The 9 Irrefutable Laws of Power

man holding sacred laws

We have already reviewed the basic strategies for power.

Now we will review the fundamental laws of power.

man holding sacred laws

#1. Start With The Mind

This is where it all starts.

Don’t confuse “control over oneself” with “having to overpower yourself”.
Control starts not with a struggle, but with acceptance, and being comfortable in your own skin.
It’s only after self-acceptance that you can better control yourself, and more effectively project power.

  • Self-awareness
    • Lack of control: not knowing what you like or dislike, what your values are, what drives you, what you care about, what makes you feel good
    • Full control: knowing what you like and dislike, what you stand for, your strengths and weaknesses
  • Willpower
    • Lack of control: being at the whim of one’s own drives, chasing short-term gratification that ultimately makes you feel unaccomplished
    • Full control: knowing your short-term drives, when they’re good and when they’re harmful, and actively deciding when to entertain them or resist them; building habits and routines that support your long term goal and sticking to them
  • Self-esteem
    • Lack of control: based on values and qualities outside your control; swinging from low self-esteem to inflated self-esteem without real skills and results to back it up
    • Full control: self-esteem built around resilient qualities and values; always high on self-esteem
  • Emotional
    • Lack of control: needing someone’s approval; letting people get under your skin; allowing external circumstances to dictate your moods
    • Full control: emotionally independent; owning, not being afraid, and being comfortable of your own weaknesses; controlling one’s states, including learning to enjoy the process as much as the results

An example of emotional control is this famous Godfather’s scene. We know that the Godfather has reached the level of maturity that it takes to lead when he moves beyond emotional vendetta (emotional out of control) to doing what’s most effective (emotionally in control).

Godfather: It’s not personal, Sonny (= I’m not emotionally at their mercy, I’m grounded), it’s strictly business (= my plan is simply what makes most sense to win)

#2. Control Your Own Life

Once you are on your way to mastering your inner self, you then move to master the external environment.

Control over your own life gives you freedom. But it also protects you from other people’s attempts to control you.
Control over your own life is one of the best antidotes against all types of abuse.

Some of the main areas to tackle: 

  • Life plan and direction
    • Lack of control: following what parents or society deemed as “good”; goals based on what others want; following our genes’ programming without understanding it
    • Full control: based on self-awareness developing plans and routines that move you in the direction you’ve chosen
  • Work
    • Lack of control: working in a job you hate, with fixed hours and fixed breaks
    • Full control: doing what you like, with full freedom on how and when to execute
  • Financial
    • Lack of control: depending on someone to pay the bills, without having other options
    • Full control: works on his own / can easily find job from competitors / has a diversified income / has lots of savings
  • Preparation
    • Lack of control: puts all his eggs in one basket; is one illness away from bankruptcy; has no idea what to do if he’s in trouble
    • Full control: diversifies; insures his most important assets; legally protects his assets against possible lawsuits or divorce; he knows what to do and who to call in case of troubles

#3. Control Others

At the crudest level power is getting what you want and, when others stand in the way, getting them to do what you want.

Different authors and different texts provide different levers of power, including:

  • Rank
  • Authority
  • Coercion
  • Seduction
  • Resources
  • Interpersonal skills / charm / charisma

These categories overlap and feed into each other, of course.
But let’s have a quick overview of the three most important ones:

3.2. Gain Coercive Power (The Ability to Enforce)

Coercive power is based on the ability to force others to do what you want.

It’s the equivalent of firing employees at work, physical aggression in a disagreement, or government’s incarceration for law-breakers.

It’s good to have coercive power, even when you don’t want to use it.
As a matter of fact, coercive power can even be used to avoid escalations -as Jordan Peterson said: if you can bite, you often don’t have to-.

3.3. Gain Authority (To Legitimize Your Power)

army general in military parade

Army generals are the stereotypical example of the power of official authority, conferred by their rank

Authority is the legitimization of power.

There are two types of authority:

  1. The one coming from title and official ranks (officially sanctioned authority)
  2. The authority that people grant you by virtue of your qualities (unofficial authority)

When people know you have authority, they know they must obey you or punishment will follow (official). When they want to follow you and be influenced by you, they freely elect you as a leader (unofficial). 
When you combine both, people feel that it’s right and fair for you to have power over them.

The more authority people feel you have, the more you influence people.

