5 Lessons From Dune by Frank Herbert

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(Note: This article will include elements of Dune’s early plot, but it will not contain any spoiler material.)

When the credits of Dune rolled on the big screen, I was blown away.

In fact, I was still trembling when I walked out of the theater. What is it about this world leaves me shaken to my core? And how will the fate of Paul Atreides continue? I just had to find out.

So I got my hands on the book.

Getting through this 688-page behemoth paid off: Dune might be the best self-help book I’ve ever read.

Wait a Minute, Dune Isn’t a Self-Help Book

You’re right. Dune by Frank Herbert is a sci-fi novel published in 1965, and it doesn’t include the 34 steps to guaranteed success. Despite that — or rather, because of that — the book tells a fantastic story while teaching profound lessons.

That’s the power of fiction, particularly in a complex story like Dune. It’s an out-of-body experience — as if you entered different minds and lived their lives for a moment.

As a result, the lessons are so much more powerful because not everything is spelled out. Dune is a very intricate book. Heroes are a matter of perspective, and you have to develop your own viewpoint. It’s not black and white.

What’s Dune by Frank Herbert About?

The story unfolds thousands of years in the future. AI has gone extinct, but, thanks to a mind-enhancing substance called “spice,” humanity has spread across the universe. The protagonist is the boy Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides.

One day, the emperor of the galaxy commands Leto to become the new governor of Arrakis — a harsh desert planet and the only known source of spice. Leto knows this is a risk: he’s sure his enemies are plotting against him. And yet, he decides to face his new role on Arrakis. Paul and his family wind up in a plot full of intrigues, politics, and power play.

So, without further ado, here’s how Dune by Frank Herbert can change your life.

1. What’s Mood to Do With It?

In one of the first chapters, Gurney Halleck — one of Paul’s combat trainers — teaches a lesson that completely changed my perspective about motivation.

During a training session, Paul makes a careless mistake, and Gurney corrects him. Paul says he’s not in the mood, but Gurney knows better than that:

“What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises — no matter the mood! Mood’s a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It’s not for fighting.”

Gurney goes all-in on Paul and challenges him unlike he’s never seen before. For a short moment, Paul even thinks that Gurney might be an assassin, ready to betray him.

The fight ends in a tie, and Gurney reveals that he would have inflicted Paul a severe scar had he not performed to the best of his abilities. “You fought some better when pressed to it,” Gurney says, “You seemed to get the mood.

There are so many times I’m not in the mood to do something — writing, working, exercising, reading, etc.

But you know what’s fascinating? Once I start doing something, I get in the mood. Particularly as a writer, it’s so easy to say, “I don’t feel inspired.” But guess what, motivation is not a force to be seized. It’s a reward to be earned.

Don’t wait for the perfect mood. Take your mood and make it perfect.

2. How to Beat Fear

Paul has to endure many horrible and seemingly impossible challenges throughout the book — challenges that would be unbearable for any ordinary person.

His secret? The litany of fear his mother taught him:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I faced a lot of fear last year. I moved to a different country during a pandemic. I published my writing online, fought loneliness, and struggled with social anxiety.

As a coping mechanism, I learned the litany by heart. I now cite it in my head whenever I feel fear creeping up my sleeves.

Fear is the mind-killer.

I’m a strong believer that fears are one of the things that make us flourish in life. So it’s unfortunate that fear paralyzes. But ironically, the best way to crush fear is not to avoid it — it’s facing it.

I don’t necessarily mean letting a spider crawl across your face — not that kind of fear. I’m talking about the things you’ve always wanted to do, but somehow, they scare you. Fear is the thing that holds us back from life-changing experiences. If we don’t learn to face it, we will grow old, look back on the decisive moments, and feel overwhelmed by regret, ruminating over not having taken action.

Face your fear. Let it pass over you. Only you will remain.

3. The Meaning of Life

Dune is not only dense with politics. Frank Herbert also filled it with a ton of philosophy. One of my favorite passages is an hommage to the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:

“She said the mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience. So I quoted the First Law of Mentat at her: ‘A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.’”

I used to worry so much about my purpose, how I can be happier, and the meaning of it all. But something clicked when I read this passage.

We’re always trying to optimize ourselves. We aim to be happier, wealthier, and healthier. And that’s great. But we need to remember to live. We can’t get so hung up in where we want to get —in the problems we try to solve — that we forget to make the most of where we are.

There is no definitive answer to the meaning of life. But we know what it’s not: Life isn’t a code to crack, a staircase to climb, or a goal to reach. It’s a reality to experience. It’s a gift.

That’s why we call this moment the present.

4. Every Experience Carries Its Lesson

When Paul leaves his home planet, he’s 15 years old. Throughout his adolescence, he sees things no one should see. He does things no one should do. He loses things no one should lose.

Paul knows a thing or two about adversity. So it’s no surprise he uses it to his advantage:

“There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times to develop psychic muscles.”

Wise words. When I moved to Portugal by myself, a long-awaited dream of mine turned into a nightmare. I lived alone in foreign countries before. But this was something else.

The language overwhelmed me. I was desperate to make social connections but didn’t know how. I became severely sick and had writer’s block.

But here’s the thing: I love that this happened. I’m so grateful that the romanticized pursuit of my passion broke bad. It strengthened my psychic muscles. It taught me that every experience carries its lesson.

I fell in love with my fate — amor fati.

5. Don’t Stop

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the longest and most difficult books I’ve ever read.

If I had to describe the process of reading Dune, I’d say it’s a tiny snowflake turning into a snowball rolling down a mountain. At first, it’s so insignificant and harmless — the size of a marble. But as it rambles down the hill, it becomes larger and larger — the size of an exercise ball, soon the size of a house. And suddenly, it has turned into an avalanche.

Dune is 90% buildup: the book only pays off once you make it through the tough bits. In life, it’s the same. Every new activity or habit we start feels so meaningless at first — no process, no impact, no traction.

So how can we turn snowflakes into avalanches? We can enjoy the process. We can experience the beautiful reality instead of obsessing over the problem.

While I was reading Dune, it had the flavor of a ritual. I cuddled up in my blankets, dimmed the lights, and put on the eardrum-beating soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.

I was there, on Arrakis. The characters came to life, and I slipped into their minds. And only because of that, I still remember these lessons so well:

  • Your mood is a suggestion engine. You can override it and get in the mood.
  • Fear is the mind-killer. Don’t fight it; face it instead. Allow it to pass through you.
  • The meaning of life is what you make it. Don’t get hung up in problems and experience its full richness instead.
  • Leave your comfort zone to train your psychic muscles. Every experience carries its lesson.
  • Enjoy the process. Make it as appealing and satisfying as possible. Don’t stop.

I can return to Dune and these lessons any time I like. No traditional self-help book can ever give that to you. That’s why Dune by Frank Herbert is the best self-help book I’ve ever read.