Villains and antagonists are some of the most persistent people around. Being so tenacious requires a high level of positivity in their outlook. They might get defeated at least partially in every encounter with the hero/protagonist, but any antagonist worth the title will come back swinging. Protagonists might have moments of doubt and despair, but not so the villain. Sounds like a good way to be, no? Let’s take a look at how to be positive the way the antagonists do it. Helping us will be the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series*.
1. Set goals:
You need a target before you can aim, so make goals. If you’ve read many posts here, like the one on how to take advantage of opportunities or when to quit, you know I always stress this point. You’ll feel more empowered if you are working toward a goal. Power gives us a more positive outlook on life. Even just having a goal makes you more confident and hopeful, say the studies. Choose small goals that lead to larger goals, all of which align with your life values. Realistic, small goals can be as simple as “get that second phone set up today.” Make sure they’re measurable, too. “Finish the paint job on the robotic clown” is an objectively quantifiable goal. “Make Batman pay” is not. The goals should be reliant on your effort, not on luck or the possible action of another. Unless of course you can somehow make sure the person does your will.
We’ve talked about Joker’s goal before. He wants to live large, be bold, and get laughs any way he can. When Joker pulls off a scheme, he often has more than one goal. In the episode Be a Clown (listen to Dr Andrea Letamendi podcast at Arkham Sessions), he is righteously indignant over the mayor comparing him to Batman. He retaliates by planting a bomb at the mayor’s son’s birthday party. Bruce saves the day, though. The first goal was to make it clear he’s no Bats. The second was to cause chaos and, in his view, laughs.
Optimism is how you interpret the world. This starts from the second you wake up, so start your day in a positive way. Automatically saying, “I’ll never be able to change this,” rather than, “How can I use this for my benefit?” is a learned trait. Get your mind out of the rut to pit by first realizing when you’re sliding into the Slough of Despond. Actively change your thinking. I don’t mean be blindly optimistic (I call this Hero Optimism). Acknowledge objective reality, then realize you can make the best of the situation.
Consider Dr. Viktor Frankl, prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I wager you’re not in a concentration camp if you’re reading this.
Joker gets depressed at times. He’ll take out his frustrations on Harley, but he always bounces back. If he’s trapped by Batman, he’ll see it as a chance to escape in a novel way. He’s probably got a trick or two up his sleeve anyway. Or a set of razor playing cards.
3. Capture negative thoughts:
Be on the lookout for negative thoughts. Stop the pessimistic thoughts the second you notice them infiltrating your defenses. Analyze where the thought came from, with torture if need be, then address the source. Blind pessimism is no better than blind optimism. Don’t accept and believe a thought just because it’s dark and thus possibly more realistic. When negative thoughts intrude, counter with positive ideas such as, “I beat a problem like this before, challenges offer opportunities, it’ll take work but it’s worth it, nothing worthwhile comes easily.” This is part of living mindfully. You take active charge of your thoughts, not the other way around.
The Joker ends up captured at the close of each episode. By all normal criteria, he has failed. No matter how creative or cunning Joker is, Batman outwits and apprehends him. Nobody would fault Joker for sinking into depression, feeling sorry for himself, feeling like a loser… But ever the surprise, Joker just shrugs off his defeats and forges on. Maybe the next time will bring Bats’s defeat! If he tries long enough, he’s sure it’ll happen.
4. Redefine defeat:
You’re never 100% defeated if you’re alive. Is there anything good about the situation/outcome? Can you learn anything from it? Did you enjoy any part of your attempt? Did you achieve part of your plan? Did something come about from the failure that you can use?
Does your cellmate have connections you can leverage?
As stated in the last point, Joker is defeated in ever episode. What does he think about while he’s in Arkham? I think he replays those moments when he surprised, horrified, or terrified (or so Joker believes) Batman. If he can “hang out” with his favorite vigilante, he’s scored a victory in his own purple and green book of laughs. If he made Bats sweat, there’s another point. If he made the people of Gotham laugh, either genuinely or, more likely, with Joker Gas, then 10 points to Joker-dor!
5. Find the Lesson:
We learn better from defeat than victory, it’s said. No matter how unfavorable the odds or how terrible the situation, there are always lessons to be learned. They might not glow or show up on your map, but they’re waiting. Accept the fact that you failed, even if it hurts. Experience comes from failure, and experience helps us learn. Just like optimism, learning from defeat is a skill that must be practiced. Once you try it, though, you’ll be surprised at how proficient you can become.