On the other hand, when you can decrease or question someone else’s authority, you delegitimize their power and hobble their ability to persuade and influence.

3.4. Control The Resources (Keep Others Dependent) 

You have probably heard this proverb:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

From a perspective of power dynamics, it can be generalized this way: the more people need you, the more power you have.
And, conversely: the less you need people, the less power you give away.

The resources can be of different nature, including:

  1. Financial resources (salary, accommodation, etc.)
  2. Social support (cool parties, friends, professional network, etc.)
  3. Emotional (approval, flattery, etc.,)

And of course, as it’s often the case, it’s a mixture of them all.
This can be a good time for a first self-assessment:

– Are you living from paycheck to paycheck? If so, you are financially dependent on your employer
– Do you need people to go out or join an event? If so, you are socially dependent on your friends
– Are you craving someone’s approval? If so, you are emotionally dependent

The goal is not to be totally independent, which would make for a hermit life but, whenever appropriate, to reduce your dependence.

3.5. Leverage Intrinsic Motivation (To Make Other WANT To Do Your Bidding)

Finally, don’t forget leadership and appeals to higher ideals.
Leadership is about leveraging intrinsic motivation.


And since you’re at this stage, learning the dynamics of manipulation will also make you a far more capable individual:

Manipulation: Techniques, Strategies, & Ethics

#4. Read and Control Frames For Social Power

A frame is a set of beliefs, morals, and perspectives with which people interpret the world.

When two people with different ways of looking at the world meet, the person who can impose his frame on others is the most powerful.

Frames become especially obvious when it comes to disagreements.
Here is an example:

Saint Valentine is approaching, he believes gifts are a waste of time and money. She believes that it’s romantic and exchanging gifts is proof of caring.

What the couple does depends on whose frame prevails.

Frames are personal as much as social.
When a frame becomes ingrained at a social level, it’s very difficult for individuals to buck the trend.

In our Valentine’s example above, society’s frame is on her side.
That makes it difficult for him to “win” the frame without her feeling like he is imposing his will. If he keeps insisting, that could easily become a negative display of dominance which sours the relationship.

Frames Are The SOP of Relationships

Those who control frames control the relationship for two reasons:

  1. The one wins shows he is more powerful -more dominant, more persuasive, or both-.
  2. One the winner sets his frame, the relationship unfolds within the winner’s rules.

Frames carry a code of morals: what’s fair and not fair, what’s good and what’s not good.
And the code of morals sets the “rails” of the relationship. That means that imposing your frame is a bit like imposing your legal system.

This is important because the opposite is also true: when you buy into someone’s frame, you are playing by their rules and your behavior is being judged based on what they believe in.

That not only gives away power but also limits your personal freedom.

A good part of learning social dynamics is learning to see frames and whose frame you are playing by.

As a quick example, let’s rewatch this scene from Mrs. Doubtfire:

Him: (Frame: we were having fun, it’s good, and I’m the leader of this relationship)
Her: (Frame: you were destroying the house, it’s bad, and you’re useless and only take from my life)

Whose frame wins?
Just look at his face for the answer: frame battles often happen without a single word being spoken.

Read more in frame control.

#5. Leverage Soft Power (AKA: The Judge Role)

In most relationships in your life, you will not deal with coercive power.
You will deal with “soft power“.

Good conversationalists, people who understand psychology and good salesmen are all good at wielding soft power.

But, pardon me the cacophony, the most powerful version of soft power goes to the individual who judges others.
That’s why from now on I will call it “the judge role” -or “the judge”-.

The Judge Role: A Tool For Power & Control

You gain judging powers when people accept your frame and your authority (as we said: most forms of power are connected).
The judge wields power by dispensing (emotional) punishment and rewards (French & Raven, 1959).

The power of judgment provides rewards in the form of compliments, happiness, and acceptance.
And it delivers punishment with withdrawal, criticism, scorn or, more subtly and even more powerfully, with unhappiness, unacceptance, and disappointment.

It’s important to understand the effects of judges in your life because judges decrease your personal agency, and they prevent you from reaching true self-control.

Please Note: Healthy judges are only disappointed when disappointment is called for
Expressing disappointment on a constant basis is an abuse of power and tantamount to emotional manipulation.
See an example here from Mary Cain:

Mary Cain: In my own, sad, never-fully healed heart, I wanted Alberto to still take me back. Because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave more than anything their very approval.

