Tuesday, 5 March 2019

How to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory in five simple steps

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"We will all be dead soon," predicted centurion Millius, looking over the ramparts at the barbarian hordes surrounding Rome in the year 536 C.E. He had good reasons to feel discouraged, since Romans were outnumbered 30 to 1 by the attackers.

General Belisarius shook his head. "If we use our forces effectively, we will prevail," he replied. History proved Belisarius right: He succeeded in defending Rome with 5.000 veteran Roman legionnaires against an attack by 150.000 barbarians.

The heavy losses inflicted by Belisarius on the attackers made them give up their siege of Rome three weeks later. 90.000 barbarians lost their life during their failed attempt to conquer Rome. When they retreated, Belisarius pursued them across Italy, and finished them off. A crushing victory.

How did Belisarius manage to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory? His strategy has been profusely studied by historians. The five steps taken by the Romans in 536 C.E. can be recommended to anyone facing a major crisis. Here is a summary of those five steps.


The first step consists of stabilising the problems you are facing. Belisarius took immediate measures to stabilise the situation. When he heard that attackers were approaching Rome, Belisarius had his troops work day and night at reinforcing the city battlements, and digging deep ditches to protect the ramparts base. In addition, Belisarius had a thick chain drawn across the river in order to prevent enemy ships from entering the city from the riverbanks.


The second step consists of dealing with the essential necessities. Belisarius then allocated minimum resources to cover the essential defensive necessities. To each crucial area of the ramparts, he assigned a lieutenant and a small group of legionnaires, giving the instruction that no man should ever leave his post under any circumstances. Belisarius knew that he had to maintain his outer line of defence intact. Otherwise, Rome would fall into the attackers' hands.


The third steps calls for focusing your resources on the most urgent issues. Hour after hour, Belisarius concentrated his forces on fighting the most urgent danger at each time. On each occasion, he used his soldiers to inflict maximum damage on attackers with the minimum possible risk. Once and again, he climbed the ramparts, picked up an arch himself, drew an arrow, and ordered the Romans to aim at the closest attackers. The rain of arrows decimated the barbarians, making them retreat and allowing Belisarius to focus on the next problem. He simply walked from one critical area to the next.


The fourth step consists of staying calm, no matter what. Belisarius maintained his serenity, shifting his resources from one pressing emergency to the next. He kept his presence of mind in the middle of dead and wounded soldiers, identifying the most urgent problem to be addressed at each moment. His mind was concentrated on the problem at hand. Belisarius had no time to grow stressed, anxious or depressed. He simply did what he had to do, hour after hour. By moving his forces quickly from one critical point to the next, he multiplied their effectiveness, and achieved a remarkable victory.


The fifth step calls for taking initiative. As soon as he perceived an opportunity, Belisarius took the initiative. Each time that Roman archers repelled an attack making their enemies flee, Belisarius ordered to open the gates, and had his cavalry pursue the barbarians, causing heavy losses amongst them. When your are facing a crisis, you will do much better if you move from a reactive mode to a proactive one.

For fifteen centuries, Belisarius' strategy has proven effective on innumerable occasions. Stabilising your situation, addressing your most pressing problems, keeping calm, shifting your resources as needed, and taking initiative are the key steps you need to take in order to turn around difficult situations. Belisarius' wisdom contains lessons that we all can apply in our own lives today in the twenty-first century.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical building. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

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Here is the link to an audio interview just published:

