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Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work – it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Humanity's first notions of power came from primitive encountes with nature - the flash of lightning in the sky, a suddenn flood, the speed and ferocity of an attacking animal. These forces requid no thinking, no planning. They awed us by their sudden appearance, their gracefulness, and their impact on life and death. This remains the kind of power we have always wanted. Through science and technology, we have harnessed the speed and power of nature, but something is missing: our machines are noisy and vibrate, they reveal their effort. The very best creations of technology can not dispel our admiration for things that move easily and effortlessly.

The power of children to bend us to their will comes from a seductive charm that we feel in the prsence of a creature less reflective and more graceful than we are. We can not return to such a state, but if we can create the appearance of this kind of ease, we elicit in others the same primitive awe that nature has always evoked in humankind.

A line of poetry will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
ADAM'S CURSE, William Butler Yeats

One of the first European writers to expound this principle came from the most unnatural of environments, the Renaissance court. In The Book of the Courtier, published in 1528, Baldassare Castiglione describes the highly elaborate and codified manners of the perfect court denizen. Yet, Castiglione explains, the courtier must execute these gestures with what he calls sprezzatura, the capacity to make the difficult seem easy. He urges the courtier to "practice in all things a certain nonchalance, which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless." We all admire the achievement of some unusual feat, and if it is accomplished naturally and gracefully, our admiration increases tenfold.

Keep the extent of your abilities unknown. The wise man does not allow his knowledge and abilities to be sounded to the bottom, if he desires to be honored by all. He allows you to know them but not to comprehend them. No one must know the extent of his abilities, lest he be disappointed. No one ever has an opportunity of fathoming him entirely. For guesses and doubts about the extent of his talents arouse more veneration than accurate knowledge of them, be they ever so great.
Baltasar Gracian

The idea of sprezzatura is relevant to all forms of power, for power depends vitally on appearances and illusions. Your public actions should be like artworks: they must have visual appeal, must crete anticipation, and entertain. When you reveal the inner workings of your creation, you remin one more mortal among others. What is understandable is not awe-inspiring. People tell themselves they could do as well, if they had the money and time. Avoid the temptation of showing how clever you are. It is far more clever to conceal the mechanisms of your cleverness.

There is another reason for concealing your shortcuts and tricks: when you release this information, it can sometimes be used against you. You lose the advantage of keeping silent. We tend to want the world to know what we have done. We want our vanity gratified by having our hard work and cleverness applauded. We may want sympathy for the hours it has taken to reach the point of artistry. Learn to control this propensity to boast, for the effect is often the opposite of what you desire. Remember: The more mystery that surrounds your actions, the moreawesome your power seems. You apear to be the only one, who can do what you do. The appearance of having an exclusive gift is immensely powerful. Finally, because you achieve your accomplishments with grace and ease, people believ you could always do more, if you tried harder. his elicits not only admiration but a touch of fear. Your powers are untapped. No one knows their limits.

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