations to those who are aimed at change and self-knowledge.

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