Monday, 4 February 2019

Undisrupted: How highly-effective people deal with disruptions

Is your life running smoothly, always filled with success and happiness? Or do you sometimes face disruptions and periods of chaos? If this is the case, you need the lessons contained in this book:
  • How industrialist Savva Mamontov could have prevented disruption from destroying his life.
  • Why Albert Schweitzer only grew happy and famous after turning his life upside down.
  • The disruptive strategy that enabled Joseph Paxton, a simple gardener, to become wealthy.
  • How it is possible that the all-powerful Knights Templar were wiped out overnight.
  • The method conceived by Abbot Suger in the twelfth century for running projects smoothly.
  • Which variation of positive thinking Emile Coue invented for overcoming disruptions.
This book presents real-life lessons that can massively increase your ability to succeed in the face of disruptions.
An example taken from real life
The type of disruptions you should embrace wholeheartedly
A powerful insight emerges: Kovalevsky's discovery
Do this, and you will avert catastrophic consequences
An unchangeable principle, although so often ignored
A habit that you absolutely need to acquire
Why I am in favour of risk reduction
The zero-risk approach: a model to imitate
Progress will be smoother if you don't force the machine
Disruptions that create opportunities for advancement
The perfect antidote against feelings of dissatisfaction
Surprising decisions will stir up opposition, so what?
When your best option is to turn your life upside down
A resilient lifestyle and its favourable consequences
Negative criticism that has proven unjustified
Countryside quietness can be deceptive and harmful
How people develop unsustainable views
Confusion and disorientation are not heroic
An unstable personality is a recipe for disaster
The delusion of a peaceful, undisturbed life in nature
Beware that not all knowledge is created equal
Listen only to those who offer you a workable approach
Attain general victories by overcoming specific disruptions
Give me real solutions, not statistical data
Why millions of people keep suffering from anxiety
Two talented men, two heavily contrasting results
A relentless focus on existing opportunities
Productiveness as a way of life: the underlying philosophy
Low-cost innovation can make you dramatically stronger
Solid structures and solid routines keep disruptions away
Can you find a way forward despite severe setbacks?
Effective strategies after encountering extreme disruptions
Thriving against all odds in hostile environments
Fell from a flying aeroplane, survived and recovered well
Questionable certainties in the face of disruption
Less vulnerability, fewer disruptions: an illustration
Victory over vulnerability in four simple steps
The art of rendering yourself more resistant to disruptions
Segmentation: a solid strategy you can implement today
How to structure your day, so that it's remarkably strong
A dangerous fallacy that is leading many people stray
The Knights Templar: fierce warriors, easily overturned
Beware of false narratives of prosperity and strength
Overnight demise is a fairy tale for the unwary
Individuals who undermine their own defences
Here is a formula that always works to your advantage
The light touch of the master: no fear, no overreaction
Making good choices in the face of overwhelming pressure
When you are given only ten seconds to save the day
The right way to repair structural damage
A universal method for handling destabilizing factors
This mental trick from the Middle Ages is still working
Kilograms, meters, hours – what do they have in common?
A crash course on error prevention
You don't need to employ more than six elements
How a desperately ill woman turned her life around
The resistance to acknowledging past errors
A decisive step towards a new life
Taking a close look at faith healing
Here is a variation of positive thinking that really works
Learning to look beyond bits and pieces of information
Ingredients of a lifestyle that keeps disruptions at bay
How to perceive signals well in advance
Accepting the drawbacks of simplicity and speed
Eight preventive measures against disruption
Discard ideas that are keeping you weak and vulnerable
Recommended reading

Thursday, 17 January 2019

How to optimise your chances in the face of deficiencies, errors and failures

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Past mistakes have taught me many lessons. The most essential has been to realise the crucial value of ideas. Amongst the obstacles you'll find on your way to a better life, wrong ideas constitute the largest hurdle to overcome. Poverty and lack of opportunity can keep you down for a while, but wrong ideas can literally destroy your life.

Sound philosophical convictions play a determinant role in success and happiness because they enable you to focus on goals and pursue them consistently. In contrast, wrong ethical values are rendering people blind and leading them stray.

Individuals who have embraced irrational ideas are unable to perceive opportunities and move forward. Nonsensical convictions are rendering them passive and vulnerable. In particular, the following two ideas represent enormous obstacles to success:

First, the idea that you should feel ashamed by your deficiencies, errors and failures. In fact, there are no limits to the motives you can use for feeling ashamed. You can make yourself ashamed of being too quick or too slow, too small or too big, too young or too old, and so forth. It doesn't matter what motive you are using because they are all worthless. You should not let them discourage you from working steadily at improving your lot.

If people criticise you, listen carefully and see if they have a point. Then try to improve the situation, assuming that it is something under your control. Do your part, display good efforts, and move on. Life is short. You have no time to waste. Use you energies for pursuing worthy goals, not for lamenting your weaknesses.

Whatever you do and no matter how well you do it, lots of people are going to dislike you out of envy, ignorance or fear. Learn from their remarks if those make sense, but then shrug your shoulders at the rest, and continue to advance on your chosen path.

Second, the belief that life is unfair and that you have no real chances to improve your lot. This false idea is widespread in society because there will always exist people who possess everything you want, and who seem to have attained it without much effort. Maybe this is true, but so what?

I am not denying that some individuals owe their success to inheritance, luck or family connections, but this does not mean that you should be paralysed by envy. The fact that other people are ahead of the game, for whatever reason, does not mean that you should give up your hopes of success. Not at all. Other people's good luck is irrelevant to your personal achievement. Just keep doing what has to be done, and you will optimise your chances.

Imagine, for instance, that a competitor has fantastic connections and that you have none. If such connections are required to succeed in a certain field, you'd better acknowledge reality, but that doesn't mean that you have no chance to move forward. Take notice of the situation, and focus your efforts on areas where you have better prospects.

Even if you choose to devote your life to improving society, you should not fall prey to the delusion that you need to change the whole world before you can become prosperous and happy. It is simply not true. It helps to remind yourself daily that, on the road to achievement, wrong ideas will always constitute your largest obstacle. Discard them today before they can do any damage. 
Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

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Saturday, 15 December 2018

Christmas, a time to slow down in order to advance faster

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"You are a strange man, Ludovico," complained Alessandra Benucci. "You say that you love me, but you care as little for me as you do for your career." Ludovico Ariosto looked out of the window and did not reply immediately.

