Psychological Power — How to Identify It, Get It, and Wield It.


An insurrection occurred at the United States Capital less than a month ago. We’ve all seen the pictures and video of them walking past or beating up police, of breaking glass to break in and then vandalizing, and even the chant of the mob to harm others.

Yikes. In what reality did they think that would be ok?

Venture Out is not about politics. Rather, it’s about understanding human behavior in a way to assist us to be more productive and positive. In doing so, we become more successful in our endeavors.

Therefore, let’s go deep in understanding the psychology of power — how to identify it, gain it, and then use it… for good intentions.

Psychological Exploitation

“You can’t say anything about anything important ever without offending…important speech about important issues, specifically about contentious issues, is instantly offensive.” — Dr. Jordan Peterson in an interview, ABC News In-depth, 2018

One way to understand the insurrection is that it is caused by the deep divide in people’s belief and then exploited by the people in power. But why and how did this exploitation occur? And therefore, will you be exploited by people you perceive as powerful?

“People choose to accept certain ideology because essentially those particular belief systems help them meet their psychological needs, but also it helps them understand; predict and possibly rationalise their current societal arrangements; and even realise potential alternatives to those arrangements.” — @DiplomacyEdu [7]

Let’s break that down…

“Meet psychological needs” — We need to have a sense of purpose in life. We are also tribal and need to have a sense of belonging. With no purpose and no belonging, we may become, “persuaded to violate their own rationality, beliefs, values, and emotions. According to Robert V. Levine, it is ‘psychological disarmament’ that ‘often sets the stage for persuasion’.”

“Understand, predict, rationalize” — We need to have a sense of control over our life. It’s too uncomfortable to think our life is left open to chance. Therefore, we will gravitate towards a belief system that makes things make sense. “I’m not successful because the system is rigged against me.” And within that belief system, it can justify our actions… no matter how egregious.

“Realize potential alternatives” — If we have a sense of purpose (WHY), a group to belong to (RESOURCES), and a belief system that makes sense of the world (RULES OF THE GAME), then I should be able to win, i.e. not be a loser.

No easy answers today my friends. No quick tips or lifehacks. I want to leave you in a deep state (haha!) to question your beliefs and behaviors.


“The crowd is always intellectually inferior to the isolated individual.”

Do This 1 Thing To Gain Power In Any Situation

So, let’s continue our reflection of the January 6th insurrection and the psychological failure in their mindset. It’s absolutely critical that we fortify our own mental defenses or else risk falling into the “trap” they fell into. #NoSympathy

“Manipulation is an emotionally unhealthy psychological strategy used by people who are incapable of asking for what they want and need in a direct way. People who are trying to manipulate others are trying to control others.” — Sharie Stines, therapist who specializes in abuse and toxic relationships [4]

My assertion is that these insurrectionists are borne from both the current manipulative influencers and also a lifetime of inadequate mental defenses and critical thinking. Too harsh?

The through-line to productivity and positivity is that we need to have a critical mind when consuming info from influencers and develop techniques to detect B.S. Today, one simple thing we can do in all aspects of our life.

“The two main features that may induce deindividuation are group size and anonymity. The central idea within deindividuation is that: certain group situations can minimize the salience of people’s personal identities, reduce their sense of public accountability, and in doing so produce aggressive and unusual behaviour.” [7]

Mob mentality prob played a factor into the psychology of those insurrectionists. (Although, if they wanted some anonymity, they probably should not have tweeted the crime!)

In the context of our life, we don’t pause enough to assess, understand, and most importantly own the behaviors and actions we make. Hence, most enter the “rat race” only to wake up 30 years later with a piece of cheese to show for it.


My advice, take a step WAY back. Step back from all of your situations and simply ask yourself, “are things going the way I choose them to,” and “am I proud of my actions?”

Step back from your relationship — is it healthy and rewarding? Be wary of all forms of manipulations… and be careful you’re not doing it yourself.

“The term “gaslighting” is often used to identify manipulation that gets people to question themselves, their reality, memory or thoughts. A manipulative person might twist what you say and make it about them, hijack the conversation or make you feel like you’ve done something wrong when you’re not quite sure you have, according to Stines.” — @cshortsleeve in TIME

Step back from your job — are you on the right track? Specifically, I want you to think, “are you doing what everybody else is doing?” If so, that might be ok… or not. The trick is to own that decision. If you feel like it’s a rat race, then stop running, pause, and take your career where you want. Throw caution to the wind!

Step back right now, in this moment. How do you feel your life is going? If you feel something is off, take note of it and question why. Our goal is to use productivity and positivity to achieve the level of success we know we are capable of. So don’t get manipulated and build up your psychological powers. Final thought — sometimes the simplest answer is the right answer.


“People who, ultimately as imperfect information processors, may be persuaded to violate their own rationality, beliefs, values, and emotions. According to Robert V. Levine, it is ‘psychological disarmament’ that ‘often sets the stage for persuasion’.” — @DiplomacyEdu [7]

You want to be rich & powerful? Don’t be a fool.

