Sun Tzu is an infamous war strategist from ancient China and wrote the book, The Art of War. He believed in a ‘soft power’ and an ‘agile confrontation’. He essentially tried to win wars without actually going into combat or to win the easiest way possible.
He wrote,” In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won.” He then told his troops to “make your way by unexpected routes and attack unguarded spots.” which lead to state,”Military tactics are like water. For water, in its natural course, runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So, in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.”
Now while the book is more or less a ‘How to Win Wars 101’ these principles can be how we deal with our own battles in our lives. Sun Tzu’s teachings are about finding the easiest ways to achieve something.
Not only do we see these teachings in war, but in business, building habits, and generally being better version of ourselves.
The Battle for Better Habits
In a lot of ways we try to ‘brute force’ our ways into victory with our habits and mindsets. it’s possible to quit smoking right now but reality is most fail because it’s not that simple.
Really though, we’re fighting a problem head on where it’s at its strongest.
We try to eat healthier but then we’re out with our friends. We try to study when we’re watching tv. We try to write a book in a crowded subway.
It’s no wonder those things don’t happen or not nearly effective. Some people can say you don’t have the willpower to make it happen. You just don’t want it bad enough. But failure isn’t always because of willpower but more the strategy that person set.
We see it in military generals that they attack what will be the easiest and escalate from there. Once they know their opponent is not at their best and morale is low is when they engage. They never fight when the opponent is ready and expecting. In the same way, why start a new habit in a difficult environment?
Having advantage over terrain was one the biggest strengths to Sun Tzu’s strategy. Always taking the easier way instead of the harder one. Just like building strength for habits and get that better position for success.
Sun Tzu, Master of Habits
Sun Tzu had a lot of great habits. So here’s some examples in ways he builds them in his life and in war.
Sun Tzu said,“You can be sure in succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.”
What you should do:” Build habits that are at the easiest for you at the moment then scale upwards.
Sun Tzu said, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
What you should do: improve your behavior by knowing the right habits you need to start first and ones you can forget.
Sun Tzu said, “A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return.”
What you should do: make an effort to learn a habit when it’s most convenient or you.
Fight Battles You Are Destined to Win
To become a better person isn’t just a willpower or work ethic. It’s a strategic purpose. What a lot of people think are problems are the willpower but actually are working on things that are not to your advantage.
If you want to read more books, don’t do it in a room with a tv or a computer. The less distractions, the better.
If you’re looking to get more fit, don’t use a work out program for professional athletes. That doesn’t mean you can never get there but it’ll be a battle you can’t win easily. Start with something you can win easily and then escalate.
If you’re in an environment that is not positive to your dreams then move to one that can or at least talk to the right people.
Work environments can make all the difference in settings that make it easier or harder. Like getting having your kids from school to create chaos in your personal office. Make it easier on yourself.
Always play by rules that you can win, if not then there’s a good chance that you may not win. Just because they aren’t your rules.
Difficult battles are easier to get into but harder to win. But why not choose easy battles to win them instead? It’s why people make life harder.
The smartest path of improvement is the one with the least resistance. Fight battles you know you can win.