Why you should be as ruthless as an assassin to get ahead: SAS hero Andy McNab and Dr

Think psychopaths are all serial killers? Wrong. Many of us have their character traits — and as a book written by SAS hero Andy McNab and serialised in the Mail revealed in 2014, they’re vital to winning life’s battles.

With the help of Dr Kevin Dutton, who has spent a lifetime studying psychopaths, he reveals why you shouldn’t care a damn what others think . . .

Some traits of psychopaths are crucial in order to achieve success in our personal and professional lives, says the authors of The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success

Some traits of psychopaths are crucial in order to achieve success in our personal and professional lives, says the authors of The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success


Dr Kevin Dutton writes: Few people get the better of my friend Andy McNab, the much-decorated former SAS operative and best-selling author of books like Bravo Two Zero.

But he once ended up shelling out thousands of pounds thanks to an oik with greased-back hair and cufflinks the size of plasma TV screens.

With some time to kill before he was due at the gym one morning, Andy popped into a Porsche showroom and was furious when this young upstart of a salesman stared at his trainers and tracksuit bottoms as though he might be casing the joint.

‘He didn’t come over, he just shouted across the room: ‘Can I help you?’ recalls Andy.

‘It was more like an accusation than a question and people who make snap judgments about the way you look really raise my hackles, so I pointed to a blue model with a sun roof and told him I wanted to buy it.

'Average psychopath': Bestselling author Andy McNab is a former SAS sergeant

‘Average psychopath’: Bestselling author Andy McNab is a former SAS sergeant

‘He sprinted across the showroom faster than Usain Bolt and even delivered the thing to my house.

‘And that was how I ended up with an £80,000 car with leather upholstery I didn’t dare scoff my bacon sandwiches on, and a boot so small that I couldn’t even get a suitcase in it.

‘I’d got rid of it within a year.’

Andy had clearly only bought the car because he was infuriated by the salesman’s superior attitude and I brought this story up when he was boasting one day about how he is always in charge of his emotions.

‘I’m not sure how in control you were in that Porsche showroom,’ I said, but actually he had a point.

In general, he has an extraordinary ability to remain calm in the face of provocation, something which people don’t expect in your average psychopath.

He doesn’t mind me using that word to describe him.

For as I described in the Mail, psychopath is a word which is very often misunderstood.

Far from applying it only to a minority of murderous maniacs, we psychologists use it to describe a group of people who share a very distinct set of characteristics including ruthlessness, fearlessness, self-confidence, focus and coolness under pressure.

The success of people like Andy suggests that there is much the rest of us can learn from ‘good psychopaths’ and today we’ll look at how we can emulate their ability to live in the present, detach behaviour from emotion, and take life on the chin.


When Andy was captured and tortured by the Iraqis during the 1991 Gulf War they did all sorts to intimidate him.

‘One time, some guards came into my cell and one of them cocked his pistol, aimed it at my head and pulled the trigger,’ he says. ‘The hammer came down on an empty chamber. The other guards were killing themselves laughing. So I thought I may as well join them.

‘I was handcuffed, lying on the floor, beaten black and blue, and stark naked. I had no control over what was happening. So I thought: “Mate, you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.”

‘And you know what? The more I just focused on each event in isolation the more it just washed off. You focus on the feeling of the gun forced inside your mouth — OK, that’s kind of interesting! How does the steel taste?

‘You focus on the looks on the guards’ faces, the smell of cheap aftershave, your breathing, the fact that — yep — you’re still alive! When all you’ve got is the present, it’s amazing how fascinating it can become.’

This extreme example of the psychopathic talent for living in the present is backed up by studies of psychopaths’ brains. Studies have found that they exhibit a remarkable ‘neural signature’, a pattern of activity not seen in the normal population but similar to that in elite sportspeople when they enter a state of automatic effortlessness or ‘flow’, and in Buddhist monks when they’re deep in a meditative trance.

What the rest of us have to work years for, psychopaths appear to be born with, and it’s an enviable talent, as Mark Twain would no doubt have agreed. ‘I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened,’ he once said.

This tendency to worry about the future when we should be concentrating on the here and now is something with which many of us are familiar. The good news is that we can begin to remedy it by setting ourselves a very simple challenge. In whatever situation you might find yourself, try to notice something new.

Two-faced: Andy McNab's book claims that being a psychopath could be the recipe to success

Two-faced: Andy McNab’s book claims that being a psychopath could be the recipe to success

This ability to look hard at the world around us does not come easy, as you may find if you take the challenge we’ve set you in the box on the right.

But it’s important to keep trying because once we think we are familiar with what’s around us, we stop paying attention to it and our minds begin to wander.