Mary Cain was abused by her trainer who treated her like dirt and constantly criticized her. And she still wanted to go back. She says she “craved his approval”. She is right. And that’s an example of trauma bonding from an abusive judge.

I don’t recommend to abuse of a judge role.
There are moral implications, of course.
But also because abusive forms of soft power don’t work nearly as well with more powerful and more high-quality individuals. Instead, high-quality expressions of power work on everyone

5.2. Make Others Prove to You

The judge is the party that makes others “prove themselves to him”.
Proving yourself to others is a major sign of (emotional) dependence and submission.

We have seen many examples in the dating section, including shit tests.

5.3. Make Your Happiness Their Responsibility

The other superpower of the judge role is the “right of happiness”.

This sometimes happens in relationships, with the woman becoming the judge and the man who takes on the onus of making her happy.
See: how women control relationships.

Female Domestication: How Women Control Men & Relationships

#6. Increase Your Social ROI & Get More, With Less (AKA: Law of Least Effort)

“Effort” is the measure of how much effort people are investing to get things done.

In social interactions, it’s the amount of effort people exert to engage with you.
“Effort” is a bit of an umbrella term, so here are some practical examples:

  1. Talking more to keep the interaction going
  2. Walking across the room to say hi
  3. Giving gifts without receiving any back

In a nutshell: the person who invests less looks more powerful, and the person who expends more effort looks less powerful.
Least powerful are those who expend lots of effort for little or no returns.

Paul Cicero in Goodfellas is an extreme example of the power dynamics of effort.
By moving little while others move lots for him, he is the living embodiment of power.

Mafia boss: (moves slowly and people respect him and defer to him)
Flunky: (runs around executing tasks for everyone else, few people even pay attention to him)

Read more on tasking/executing dynamics & strategies.

#7. Leverage The Power of The Law

Theoretically, the legal system makes for a fairer society.

And in part, it does that.

But it’s also a weapon for dominating, threatening, harassing, or destroying.

Cohen said of his work for Trump:

If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit (…) I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished

The law allows those who can afford legal fees more power to bully, threaten, or take advantage of others.
And the easiest to take advantage of, of course, are the more submissive folks, and those who are clueless about their rights.

A good lawyer -or a few- on your side -and on your phone book for quick access- give you power -and self-defense power-.

Access to good legal counseling and the knowledge you can defend yourself in case things end up in court also grows your confidence.

My very personal take on legal matters follows the same approach to social strategizing. Unless you’re certain of a quick and swift victory, be strategic and always consider building bridges first. Legal wars are long, expensive, and can easily poison your mood.

7.2. Own Nothing, Control Everything

When you own nothing, you’re never a target.

But when you still have the power to influence the world, you can still attack.

Enter, the “own nothing, control everything” approach.

7.3. Maximize Your Taxes

Financial guru Robert Kiyosaki says that the powerful and rich find loopholes around taxes. 
The really poor get some little government help.
And the masses in the middle-class shoulder most of the taxes.

Being smart with your money and taxes will allow you to retain more power. 

#8. Gain Physical Strength – Or At Least, Stay In Shape

Yes, size and physical strength do matter.

Evolutionary psychologist David Buss said he was surprised that, in this day and age, size, and strength still matter (Buss, 2019).
Me, I was surprised that Buss was surprised, instead.

Sure, physical strength and violence are not as linked to power as they used to be, but it’s just silly to think they don’t matter at all.

At a social level people, and especially men, tend to have natural deference towards bigger and more muscular individuals.
Physical strength also tends to correlate positively with self-confidence and testosterone, which leads to more dominant behavior, which in turn leads to more confidence and yet more social success, in a self-reinforcing loop.

I personally have not chosen to go the big muscle way, but I still do keep myself in shape.
It’s important to at least avoid getting too out of shape, because that communicates being out of control. It might not be fair, but many people look down at those who are overweight.

Exceptions: Fat Tony

Exceptions apply, like for example with big dons and druglords who boast a belly as part of their image.
I discuss this more deeply in Power University, but to keep it short: don’t make the rule with the exceptions, and stay fit.

Also read:

This is an excerpt from Power University

1 thought on “The 9 Irrefutable Laws of Power”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top