A couple years ago I took a fantastic MIT online pro class and it discussed the concept of power. The professor’s point is that power is not good nor bad. In today’s culture, power seems to carry a negative connotation and we prefer the word, ‘influence.’ Whatever you want to call it, power exists. Now it’s a matter of how much of it we have, how we wield it, and how other’s power affects us.

Read this fantastic short essay by John Lehrer in WIRED, The Psychology of Power. I will dissect the main points of the essay below and how we can use the info to improve the psychology of our productivity and positivity.

But let me draw a through-line to the insurrection event at the Capital. People used their power to manipulate and control others for their own personal gain. How did they get to a position of power to begin with? How will our behavior change as we accumulate power ourselves? And therefore, how can we build mental defenses to prevent us from ever turning into a turncoat.

Interesting breakdown of the influence technique and situational awareness utilized by Officer Goodman, by Washington Post

“It’s an incredibly consistent effect,” Mr. Keltner says. “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools.” — Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California

“Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.” — @theJonahLehrer in @WIRED

Yikes! But not surprising. We all know the famous idiom, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We’ve probably seen it in our career, where a coworker gets promoted, they start acting differently and are too busy to return my emails. Why won’t you email me back?!

What we may not know is this:

“Keltner gave freshmen at a large dorm free pizza and a survey, which asked them to provide their first impressions of every other student in the dorm. Mr. Keltner returned at the end of the school year with the same survey and more free pizza. According to the survey, the students at the top of the social hierarchy — they were the most “powerful” and respected — were also the most considerate and outgoing, and scored highest on measures of agreeableness and extroversion. In other words, the nice guys finished first.

This result isn’t unique to Berkeley undergrads. Other studies have found similar results in the military, corporations and politics.

“People give authority to people that they genuinely like,” says Mr. Keltner.” — [6]

Kindness, diplomacy, and extroversion got people to ascend the social and corporate ladder. But the higher they get, the more that power corrupts their worldview. They start becoming hypocritical. When I speed it’s because it’s for an important reason, but when you speed, you’re a jerk. This inward look is not what has gotten them this far, but now they’re able to get away with it.

The solution I believe is humility. I assert that true power is how insecure you can be in front of others. To me, the choice to show vulnerability and weakness is a power move. They are literally opening themselves up to attack, criticism, and harming their chance for future opportunities. Compare that against a person unable or unwilling to even consider they could be wrong or insecure. They will make up stories and vilify others in order to make sense of their world.

The Insurrectionist Case For Doing Nothing

I wanted to dig into psychological power because I was horrified and fascinated by the insurrection event, now just over a month ago. A literal mob of people brainwashed into thinking what they were actually saving our democracy when in fact they were doing the exact opposite.

At first, I started to think why weren’t these people able to think for themselves and realize that their actions are opposite of their stated goal. In terms of productivity, where was the independent thought and critical thinking?

But then I started feeling no sympathy for these folks. In terms of positivity, how does empathy fit into this situation?

Like I said before, I’m not here to discuss politics (plenty of other places you can go for that). Venture Out is here to open our minds to venture outside of ourselves. By opening our minds, we can unleash more productivity and positivity into the world. Success done the right way.

“Neuroscientists would readily point out that this unfocused state of mind is when the default mode of the brain is activated. The notion of the brain’s default mode was conceived in the 1970s when it was observed that even in rest states there seemed to be large amounts of mental neural activity.” — Bruce Daisley in Harvard Business Review[1]

My wife would prob be first to point out how hypocritical my next statement is — make time for doing nothing. Like Bruce Daisley writes in his piece, Don’t Let Your Obsession with Productivity Kill Your Creativity, he suggests allowing time to do nothing because that’s when the brain can make sense of all the information our conscious mind has been consuming.

I recall when I was in college how I would dream about solving equations and thermodynamic problems. I would wake up thinking, holy cow, I can’t believe I have the answer! Of course, the memory of the dream would quickly dissipate and I’d be no closer to completing my homework. The point is, I had spent all day studying and thinking about the problem, and then at night my unconscious mind started to make sense of it, storing and categorizing the info so I could access it better the next day.

These days I break up my day as follows:

  • Morning — Deep work, complex, intense stuff.
  • Afternoon — Collaborations, brainstorming, replying to emails, process driven stuff.
  • Late Afternoon — Exercise, chores, errands — truly mindless stuff.
  • Evening — Total chill time.

I won’t lie, I’ve been trying to get a bit more productive with my evenings, but it can also be fun, chill time. My preferred activity would be watching a movie to let my mind relax, but it could also be filled with reading and meditating.

To come back full circle on the insurrectionists, maybe if they spent more time consuming a wider array of information, letting it sit in their unconscious minds, and meditated, then maybe they would have realized that their beliefs and actions are deadly wrong.

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  1. Don’t Let Your Obsession with Productivity Kill Your Creativity by Bruce Daisley
  2. The Cognitive Biases that Make Us All Terrible People by Mark Manson
  3. Civility Is Overrated by William Berry, LMHC., CAP.
  4. How to Tell If Someone Is Manipulating You — And What to Do About It by Cassie Shortsleeve
  5. 16 Laws of Psychological Power (Inspired by Robert Greene)
  6. The Psychology of Power by Jonah Lehrer
  7. Theories of persuasion and psychology: the power of situations by Milos Radakovic

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