This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 33 Strategies of War" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are some quotes from The 33 Strategies of War that are worth pondering? What ideas can you apply to your life to achieve success?
Best-selling author Robert Greene (The 48 Laws of Power, The Laws of Human Nature) asserts that life is a daily struggle—a war between you and the people, organizations, or other forces that work against you. To be successful in life you need to win the war, and to win the war you need a winning strategy. In The 33 Strategies of War, he presents strategic insights based on his synthesis of military history, historic writings on strategy, and modern-day business dealings. Greene argues that applying these principles of strategy can help you succeed in almost any arena of life.
Keep reading for The 33 Strategies of War quotes, along with context and explanation.
The 33 Strategies of War Quotes
To follow are five The 33 Strategies of War quotes that are worth considering and perhaps applying to your life.
“Everything in life can be taken away from you and generally will be at some point. Your wealth vanishes, the latest gadgetry suddenly becomes passé, your allies desert you. But, if your mind is armed with the art of war, there is no power that can take that away. In the middle of a crisis, your mind will find its way to the right solution. Having superior strategies at your fingertips will give your maneuvers irresistible force. As Sun-tzu says, ‘Being unconquerable lies with yourself.’”
Greene cautions that “strategy” is not a formula that you can blindly follow to achieve success. Every situation is unique and constantly changing, so you need to formulate your own strategy for your own situation and adapt it over time. Greene presents his 33 strategies as general principles that can help you develop your strategy.
“Grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the present battle and calculating ahead. Focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it.“
It’s hard to fight a war if you don’t know what you’re fighting for. As Greene explains, the starting point for any strategy should be to identify your desired end state: What exactly are you trying to gain by fighting? Your end goal should be ambitious enough that you find it inspiring, but also small enough that you can realistically achieve it.
“Understand: Your mind is weaker than your emotions. But you become aware of this weakness only in moments of adversity—precisely the time when you need strength. What best equips you to cope with the heat of battle is neither more knowledge nor more intellect. What makes your mind stronger, and more able to control your emotions, is internal discipline and toughness. No one can teach you this skill; you cannot learn it by reading about it. Like any discipline, it can come only through practice, experience, even a little suffering. The first step in building up presence of mind is to see the need for it—to want it badly enough to be willing to work for it.”
A common theme that Greene discusses in many strategies, but especially in planning, is the importance of managing strong emotions. He warns that, in most circumstances, humans are more emotional than rational. For example, when you face setbacks and heavy opposition, you’ll likely feel discouraged and be tempted to quit too early. In the face of vicious attacks, you may feel angry and vengeful toward your enemy, making it tempting to retaliate in ways that hurt them even if it also hurts your own cause. And the exhilaration of victory might make you feel invincible, tempting you to launch new attacks that may not be prudent.
“The key to staying unintimidated is to convince yourself that the person you’re facing is a mere mortal, no different from you—which is in fact the truth. See the person, not the myth. Imagine him or her as a child, as someone riddled with insecurities. Cutting the other person down to size will help your keep your mental balance.”
When you first start out on any conquest, chances are that your enemies will have more resources than you. However, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Greene points out that smaller armies are more mobile and easier to conceal. And if you don’t seem large enough to pose a significant threat, your opponents may simply ignore you.
“Your days are numbered. Will you pass them half awake and halfhearted or will you live with a sense of urgency?”
Psychologists observe that fighting against an enemy tends to be more motivating than working for a cause because an enemy poses an immediate threat, creating a sense of urgency. Additionally, people feel a common bond with others who are fighting the same enemy. This reinforces Greene’s point: The contrast between you and your enemy helps to unify and motivate your forces.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The 33 Strategies of War summary:
- How to win the war between you and those that seek to control you
- Insights based on military history, historic writings, and modern-day business dealings
- Why the little guy may actually have the biggest advantage