His new job as governor of Lucca was difficult and his salary meagre, but the beauty of Tuscany never ceased to astonish him every time he looked outside. "Sometimes, you have to slow down to prepare yourself for a long run," answered Ludovico, shrugging his shoulders. "Anyway, at this moment, this was the only job I could find."

"But you promised that we would get married soon," went on Alessandra, walking up to him and setting her hand on his shoulder. It was June of 1516 and, in three months, Ludovico would be forty-two years old. He turned around to face Alessandra and saw his promises reflected in her eyes.

"I am just asking you to have a little patience, my love," he said, taking in a deep breath. "We will be married as soon as I have saved enough money to lead a proper life." How often had he tried to explain that to her? A hundred, a thousand times? It didn't matter.

Ludovico had changed jobs often, always moving forward, working endless days only to be able to devote the nights to his passion. After years of efforts, he had just completed his poem "Orlando Furioso," although he was still planning to make some revisions.

"You should just let it stand as it is now, Ludovico," exhorted Alessandra. "Your poem is more than good, it is even more than wonderful! It is high time for you to publish it and work on something else. Why don't you write a comedy to please the Bishop? Or a song dedicated to the Duke?"

During the following eight years, Ludovico saved as much money as he could from his salary. Shortly after his fiftieth birthday, he fulfilled his promise and married Alessandra. The couple purchased a small farm near Ferrara, and retired to live there.

When Ludovico Ariosto published his poem "Orlando Furioso," only eighty six copies were printed. During his retirement in Ferrara, he never stopped revising the poem. It is believed that he rewrote parts of it at least two hundred times.

Little by little, the reputation of "Orlando Furioso" began to grow. By the time Ludovico was fifty-seven, his poem had been reprinted many times, and was already considered the work of a genius. Nevertheless, Ludovico continued to make revisions. After his death, Alessandra Benucci published the final version. It was absolutely perfect.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Confucius' recipe for the good life in four simple steps

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"A happy man is consistent in his steps, not disorderly," wrote Confucius in the year 510 B.C. Twenty-six centuries later, it remains a challenge to lead a consistent, well-balanced, happy life.

Technology has rendered human life less demanding in terms of physical effort, opening the door to endless choices, but the multiplication of choices has increased the risk of losing sight of our goals, and making colossal mistakes.

"Foolish men do things without knowing their purpose," remarked Confucius, "but chaos is not the way. Assess your options, find the right path, and walk it every day." From Confucius' writings, I have extracted the following four practical recommendations for leading a happy life.

Practical recommendations

First, define your long-term direction: Following the fashion of the day is unlikely to bring you peace of mind. You need to figure out what you want from life, your long-term goals, your lifetime priorities. No formula can guarantee happiness for everyone, but if you think of people you know who are highly satisfied with their lives, are they not without exception individuals who are pursuing consistent goals year after year?

Second, remember that activity beats immobility: "Fortune comes from turning promising ideas into reality by means of patient practice, day after day," observed Confucius. Passivity,
contradictions and endless hesitations were as much a waste of time in Confucius' times as they are today. Once you have defined your long-term direction, start walking the path. No matter how ambitious your goals may be, the best strategy is to take determined action. Start doing something today to move in the direction you've chosen. Even if the wind stands still for a while, a ship already motion will keep advancing.

Third, cultivate your strengths: Nowadays, you can learn almost anything you want, no matter where you live, but should you acquire knowledge at random? Should you spend years testing the waters of different pools until you find the perfect one to swim? Of course not. The easiest way to attain success and happiness is to cultivate your strengths. Know yourself, what you enjoy and what you dislike. Assess your abilities, choose a particular field, and develop your expertise. As Confucius put it, "learning requires no rank and knows no end." Yet, learning will prove more productive if you cultivate your best qualities. They will take you as far as you want to go.

Fourth, don't grow discouraged by obstacles: "The wise man does not fret, even if he sometimes must stand still for a while," remarked Confucius. Life is full of challenges, annoyances and inconveniences. It is normal to encounter some obstacles when you are moving forward.
From time to time, you'll be caught in traffic jams, misfortunes and disasters, so what? Occasionally, you will be unfairly criticised, so what? Getting discouraged by obstacles or by other people's folly is a waste of time. Keep trudging forward, keep working, keep building a better life for yourself.

Your time on earth is limited. Your best chance of attaining happiness lies in using your resources and opportunities efficiently. Define your long-term ambitions and pursue them with passion. Happiness results from purposeful motion, not from passivity. Become what Confucius defined as "a man of endless purpose, a man who never tires of learning." If you do so, you'll be on your way.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

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Here are the links to two audio interviews recently published: