This article is modified from a post originally posted on Medium. You can read the original here.

Cersei Lannister was a character who knew what she wanted and was willing to do anything to get it. While the timid Jon Snow may have been a favorite character, Cersei was often one of the least liked for her unapologetic ruthlessness, ambition, and twisted maternal instincts. But how things turned out for her...Well, spoilers aside, it’s fair to say that Cersei’s final moments on the series were met with mixed feelings.

This article is the second in our series of looking at behavioral psychology through the lens of Game of Thrones characters. Last week, we saw how Jon Snow exemplifies the Cautious Belonging mindstate and the impact it had on his decision-making.


In this installment, we turn our attention to the manipulating, evil Cersei Lannister, who embodies the Optimistic Empowerment mindstate. In case you missed the first article, let’s start with a brief mindstate primer before diving into Cersei’s twisted story.

Cersei_and_Tommen_Blackwater_ from game of thrones standing next to one another

What Is a Mindstate?

If you’ve ever looked back at a decision you made and felt it was more emotional than rational, more than likely you were under the influence of a mindstate. This temporary state of mind finds us under high emotional arousal and relying more on nonconscious, emotional factors. The end result? We’re more susceptible to influence.


A mindstate is composed of your goals (both functional and higher-order), a core motivation, a regulatory approach, and cognitive heuristics. The two big pieces, which are motivation and regulatory approach, combine to give us eighteen mindstates.


Each mindstate combines one of nine motivations (achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance, or security) with either a promotion focus (striving for success) or prevention focus (trying to avoid failure).


Understanding someone’s mindstate is key to better understanding their decisions.

Cersei Is Driven to Gain Power

With that in mind, let’s talk about Cersei. Warning: spoilers ahead!

Cersei was the oldest of Tywin Lannister’s three children. She was the oldest child, but since she’s not a male, she couldn’t rule from the throne. Tywin knew this, so he groomed his daughter to rule by manipulating any future king that rules as her husband or her son.

Cersei Lannister sitting in throne looking at the sidep profile of someone


Cersei understood this truth: control the king, control the kingdom.


Being raised this way drove Cersei to do whatever it took to seize power for herself. She had to be the person in control. Power and control were the basis of her identity.


It’s a picture of an empowerment motivation, which I like to define as “the feeling of being authorized and equipped to act on desired choices.”


Unlike her brother, Jaime, who wasn’t driven to sit on the Iron Throne, Cersei used her wits and charm to forge her own path to power, however difficult it may have been.


Here are a few examples of Cersei’s motivation in action throughout the series:


  • Successfully plotted to have her husband and the king, Robert, killed.
  • Worked with Qyburn to bring Gregor Clegane (aka The Mountain) back to life.
  • Teamed up with the High Scepter to gain influence over her son, Joffrey.


Each of these decisions moved Cersei closer to her goal of controlling those around her. It’s about regaining the power that was taken from her for simply being a woman.

Cersei Takes Big Swings

Cersei’s regulatory approach is just as obvious as her motivation. She always favored a promotion focus, meaning she sought strategies that help her maximize her chances of successfully reaching her goals. Cersei didn’t play scared. In her quest to gain power and control, she was afraid to take big swings that might not pay off.


She had Qyburn plant wildfire and candles beneath the Great Sept of Baelor, then sent the Mountain to keep her last remaining son, Tommen, away from the Sept. The Sept blew up, eliminating Cersei’s enemies all at once. The aggressive move later cost her Tommen’s life, as he committed suicide open discovering what his mother had done.


We also see this promotion focus in her choice to join forces with Aeron Greyjoy instead of sending her troops to battle the White Walkers. Creating that alliance fit with Cersei’s goal of sitting on the Iron Throne. Even if her troops were victorious in battling the White Walkers, it would decimate her army and undermine her power.


Even the naked walk of atonement is proof of Cersei’s regulatory approach. She would endure humiliation to get out of her cell and get revenge on all who abused her.


Cersei does not try to minimize the risk of her losing power. She was constantly looking to do something that will advantage her in gaining more and more power. Because with power comes more control, and ultimately, better access to the Iron Throne.

How Cersei’s Mindstate Impacts Her


Cersei Lannister front profile

When you combine her desire for control of the Seven Kingdoms with her strong risk tolerance, it’s clear that Cersei was most often under the Optimistic Empowerment Mindstate, which I define this way in my book, Marketing to Mindstates, as this:


When choices feel overly restrictive, finding ways to gain greater control of your life is highly desired. This desire is a result of our drive to feel empowered—to feel capable and equipped to take on life’s challenges. The desire to have greater control of your life and choices is the basis of an optimistic empowerment mindstate.


So, how does this mindstate impact Cersei’s decisions? We saw how she took big risks due to her mindstate, and oftentimes, those risks ended up being mistakes.


One of those mistakes was misreading the power of the High Scepter, who she saw as a religious fanatic with a huge following and sway over Tommen. What she didn’t see in her rush to align with him was that the High Scepter was more powerful than she ever imagined. As a result of his militant ways, he actually took power away from Cersei.


She also favored big, bold moves over smaller, more cautious moves. In addition to blowing up the Sept and plotting to have Robert killed, Cersei also had the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn, killed because he was going to expose the fact that Cersei’s three children were born of her brother, Jaime, and not her husband, Robert.


Then there’s the army that Cersei acquires. She negotiated an agreement with the Bank of Braavos to fund her conquest of Highgarden. Because she took on that huge debt, she had access to the food, equipment, and other resources in Highgarden. It’s one aggressive act (borrowing heavily) followed by another (sacking Highgarden) that pays off big time. 

What Does This Mean for You and Your Marketing?

Rational thinking goes out the window when we’re operating under the influence of a mindstate. No rational person would blow up a church filled with people they knew just to eliminate their enemies. That’s emotional thinking all the way through.


As you can see, understanding mindstates is critical if your job is to influence people’s behaviors through marketing. The fact is we’re not always rational, logically-thinking decision makers. Emotional thinking often drives our actions and our behaviors.

Happy owner of a new car. Emotional handsome man in casual clothes is happy standing on the knees when buying a car in the dealership

More importantly, each mindstate should be approached strategically and with certain tactics in mind to influence behaviors. That process is called Behavioral Design.


By understanding mindstates, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what drives people at a subconscious, emotional level. It can help you understand the seemingly irrational behaviors of your customers, as well as the actions of the evil Cersei Lannister.


If you’re new to Mindstate Marketing, I highly recommend you check out our Mindstate Marketing Starter Package that includes a copy of Marketing to Mindstates, digital worksheets, and more. If you’re familiar with Mindstate Marketing but aren’t sure how to apply it to your marketing creative, it’s time to register for our Masterclass or sign up for the Master Program. 


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Topics: Pop Culture, Marketing to Mindstates, Motivation, Game of Thrones