The Hustle Mentality

I’ve had friends make fun of my obsession with human nature in the past. They claim it’s ridiculous to “play games” or be “manipulative.” I’ve heard things like “I don’t need to know stuff like that, I prefer to just be myself.” If I ever recommended a good article or book or piece of advice concerning dealing with people, they would just laugh it off.

Yet every time one of these same people had an immediate high-stakes problem that required a grasp of social dynamics, they’d suddenly be pressing me urgently for advice, anecdotes, tips, articles, or book recommendations. We could be in a nightclub and they are asking for tips on what to say to a girl they just met at the bar. It could be dealing with a work client at a critical juncture of a deal. It could be a girl whose number they got and spoke to a few times and the whole thing just fizzled out and the girl was no longer calling them. It could be a family dispute that spun out of control. Whatever it was, these same people who were above reading books and having discussions on social dynamics suddenly wanted to learn as much advice as possible in order to deal with a current problem.

This is a perfect example of what I call the hustle mentality. In the streets, you have people who look busy and are always going from one short-term hustle to another, whether it’s mixtapes, weed, bootleg clothes, incense and oils, dice games or whatever else they can get into. They are staying busy, putting in a lot of time and energy toward making money and finding opportunities, but it’s purely reactive. But you also find the same hustle mentality in more respectable middle-class environment as well. Instead of thinking of one long-term proactive plan that will allow them to make more money in the future without having to work so hard, they bust their humps working like crazy in order to keep putting out little financial fires: make enough money to pay this bill here when it comes up, make enough to buy this new unnecessary gadget when it hits the market, etc. They don’t focus on lining up a newer and bigger opportunity until the old one is snatched from them and they are now desperate. They won’t think about getting more education until their current job becomes obsolete. This keeps them in a state of perpetual catch-up.  They stay focused on linear income without ever thinking of ways to build residual income.

There are a lot of people who have the hustle mentality when it comes to personal relationships. They don’t think about how to navigate office politics and impress their boss until someone gets promoted past them or their job is in jeopardy.  They don’t stress understanding the opposite sex until their current relationships sour. They don’t think about having backup plans until the primary plans already in danger. They don’t try to really master the principles of the art of negotiation until they are already well into a negotiation.

Do you know what that’s like? It’s like waiting until you’re drowning to try to learn how to swim. You’re too busy trying to keep your head above water to properly focus on the things you need to learn. Or it’s like trying to master a sport during the big games rather than during practice and off-season when the stakes are lower. Learn things when you don’t need to use them. Success is when opportunity meets preparation. If you wait until the opportunity actually comes to start preparing, you’re screwed.

So most of the time when these friends of mine come to me for solutions after they already are waist-deep in the problem, I do my best to help them, but it’s like the old adage says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But I do my best to help them, thinking “Okay, even if it doesn’t work this time because it’s too late to turn this specific scenario around, hopefully this failure will cause them to be more proactive about learning social dynamics in the future. This failure will make them say “Never again!” and spur them to learn all they can from the experience and do their best to prevent a recurrence.

But this rarely happens. Once they fail, they tend to return to their previous complacency until they’re faced with their next personal dilemma. They’re just stuck in that hustle mentality.

Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, has a concept similar to hustle mentality in his book The 33 Strategies of War. It’s called tactical hell. He discusses it in two blog posts.

First in this one:

Tactical hell is a way of thinking that you sink into when you lose a sense of the broader perspective. This is usually caused by the stress of immediate battles: in this case winning each election as it pops up. In tactical hell, you are constantly reacting to what your opponents give you, to each one of their aggressive attacks. You are continually fixing problems as they happen. You think you are being strategic in your actions, but you are merely responding to events, never guiding them.

The Democrats have been in this mode for quite some time. It is the source of their misery. Once you enter tactical hell, you cannot get out because it requires taking a step back, suffering some short-term defeats in order to set up long-term gains. This is nearly impossible in the hell mode because you think everything is at stake in the immediate battle, when in fact there is a larger campaign to wage. Because the Democrats have lost their soul and any sense of vision, they cannot take the big step of crafting a campaign. They exist as a kind of negative field force, held momentarily together by the sheer implosion power of the Republicans.

This quote was from 2006, and ironically it ended up applying to the Republicans in 2008.

He also discusses tactical hell here:

[M]ost of us exist in a realm that I call tactical hell. This hell consists of all of the people around us who are vying for power or some kind of control, and whose actions intersect our lives in a thousand different directions. We are constantly having to react to what this person does or says, getting emotional in the process. Once you sink into this hell, it is very difficult to raise your mind above it. You are dealing with one battle after another, and none of them end with any resolution. It is very hard for you to see the hell for what it is; you are too close to it, too mired in it to think of any other way. Because there are so many people now vying for power in this world, and our attentions are so distracted in many different directions, this dynamic only gets worse and worse.

