Everyone has a dark side, but that’s not a bad thing — you just need to know how to use it for good. Think of it this way: Batman has more anger issues than any therapist can cure, but he channels those to make the world a better place. There’s no reason you can’t do that too… you know, minus the billions of dollars and the cave.
Turn Envy into Alliances and Gain Insights About Yourself
You’ve heard cliches like “harness your jealousy and improve yourself”, but it’s easier said than done. To do that successfully, you need to identify if you have benign envy or malicious envy. Benign envy is the good kind, where your jealousy is symptomatic of your own aspirations, so you can actually try to use it as motivation. Malicious envy is the kind where you want to tear another person down, not bring yourself up.
You can turn malicious envy into benign envy by being brutally honest with yourself, says journalist and author Christie Aschwanden. Every time Aschwanden caught herself being jealous of a friend, she assessed what her real reason for being envious was, instead of tearing that friend down in her head. She tried to identify what the friend had that she craved. For example, on the surface of it, Aschwanden’s friend was writing a book, which she wanted to as well. But digging deeper revealed that her real desire was the financial freedom to drop writing assignments and focus on work she cared about.
You need to introspect and be self-aware to stop letting the negativity of envy run your life. Additionally, such assessment is a reality check. If you are jealous, it’s probably because you see a peer achieve something you always thought impossible for yourself — and watching them do it proves it’s not impossible.
If you’re the person who’s in a good place and someone is jealous of you, get them on your side. Don’t dismiss the jealous person as insecure, instead, turn him or her into an ally. Recognise that they desire something you have, so help them find out what that is. If you are in a position to help them realise that dream, then lend a hand.
Envy is an emotion we are all bound to feel at some point, and it can be a negative influence on your mind. The sooner you tackle it, whether within yourself or with someone else, the better your situation will be. We’ve tackled this in great detail before.
Manipulate Your Enemies to Make Your Victories Look Bigger
We all know manipulating and taking advantage of someone’s emotions is bad, but knowing how it works actually makes it easier to help people.
Without doubt princes become great when they overcome the difficulties and obstacles by which they are confronted, and therefore fortune, especially when she desires to make a new prince great, who has a greater necessity to earn renown than an hereditary one, causes enemies to arise and form designs against him, in order that he may have the opportunity of overcoming them, and by them to mount higher, as by a ladder which his enemies have raised. For this reason many consider that a wise prince, when he has the opportunity, ought with craft to foster some animosity against himself, so that, having crushed it, his renown may rise higher.
In short: If others are causing a problem that you know how to overcome, fan the flame so the problem gets bigger — but only until you know you can still beat it. The bigger your problem seems to onlookers, the bigger your victory is going to look, even though you know it wasn’t as problematic for you. As for how to manipulate people into doing that for you, read our guide to manipulation.
If you suspect you are the victim of manipulation, don’t confront the person immediately. Manipulators are great at hiding facts or making them hard to find. If you confront and try to uncover the truth, there’s a chance you will exhaust yourself in your quest while the manipulator doesn’t have to do much, says Malcolm Coxall, author of Human Manipulation — A Handbook. Instead, he recommends the “keep your powder dry” strategy:
Keep quiet: The first rule in dealing with manipulation is NOT to allow the manipulator to know that we know what is going on. So, cool discretion is vital. This may also allow us to gain some time to investigate further.
Build allegiances and understand the manipulator: Use the time to find allies, co-victims, to under the manipulator’s motives, the mechanisms being used and the manipulator’s own weaknesses. We need time to fully understand the motives and mechanics of the manipulator.
Plan the counter-attack first: Develop a counter-strategy against the manipulator to either remove you from danger or to remove the manipulator’s power over you. This may involve reversing the role of manipulator and victim by taking some control of the manipulator’s actions.
It can be difficult to know if you are being manipulated, but the aforementioned manipulation guide is a good read to spot the tell-tale signs.
Channel Your Anger to Change Your Behaviour or Habits
Anger is an effective emotion to bring about behavioural changes in yourself. Researchers Jennifer Lerner and Dacher Keltner studied the effect of anger and fear on risk-taking in individuals, and they found that anger gives you the same outlook towards risk as happiness. An angry person has an optimistic view towards risk estimates and is more inclined towards taking risks. Dr Marcia Reynolds, author of Wander Woman, says you can use this inherent inclination to change your bad habits and adopt good ones.
The skill is to shift the focus of your anger away from external circumstances to instead focus on what you strongly desire to change within yourself. It is not your flaky boss or overwhelming responsibilities that make you scream at strangers while you drive. You should be angry that it has taken so long for you to realise that you have the power to change your circumstances. Use your anger to initiate the positive shifts you need to change your life.
However, don’t just continue to be angry after that — it’s obviously unhealthy. Once you have adopted the change, you should let go of the anger.
While you can use your own anger productively, the fury of people around you can damage your spirit. An oft-recommended approach, and one that has worked for me, is to not engage with the anger and look past it. Acknowledge the other person is angry, state it to them as plainly as possible, and let them know that you’ll talk to them later. If someone still insists on venting, you need to know how to listen.
Blame People for What They Do, Not How They Do It
When something goes wrong, it’s natural to point the finger at someone else if it wasn’t your fault. That doesn’t earn you any friends though, especially on a team. However, assigning blame is necessary to avoid repeating mistakes.
Former baseball player David G. Baldwin studied how Major League Baseball managers handle blame. His first and most important point is knowing when to blame and when not to. To effectively blame someone without undermining them, you need to understand how memory works:
Our procedural memory stores information about how to do things (the mechanics of throwing a curveball), while our declarative memory stores information about what to do (knowing when to throw a curveball to a particular batter). During a game, players must rely on their declarative, not procedural, memory.
In non-baseball terms: When you’re in work mode or in the middle of a project, don’t blame someone for how they do things, criticise what they are doing wrong. For example, telling a coworker that he types slowly and is holding up others isn’t helpful during crunch time; save that for the post-mortem. However, telling a coworker that he should stay off Facebook during project hours can have immediate effect and is worth it.
If someone is blaming you, take responsibility if you are at fault. If you weren’t in the wrong, don’t go on the defensive and start arguing; instead, make your case rationally and calmly. As Wallace points out, it’s also not a good idea to blame others in public, save that for a private conversation with them or your manager.
Also, if you are blamed, it’s more effective to act like a victim rather than a hero, says a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Tests showed that people who pointed out their past sufferings were held less responsible for mistakes, whether those sufferings were related to the mistake or not. On the other hand, heroic deeds in the past were ignored or even worked against the blamed party. So break out those sob stories!
Just because you have a few dark traits does not mean you are a bad person. It’s all about how you use those sides of your personality. If you use your anger to bring about changes, you will be remembered as someone who improved his life, not as someone with a short temper.
Lifehacker’s Evil Week highlights the dark side of life hacking. How you use that knowledge is up to you.