The battle within our mind is a continuous and unrelenting conflict that must be won every day. Without winning this fight, one cannot expect victory in any other aspect of life. Even the most formidable and technically gifted individual cannot devise a winning strategy in business, politics, sports, or any other environment if they cannot master themselves. Emotions and impulses bend our perception of reality and cripple our rationality, which severely hinders the mind’s strategic capability. The more we let emotions dictate our actions, the more vulnerable we are to defeat. Great strategists throughout history have understood this and have been able to use it to their advantage.
Strategists take a pragmatic approach to conflict, and their mastery of mind and emotion allows them to accomplish their objectives in even the most hostile situations. Even in the face of insults and aggression, the strategist will parry these attacks and maintain composure. Rather than engage in the hostility, they will seek to interrupt the attacks through delay, obstruction, and misdirection. Letting the other side waste precious time, energy, and resources on emotionally driven tactics will eventually tire, frustrate, or demoralize them – causing them to unveil a weak point in their strategy. Time is a great advantage in conflict, but one that can only be utilized through a rational and disciplined strategist.
In his book, The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene makes a fitting comparison between two key figures in Greek mythology: Ares and Athena. Ares, the god of war, was a quick-tempered and ruthless warrior known for his lust for violence and brutality. He was hated among humans (except Spartans) and gods alike and considered untrustworthy due to his reckless and wasteful approach to war. Athena, on the other hand, was known as the goddess of wisdom and war (among other things). She represented the intellectual and philosophical side of war that Ares failed to master. While Athena was a powerful force on the battlefield, it was her craftiness and rationality that helped her defeat aggressive and impulsive enemies. There are countless stories throughout Greek mythology of Ares suffering defeat, but Athena never lost a battle. With this in mind it is clear that the superior general is Athena, so why then do so many follow the Ares approach to conflict?
Channeling Ares comes naturally to us. Ares lies within our animal brain that reacts to our environment at a faster speed than our rational, “Athena” brain can. It takes time, discipline, and determination to tame our impulses and emotions. Unfortunately, most people are unwilling to make this sacrifice and instead choose to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot by giving in to anger, greed, pride, or any other emotion. We see this in sports when a player takes an undisciplined penalty that costs their team the game; in financial markets where investors recklessly buy overpriced assets that blow up their portfolio; and in marriages where spouses hurl insults at each other that turn a small disagreement into a relationship-killing fight. We have all been in situations where we have given into to our primal instincts and ultimately cost ourselves a chance at achieving our long-term goals.
In the end, brutes may win battles but strategists win wars.
“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”African Proverb
Free Your Mind.