ONE OF HISTORY’S most polarising men has now become a polarising movie star. Ridley Scott’s Napoleon premiered last week to mixed reviews. The film currently has an aggressively mediocre rating of 6.7/10 on IMDB, and an even more lacklustre 60 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, the film has brought about a renewed focus on the man that nearly conquered Europe, and the tenets he lived by.
While his expertise mainly pertained to the political and military realm, some of the central principles of Napoleon’s philosophical worldview can be applied in our modern, everyday lives, assuming you’re motivated more by self-improvement than you are by conquest—yes? Good, just checking! Whether you’re searching for extra motivation at the gym, trying to find the secret to career success, or simply hoping to bolster your mental strength, there are benefits to be had in understanding Napoleon’s mindset.
Here, we’ve broken down five lessons you can learn from Napoleon’s philosophical outlook, assessing the validity of some of the Emperor’s most famous quotes.
“Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools”
Napoleon is said to have proclaimed this shortly before the decisive battle of Waterloo. With an army vastly outnumbered by opposing forces at a rate of two to one, Napoleon uttered this phrase towards his chiefs of staff in dismissive tones. Advised that his men were no match for the combined forces of Britain and Prussia, Napoleon would not heed their warnings. Instead, he delivered this famous quote, which ends with “Wise people create opportunities for themselves and make everything possible.”
Of course, Napoleon was ultimately defeated at Waterloo, but this quote retains much of its utility nonetheless. When facing a situation many would deem impossible, the brilliant must recognise that a pessimistic line of thinking will yield few positive results, and approach with an open mind.
“The best cure for the body is a quiet mind”
Who knew Napoleon was something of a trailblazer in mental wellness? Upon being exiled to the isolated island of Saint Helena, Napoleon became withdrawn, and his health suffered. Not keen on scientific remedies, Napoleon uttered the above line, rejecting the counsel of his doctor. He would die of stomach cancer not long after, but little did he know that his words would become gospel for wellness warriors.
Beneath Napoleon’s aversion to medicinal treatment is a profound understanding that impacts our overall wellbeing. Finding mental stability and solace can make significant improvements to your physical health. Some will achieve this through meditation, others through yoga (we doubt Napoleon tried either), but the point stands either way, a quiet mind really can make all the difference.
“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon”
A warning against false motivations and placing too much value on honorific titles, this aspect of Napoleon’s philosophy teaches us that validation must come from within. In the context of 19th century France, Napoleon was referring to the uncanny ability of his men to stay motivated against appalling circumstances, all for the hope of attaining a shiny medal or ornamental ribbon. In short, don’t place too much stock in tangible achievements that will impress others. The real reward comes from your own feeling of accomplishment.
“Victory belongs to the most persevering”
Some pretty stock standard fitness motivation here. We can imagine a personal trainer shouting this while their client is pushing through the final reps of a gruelling set. Napoleon cited perseverance as the key to his victory during the famous battle of Austerlitz. Although the battle didn’t go exactly how it did in Scott’s film, perseverance remained the deciding factor.
Braving an icy winter battlefield, Napoleon deliberately weakened the centre of his forces, while strengthening his flanks, drawing in the Russian and Austrian armies, and allowing them to believe they had the higher ground. Napoleon then marched his flanking men uphill, cutting off and eventually routing his opponents.
Don’t think too hard on this one, the meaning is fairly clear. Persevere, and you’ll achieve great results.
“If you want something done, do it yourself”
A quote so ubiquitous we’ll bet you didn’t even know it was Napoleon who first said it. Believing his subordinates to be incompetent, Napoleon would often avoid delegation and take on extra duties, ensuring they were performed in accordance with his wishes.
Another simple message here. It’s important not to overburden yourself, but occasionally you really are the best man for the job.