At times you can be faced with a situation that might seem overwhelming. An enemy can be camped out in front of you, larger in size and in a better strategic position.
However all is not lost. When you and your team are facing a tough opposition, you can apply lessons from the “Strategemata” of Frontinus, an Ancient Roman general and engineer.
One of these lessons can be taken from the acts of Fulvius Nobilior, a Roman general. When facing an enemy superior in numbers compared to his army, he did one trick in order to boost his men’s confidence:
“Fulvius Nobilior, deeming it necessary to fight with a small force against a large army of the Samnites who were flushed with success, pretended that one legion of the enemy had been bribed by him to turn traitor; and to strengthen belief in this story, he commanded the tribunes, the “first rank,” and the centurions to contribute all the ready money they had, or any gold and silver, in order that the price might be paid the traitors at once.
He promised that, when victory was achieved, he would give generous presents besides to those who contributed for this purpose. This assurance brought such ardor and confidence to the Romans that they straightway opened battle and won a glorious victory.”
There are many psychological principles at play here. One of these is fake it till you make it. Many of the cognitive biases work in a way as to boost your ego, or at least keep it from crashing.
This is because many battles are often won or lost in your mind. A person going into a battle believing he will lose, will most likely lose.
It’s not that you can willpower yourself to victory in every case, but having confidence in yourself does give you an extra boost, and in battle every little thing counts.
Often, people need some sort of a mental crutch in order for them to keep on plucking away at their goals. For many people, religion has served that role.
Faced with an absurdity of the world, many studies have proven that people who have a religious belief can often persevere in tough circumstances. This is not because some hidden deity is helping them, but because they believe that even if things seem to be turning out badly, there is always a golden exit at the end of the road.
Fulvius Nobilior realized that if he wanted his men pumped up for battle against a superior enemy, he needed to boost up the level of confidence of his men. He did this by using a little trick.
He made them believe that the other side is not as big and powerful as it seems. By stating that one part of the enemy will defect, Fulvius tricked his men into believing that the odds are not as bad for them as they initially seemed.
This worked in the same way that superstition works. The men started to believe that they have much more control over the situation that they are in, than they really do.
Another trick that Fulvius did was to make many of his men give up their money. Now they had something to lose. They had skin in the game if you will.
One mental trick that some people use in order to push themselves to achieve goals is for example promising that if they don’t achieve their goal, they will have to give up money to someone they hate.
When they start to falter, knowing that this will happen can give them an extra motivation to carry on towards their goal. In other circumstances they might give up.
So what to do when you are again facing overwhelming odds?
First, trick yourself and your team into believing that you have much more control over the situation than you do. Fake it till you make it. Give yourself a perceived mental advantage.
Secondly, put your skin in the game. Promise yourself that if you don’t achieve what you set out to achieve, you will force yourself to give up something valuable.
Thirdly and lastly, Fulvius realized that positive motivation can also have its effects. So besides tricking his men into believing that the odds are much better than perceived, and putting their skin in the game, he also promised great rewards if they win.
This short lesson is structured a bit like Robert Greene’s “Laws of Power”. As stated in a previous article I wrote, I am starting off my own series on laws of power based on lessons from history.
You can read about the first lesson or law of power here:
Appear strong when you are weak.