This ties in to the above point. Joker learns lessons. That’s why he tries different schemes every time. He never used a rocket Christmas tree to escape from Arkham again, right? He knew they’d be looking for that…
6. Be persistent but not stupid:
Edison tried many materials before he found the right one for a commercially viable electric light filament. But let’s remember Nikola Tesla’s quote about how Edison worked: “If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
Work smarter, not harder. How? Stop and analyze the problem, then devise a plan with achievable goals. Time spent studying a problem will pay off when you tackle the task. Even if you do have to try over and over, analyze each try. Slow down and take the enemy’s measure. Change variables and tactics logically even when you’re tempted to randomly act. Not sure how to approach a problem? Educate yourself. Learning will never go out of style or be a waste of time!
Joker doesn’t just roll down to the nearest bank and go in gas spraying and guns blazing. He keeps trying to pull of the crime of the century while simultaneously being the comedian of the year, but he is careful with his plans. In Christmas with the Joker, his plan was complex, involving rocket-powered Christmas trees, kidnapping, and fake audiences.
7. Assess threats correctly:
Keep events in perspective by adopting the long-game perspective. Don’t telescope out to the “what does it matter in 100 years?” point, but remember that the red stoplight isn’t in the long-run worth stroking out or shooting anyone over. Stop, look, and listen before you respond.
Stop: Don’t let emotions cloud your judgement.
Look: what really is this problem?
Listen: to reason, whether it’s from experience or a trusted adviser.
Joker knows how big of a threat Batman is. That’s what makes Bats appealing! The danger is an attraction for Joker. But he also knows that Batman isn’t going to kill him. Batman will punch him, cuff him, and drag him back to the authorities. Not too bad, actually.
You cannot be both angry and grateful at the same time. Anger makes people act rashly and stupidly. Be grateful first for your blessing, even the small ones. By that time you’ll realize anger is just wasting your precious resources. Appreciate that you are alive to scheme another day.
Expand that gratitude to those around you by thanking others and acting in ways that show you recognize and appreciate their help. It might be more desirable to be feared than loved, but respect is what you really want. Most people will follow, assist, or at least stay out of the way of someone they respect. Machiavelli advised making a wide range of friends and treating them well. Don’t make enemies if you don’t have to!
Joker considers himself the King of Clowns, comedian extraordinaire. He relishes the fact that he intimidates people. He’s quite happy making a poor normal Gothamite tremble in Joker’s Favor.
9. Affirm and visualize:
Try seeing yourself in a positive light. Don’t whitewash yourself, but don’t judge yourself harshly either. Remember your past successes, even if you need to look hard.
Before you undertake a task, see yourself achieving it. Don’t monologue about it, but do have a clearer image of yourself succeeding. Make your emotions subservient to you. Act confident, calm, and in control even if you don’t feel like it. Same for posture. Stand like a conqueror: straight, shoulders back, chin high. Your thoughts will follow. People around you will perceive you more favorably too.
Joker sees himself as being in the right. Always. It’s never him that screws up, he thinks. Still, he knows his strengths and uses them. He sees himself as the funniest guy around, and then makes it happen.
10. Do what you love, love what you do:
Do things you love to do. Don’t let vague fears hold you back from doing what you want.
Caution is different from fear. Fear is a primal reaction involving the expectation of a bad outcome. Courage isn’t ignoring caution, it’s taking in the pros and cons of a situation, then stepping out – even a inch more than others. Nothing risked, nothing gained, goes the proverb. It’s true. That said, you still need to know possible outcomes and have plans with how to either prevent or deal with them. Most of all, remember the goal and visualize the payoff.
Joker absolutely loves what he does! Nothing makes him happier than pulling off a complicated scheme that draws Batman out of the cave. Joker is in his glory then!
11. Rethink your allies:
Surround yourself with positive people. That’s difficult, I know, so you might want to try plants, animals, or machines instead. Whatever works, so long as you’re not letting them drag you down to the land of negativity and despair.
Joker gathers people like himself around him. Be they criminals or crackerjacks, he’s usually with his people.
12. Create a positive environment:
Negativity doesn’t come solely from live interaction with humans. The TV, internet, and magazines often have more impact on your outlook than do your friends.
To be able to stay positive it is essential to have influences in your life that support you and lift you up instead of dragging you down. Take a moment and think of the three most negative influences in your life. Either get rid of them or mitigate their power as much as possible.
Joker’s most negative influence is probably Arkham – in his view, anyway. He takes every opportunity to leave it behind.
13. Criticism makes you stronger:
When someone points out a flaw in your master plan or suggests you could perform a task better, stop. Your ego wants to shut criticism out by ignoring it, denying it, or by lashing out at the critic. Take a moment to breathe if you’re feeling emotional. Consider the source, but more importantly consider the criticism. Even a stopped clock is right once a day. Step 1: isolate the criticism from the critic and your ego. Step 2: analyze the statement. Look at the situation as if you were an outside observer. Is there any truth at all in it? If there is, accept that truth and act on it. It will make you stronger.
Respond first by thanking the critic for their time and concern. Even if their opinion was 1000 miles off the mark, at least they’re thinking of you!
If it’s helpful, let them know. If it’s not, either let it go. If it’s still bothering you, talk with a trusted accomplice or remember your past accolades.
…Joker doesn’t do this very much. Sometimes Harley can point out flaws, though, and he’ll take the advice. His ego is too big to handle much criticism, though.
You might not be able to change where you are
because the bars are too thick, but you can change your attitude about it. Your location either in life or physically isn’t who you are. If there are things that need to be changed about where you are, recognize them but don’t let your self-esteem get involved. See them as they are: areas that need improvement. Any situation you’re in in temporary; acknowledge this and don’t let your setting lock you down.
Joker lands in an asylum every episode. If that’s not something that could damage a person’s self esteem, I don’t know what is. But being committed to Arkham never damages his self concept or confidence. For him, Arkham is temporary, and he knows it!
15. Exercise regularly and eat and sleep well:
Take care of your mortal coil, because nobody else will. Keep in fighting form. Exercise decreases the stress hormone cortisol and fights depression. Healthy eating gives you the fuel you need to get the job done. Sleep recharges you for the next round.
While we don’t see Joker in the gym, but he’s always up to taking on Batman. Joker doesn’t often enter bat-to-clown combat, but he can take a beating.
16. Smile: it confuses people:
Smiling even if you aren’t happy improves the way you feel. Try it. To really increase its effect, employ the duchenne smile. It activates the muscles around your eyes, not just your mouth. Researchers found that people who smiled during painful medical procedures reported less pain than the somber control group. people who didn’t.
It confuses people, too.
While Batman wears a permanent glower, Joker has a near-permanent grin. Maybe that’s what helps him tolerate the pain of defeat?
17. Dress the part:
Dress in a way that empowers you and makes you feel ready to tackle your goal. Within expresses yourself. What you wear affects how you feel. A study asked two groups of people to perform a simple scientific task. The only difference was that one group wore lab coats. Result: the lab coat group performed significantly better than the plain clothes squad.
18. Deal with past traumas:
Persistent depression, irritation, and anger may be the result of past traumas. Rather than using those traumas as an excuse to be negative, deal with them – but not by wreaking vengeance on all life! Professional help is the best method, so long as you’re not going to Hannibal Lecter. (Actually, as long as you don’t follow any advice to kill yourself or others, he’s quite good.) A licensed mental health professional who specializes in treating trauma help you work through your experience, change your way of thinking, and emerge stronger. Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weak, it just means you need professional help with an issue. It’s like going to a dentist for a tooth ache or a healthcare provider for an infection.
Joker formed quite the “therapeutic” relationship with Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D. That’s right, she’s the woman who would become Harley Quinn. (Fun fact: she debuted on Batman: The Animated Series). She worked at Arkham, where she met Joker. She found him intriguing. He found her a suitable target. I assume he also found her attractive in more ways than one. Their relationship evolved to the point where she became an accomplice. This obviously isn’t the type of therapy I’m talking about, but it does show he was willing to talk to a psychiatrist.
New Year’s resolutions that connect with the ‘ideal self’ are most effective, Stanford psychologist says
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. Perform your own villain assessments with the Villain Matrix. Use the Villain Matrix spreadsheet that comes free when you join the Research Team, where you’ll also get our newsletter with its exclusive updates and content.
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