Strategy is the only answer. This is not some dry academic point of contention, or me trying to sell more books. You can read plenty of other books on strategy. It is actually a matter of grave importance, the difference between a life of misery and one of balance and success. Strategy is a mental process in which your mind elevates itself above the battlefield. You have a sense of a larger purpose for your life, where you want to be down the road, what you were destined to accomplish. This makes it easier to decide what is truly important, what battles to avoid. You are able to control your emotions, to view the world with a degree of detachment.

If a person tries to suck you into their battles or problems, you have the necessary distance and perspective to keep away, or help them without losing your balance. You see everything as a strategic concern, including how the group you lead is structured–for mobility, for morale. Once you are on this track, everything becomes easier. A defeat or setback is a lesson to be learned, not a personal affront. Success does not go to your head, make you overreach.

There are false strategists in this world who are nothing more than master tacticians. They look like strategists because they are able to manage immediate problems with a degree of aplomb. They know how to fix problems. They get ahead, or rather they are able to just raise their heads above the water. But they inevitably slip up. I consider President Bill Clinton to be an example of this. As compared to an Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, true strategists.

Being a hustler is better than being an outright lazy bum, but in the long run it’s nothing to be especially proud of. The hustler may be making it happen right now, but flash forward to next year and the year after or even ten years from now and the hustler likely hasn’t advanced that far in the big picture. Remember, the best time to try to master something are the moments in your life when you least need to use it.

Recommended Reading:

12 Responses to “The Hustle Mentality”

  1. Mr. T,
    Your posts get me through. Yes, absolutely, study human nature constantly, because you will need the knowledge SOON. The 33 Strategies of War is especially useful in this area, because human relations are scary and messy. War is the ultimate scary, messy situation, where you get 1000 of your people killed on the same day you win. That’s a best case scenario! This bracing point of view helps toughen up cowards like myself.

    I just completed my third reading of the book, and I’m still typing up my notes. I’m preparing for a major campaign to bring my wife to heel, and it may require Strategy 33! I thought big decisions in marriage would be made by discussion and agreement. Actually, many are made by one partner stomping and screaming until the other gives in. As in war, there aren’t more attractive roles to choose from, so I’ll get really good at the former.

    Keep up the wonderful writing.

  2. But . . . but . . . I don’t have time to think strategy!!!

  3. It?s like waiting until you?re drowning to try to learn how to swim.

    Been there, done that. 🙄

    I guess I’m a tactician.

  4. I bump into this all the time. People tend to assume that any interest in human nature, strategy or power, is nefarious in some way. But these same people complain about the way that politicians manipulate and the media ‘controls’ us. They identify the symptoms, but are unwilling to understand the problem.

    Some people like watching the magic trick. So do i. But i also like to understand how the trick was done. Not necessarily because i want to perform the trick, but because i’m curious.

    Anyhow, so long as the Godfather is still voted the No.1 film of all-time, i don’t believe that people aren’t interested in the strategy and power. They are. They just don’t want to delve too deeply into the mind of a Don. Or a Pope. Or a President-Elect. It could shatter some of their dearly held illusions.

  5. Hi there,

    Thank you for visiting my blog — I appreciate that.

    And you gave me the chance to discover your cool website, too. I will be back here visiting you often.

    Personally, I don’t see how anyone is not absolutely *fascinated* by social dynamics.

    Anyway, hope to connect with you again soon.

    Erika from

  6. Remember, the best time to try to master something are the moments in your life when you least need to use it.

    best excuse EVER for picking up chicks while your wife is home with the new baby.

    some people simply don’t have the mental wherewithal to make, vet, and execute long-term plans.

    if you’re a bipolar emo-boy PUA with ADD, this particular deck is every bit as stacked against you as it is against someone with an IQ of seventy.

  7. Brilliant!

    Mikes last blog post..Unemployed dad has it out with the in-laws

  8. People’s capacity for self delusion is endless. It’s almost like being a beta (reactionary) is predestined for the vast majority. Sadly most people are just lazy and lack the capacity for self examination. The same applies to dating and attraction. It is delusional to think that women aren’t quote manipulating you to elicit the behaviors they desire. To approach dating from a “I’ll just be genuine and be myself and she’ll do the same” is the same. You’re drowning kid and you don’t know how to swim. Ultimately people are fickle and selfish and do what is best for themselves. To forgo the opportunity to improve your negotiating position in whatever realm is the height of folly. I don’t suffer fools but there are sooo many of them!

    alphadominances last blog post..You have the power

  9. well said. I compiled the best of Roissy’s site in one month of reading the entire damn thing. What set me off was pushing the limit of an old concept I had of women and finally realizing I had it all wrong. I can send you the word document of Roissy if you like. For sure, I have found a lot of nuggets on your blog and your blog was the original way I found Roissy.