We run through the contract in a haze because we’ve done it a thousand times. We go with the same supplier because it’s ‘better the devil you know’. We don’t bother looking at that particular junction because there’s never anything coming.

Pressing the reset button on our expectations in this way makes life more interesting for all the right reasons, as does waking up and not just smelling the coffee but savouring it.

Indeed, research shows that people who begin taking a few minutes each day to savour something that they would usually rush, like eating a meal or walking to the train station, for instance, experience more positive emotions and fewer depressive ones.


Anyone who’s ever had trouble getting to sleep understands only too well that our anxiety about not being able to do something can often get in the way of us doing it. And nobody knows more about that than the South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 Open Championship against all the odds.

In the build up to the tournament, intrusive thoughts of failure were creeping into his mind whenever he was about to play a crucial shot.

Fortunately he visited sports psychologist Karl Morris, who came up with a simple solution, putting a small red dot on his glove, just below the base of his thumb.

Morris had realised that, although the golfing part of Oosthuizen’s brain knew exactly how to play the shot, it was distracted by the rest of ‘him’ being there and messing things up. Getting him to focus on the dot took his mind off everything else and he won by seven strokes.

Such emotional distraction is not a problem experienced by psychopaths. They can take a step back and surgically remove emotion from a situation, an ability they share with many high-level sports people including Steve Davis, the six-time world snooker champion who was once asked the secret to being a great player.

‘Playing like it means nothing when it means everything,’ he replied.

Next time you find yourself stressing out over a difficult task, take a step back from it and ask yourself this:

  • What would I do if I didn’t feel this way?
  • What would I do if I didn’t give a damn what other people thought?
  • What would I do if it just didn’t matter?

When you’ve got the answers to those questions . . . just go ahead and do it.

Failing that, there is evidence that exposure to low temperatures makes those experiencing them tougher emotionally.

So the best time to find the courage to ask your boss for that well-deserved raise might well be in the early morning, when you’re not long out of a freezing cold shower!


What would you do in these three different scenarios?

  • You’re sitting at traffic lights and a guy pulls up, shaking his fist through his car window because he thinks you cut him up.
  • Your boss passes you over for promotion, favouring instead someone you don’t get on with.
  • A good friend can’t make your party because she is ill, but you later discover that she went to another party instead.
are you truly alert

If you answered that you would wind down the window and argue with the other driver, deliberately undermine your newly promoted colleague, and refuse to speak to your friend ever again, then your reactions are completely understandable.

In most of us, tsunamic surges of emotion pile up against the sandbags of reason, but not in the typical psychopath brain, thanks to an under-performance of the amygdala, the part of the grey matter which controls emotions such as anger, fear and pleasure.

In psychopaths, this exerts far less power than the pre-frontal cortex, a relatively new part of the brain in evolutionary terms and one which is in charge of rational thought. This means that, contrary to the idea that all psychopaths are bloodthirsty and violent, a good psychopath is far more likely to smile at the angry driver, then pull off as if not even noticing him.

Rather than compromising his or her own work, the good psychopath would also be unlikely to bear a grudge in the office,  perhaps preferring to knuckle down and demonstrate to the boss that they are worthy of promotion next time.

As for that unreliable friend, she would most likely be given the benefit of the doubt — the good psychopath understanding that she had been trying to hook up with a guy at the other party for ages and didn’t want to cause offence by turning the prior invitation down.

Even though most of us are wired somewhat differently, we can still avoid conflict, search for the diplomatic solution and commit our troops elsewhere, using the following tip.

Next time someone says something or does something to you that you perceive as unfair, step back, and then calmly run through the following checklist of questions.


  • Was the person acting deliberately? Can I be sure?
  • Why do I believe that what they did was unfair? Would other people also think so?
  • What was the other person’s point of view? Is there any way I can find out?
  • How would the other person justify their actions?
  • If I had been in the other person’s shoes, how would I have handled the situation?

The answers will enable you to check whether or not you are guilty of what psychologists call  a ‘fundamental attribution error’ —the common mistake of incorrectly attributing intent  to the things others say or do  to us.

As Andy points out, deploying the pre-frontal cortex in this way actually requires all three of the core psychological factors necessary to get into the SAS: discipline, endurance and courage.

And you know why? Because it’s much easier to blame your failures on other people (‘They’ve got it in for me!’) than it is to take responsibility for them yourself.

Persevere though, and, like all the tips in our guide to being a good psychopath, it’ll be worth it in the end.

The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success by Andy McNab & Professor Kevin Dutton (Transworld Publishers Ltd, £10.99). © Andy McNab and Professor Kevin Dutton 2014. To order a copy for £9.89 (offer valid to 09/03/24; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.  

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