Chapter Seven: The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success

I bet when Marion Crane wpsycho_as being butchered in the shower by Norman Bates in Psycho, the last thing she thought about was ‘gee I bet this man has some excellent, cognitive and behavioural attributes to
make him hugely successful’
. No, I doubt that very much.

However, it seems this might be the case if new research into psychopathy continues to build weight and credibility. Much of this research is led and interpreted by the author of this interesting take on self-development; Doctor Kevin Dutton. He’s helped out by Andy Mcnab; ex SAS supremo and diagnosed ‘good psychopath’ who brings with him a host of stories and examples of how his psycho psyche has helped him along the way. The book’s written as a conversation between them both, which works well in the main, but can become a bit forced in places and distract from the content. However, it’s a very minor issue compared to the great content shared.

In this blog, as always, I’m going to focus on two key themes from the book which stuck with me the most:

  • What makes a good psychopath?
  • Just do it

So let me start off by explaining what makes a psychopath, typically it’s a bunch of personality characteristics that include:

Ruthless                              Self-confidence                 Fearlessness

Focus                                   Impulsivity                          Coolness under pressure

Mental toughness            Reduced empathy           Charm

Lack of conscience           Charisma

None of these characteristics on their own are bad, but imagine each one as being dials on a personality mixing desk, moving them up and down dependent on the scenario you are in. Bad psychopaths might have things like ruthlessness, fearlessness and lack of conscience dialed up high, enabling them to do unspeakable things. However, the difference between a good and bad psychopath is down to control over these dials and how they interact with three key components – other people, social context and society at large. Below is a table which summarises the differences and what the four differing types of psychopath are:

The book clearly goes into way more detail then I’m able to about what makes a good psychopath, but the key message here is when you’re in a given situation that you are reacting to, think about those dials and remember to turn them up or down dependent on what is going to give you the best outcome…. Remember no murders please!

Now there are lots of ways to avoid success in life but if you want to get really good at it, you’ll need this one key skill – procrastination. In our modern day world of Facebook, Twitter, smart phones and Candy Crush, it’s never been easier to forget what we were actually doing. Over the last 40 years those who have deemed themselves as procrastinators has gone up from 5 to 25% and this looks set to continue.

Below are the three types of procrastinator and I’m sure none of them will resonate with you?

  • Ruminators who can’t make a decision – not making a decision absolves them of responsibility for the outcome of events.
  • Avoiders who are avoiding the fear of failure (or success) – they are concerned about what others think of them and would rather be thought of as lacking effort instead of ability.
  • Perfectionists who aren’t happy with anything they do unless it’s 100% error free – they would rather do nothing, than have to face up to their own exacting standards.

Now one trait your normally friendly / unfriendly psychopath doesn’t have is procrastination. When was the last time you saw Mr Bond wrestling with ideas? Or Gordon Gekko taking some time out to reflect on the markets? Nope they just get shit done. This is made up largely due to the management of the psychopath brain and two key parts of it – the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Once you understand this process your ability to control your procrastination instinct is much easier. Much like the dials I referenced earlier.

Your amygdala is the part of the brain which governs emotion such as – fear, anger and pleasure. The prefrontal cortex on the other hand is our rational thoughts and is the part of the brain which tells us what we should be doing.  Often the two are in conflict resulting in our emotional and logical sides in all-out war, resulting in little action and the amygdala winning – but why?

The amygdala is in charge of our ancient safety mechanism of fight or flight and it’s a pretty powerful trump card. In the book Kevin asks you to imagine you opened up your bathroom door and find a hissing Cobra in there, the first thing you would do is freeze. Your pulse would quicken and you’d develop tunnel vision, the rational part of the brain would shut down and thankfully the emotional side of the brain would kick in with an immediate plan of action. In this case shut the door. Well this doesn’t just happen when hissing snakes are after you, it also happens when we encounter anything threatening – heights, presenting, doing that report… We feel anxiety and our prefrontal cortex shuts down and our emotional brain essentially shuts that door again. We’ll do it tomorrow we tell ourselves… except we don’t.

Because psychopaths have a less ‘punchy’ amygdala, they are less affected by emotion and in turn the fear of failure, which enables them to focus instead with their prefrontal cortex and act rationally. Think of a surgeon who has to act cool under immense pressure when something goes wrong with a patient. He can’t afford to panic and step away, he has to remain focused and act without emotion. For those of us who don’t have that luxury of under developed emotion, in the book Kevin suggests 6 ways to help get over your procrastinating ways…

  1. Visualize what you want to do
  2. Dissect and analyse the task
  3. Focus on the future
  4. Contract out your time to yourself – then ring fence it
  5. Downsize your time (don’t wait for huge slabs of time to get stuff done)

It’s always hard to review a book and pull out a couple of key points for around a 1000 words, but I do really hope I’ve whetted your appetite on this one. Its jam packed with information that’s hugely relevant to our everyday lives. Its angle on viewing success through the eyes of a psychopath is clever and really does help you visualise how you could enhance your chances of success by being a little more… well psycho… just don’t hurt anyone!

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