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Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker

Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker

    Batman’s most infamous nemesis, the Joker, has been a longstanding archetype for prankish mayhem, and the late Heath Ledger’s masterful performance in The Dark Knight has only elevated the character to new heights. Despite the Joker’s unforgettable acts as a sociopathic murderer, many people are intrigued by him, and even find this Clown Prince of Crime to be maddeningly charismatic.

    So what’s there to love? A lot, and here’s why:

    Storytelling matters!

    In “ye olde days”, humankind had myths and fables. Today, we have comic books and graphic novels. A central part of the human condition will always be an interest in motivation: whether it’s why someone killed another person or how someone came to be the deranged maniac they are today — that someone for the purposes of this illustration being the Joker — knowing the “roots of the tree” is a persuasive, compelling hook. Even if the person telling the story is a lying psycho, if they’re convincing, you can’t help but want to believe. Clearly, this can be used for nefarious as well as positive purposes.

    A central thrust of successful marketing, emphasized by everyone from guerilla pioneer Jay Conrad Levinson to newer mavericks like Seth Godin, is that people love to be told stories. They don’t necessarily have to be nice stories, but they must be memorable. Whether you’re babysitting kids or closing a big deal, telling a story that’ll stick with your audience is key: a story is a soft shell that seals in the facts and livens up hard data.

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    And even if the “facts” are subject to reinterpretation as we’ll see, it doesn’t change that people love a good yarn. And always will.

    Reimage yourself while keeping your core!

    This is also known as “reinventing your image”, but I figured that was too long: plus, since the Joker is our example and his origins are birthed in visuals, it makes sense to say reimage.

    Changing your mind too often is a bad thing and would result in more flip-flopping than Two-Face in a penny fountain. But spaced out over time after people have gotten used to change, reimaging — or even reimagining — keep things sparklingly fresh, as long as the core of who you are is consistent and earnest.

    The Joker’s origin story has changed many times over decades, and portrayals of him range from zany to disturbing (or a mix of both). But he’s most commonly recognized as having a pale or white skin, an impossibly wide grin, green hair, and a mostly-purple suit. Those visual aspects combine with his characteristics as a crazy killer clown. If we were to reinvent him as, say, a kindly fireman and not set it up as a trick, the readers would feel betrayed and all manner of YouTube-quality comments would erupt.

    The same is true for all popular characters who’ve been reimaged, from Sun Wukong (the trickster Chinese “Monkey King” now being featured in Olympics ads) to, well, Batman’s other villains. And it’s true for you too: whether you have a personal reputation to uphold or are representing a company, your focuses can change over time, but your core values cannot — the Joker wouldn’t be the Joker without a demented sense of what’s funny.

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    Use wild humor and capture it!

    By “wild”, I don’t mean “disgusting” or “death-inducing” as the Joker tends to do, but I do mean these attributes which the Joker flaunts: visceral, raw, spontaneous, and passionate.

    Here’s the problem: I’ve often heard people improvise something brilliant and wickedly humorous mid-conversation, and then I egg them on to write it down for later. They don’t, and that gem gets lost. This saddens me, because maybe you’ve heard a friend say something like: “I’ll get around to it someday?” but never does? Same emptiness here.

    The people who do end up recording their flashes of brilliance are able to expand on them later: witness the tide of Internet phenomena, on “tape” for the whole world to see. And even on a personal level, you can work through life’s problems more effectively with a sense of perspective, and there’s no more reliable way than keeping a journal — so you can clearly refer to adversity you dealt with before, and stay on track with ambitions you’ve got up ahead.

    So why is “humor” important here? Because jokes ease idea transmission; you’re more likely to remember amusing conversations than boring ones. Most people get more impact out of 30-secnd prank videos than 2-hour C-SPAN snorefests.

    The Joker knows the value of capturing his ideas: for example, he takes cruel pictures to taunt Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke. And while I certainly don’t recommend going down that dark path, having tools to document your genius will lead to your future self thanking the present you. It can be as simple as a paper notepad, or a PDA. In fact, our own Dustin Wax wrote a great article recently, “Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas“.

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    Pick a strong color scheme!

    Quick, what colors do you think of when the Joker comes to mind? Chances are it’s predominantly green and purple. (Incidentally, my fave colors are green and pink like a neon watermelon, and it’s helped me many times.)

      If the Joker was, say, orange and yellow, you might as well blurt out, “That’s not the Joker!” This principle is true of superheroes and world flags — colors are associated with certain things, and also help ease idea transmission.

      Here, “Pick a strong color scheme!” means to apply this whenever appropriate. If you’re setting up a new blog to capture your ideas, consider the tones and tints used your theme. If you’re organizing files in folders, color-coding can help you distinguish between them faster. If you’re dressing up for a night at the club, colors again come into play. Be coordinated — but don’t take every color of the rainbow: 2-4 solid colors will do.

      For further exploration on this path, see my personal scheme as featured on Kuler and COLOURlovers. The latter even has a list of Joker-inspired schemes — colors, not ways to rob a bank.

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      Catchphrases count!

      I covered this last week, and it’s important to bring up again: people have finite time, attention, and memory. If you can easily embed yourself into someone’s head (and pleasantly, I’m hoping), you can have a better relationship because they remember you. You’d rather be called upon by name than thought of as, “Uh… who’s that guy/girl again?”.

      The Joker has many notable quotables. Just about every incarnation has a catchy saying. Some of them, like the meme-birthing “Why so serious?” (currently with almost 1.3 million Google hits and a Facebook app), have been used to market The Dark Knight and accelerate the film’s popularity. Others are much longer and not fit for printing in a single dialog bubble, but are unmistakably part of the Joker’s identity.

      Don’t use catchphrases as a cheap joke: do use them to extend your identity and build interest in the rest of you. Like the Joker’s calling cards left at crime scenes, catchphrases create curiosity.

      HA HA HA… I hope that’s given you something to laugh and learn about — now, tell me, what otherwise deplorable, fictional characters have you learned life lessons from?

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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