The Napoleon Bonaparte Guide to Achieving Your Goals in Life

By David

July 14, 2013   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Who better to gain some lessons on achievement from than a man who commanded the entire French army by the time he was 26 years old?

Napoleon Bonaparte was an intelligent, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe during the early 19th century. At the age of 30, he engineered a coup d-etat in Paris and declared himself as Emperor of France a few years later. The rest is history.

It’s safe to say he got the most out of life, albeit in often unscrupulous ways. So what can Napoleon teach us about maximising our own lives and taking advantage of what the world has to offer?

I’ve constructed 4 lessons on accomplishing your goals inspired by some of the French Emperor’s most famous words.

“Victory belongs to the most persevering.”

The person who pushes through adversity is the person with the best chance of achieving their goals. Periods of difficulty teach us many lessons, the most important of these being the principle of continued testing. Without trial and error, nothing of note is gained.

Adversity provides us with purpose and concentration which focus the mind. Perseverance through adversity also teaches us the importance of responsibility, rather than the assumption of rights, which is a crucial component of success. The gained experiences of taking control of our destiny contribute to the principles that shape a noteworthy character.

A fine example of perseverance is that of Thomas Edison who strode through a lengthy period of failure to eventually create the electric light bulb. His dream of illuminating a room with electricity kept his search for the correct filament for handling an electric current his dedicated priority.

As Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration”.

The lesson we can take from Edison and Napoleon is to never give up. Whatever difficulties you encounter along the route, taking you towards your dreams, need be faced and overcome. Fear is an enemy of perseverance but this wall of anxiety must be smashed in order to achieve your goal and to experience that joyful sense of accomplishment, once the victory Napoleon mentions has been gained.

“Imagination rules the world.”

Our imagination shapes how we interact with the world around us. If our mental images are full of negativity and fear we become anxious, passive, and frustrated. On the other hand, if we engage in positive thinking and imagery, our personalities are shaped to be more receptive to the good things in life.

Humankind has achieved remarkable feats of creativity using the power of the imagination. A man can overcome incredible odds if he has developed his mind to see the benefits in each scenario he encounters. However, another man accustomed to defeatism and a poor self-image will instead remain stagnated, in a similar situation.

Harness the power of your imagination to cultivate positive mental images about yourself and the things you want to accomplish in life. Visualise the end-result and conjure up the emotions you believe you will feel when achieving your goal. Your imagination is now set to rule your world for the better.

“The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided. It is sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.”

Avoiding a situation or task may feel like a sensible action to take at a particular point in time, but can actually be the most risky or damaging decision you make. According to psychologist Daniel Kanheman, our brains have developed to be risk-averse which leaves us nearly twice as sensitive to potential failures as successes.

Our over-precaution stems from fear which is wired into our brain as a protective mechanism for dealing with danger. However, when left uncontrolled and to its own devices, fear can infiltrate into every part of our lives. This fear then reduces our ability to asses risk in an accurate manner and prevents us from taking actions which might improve our security and standing.

The tendency of humans to underestimate the negative results of inaction was explained by the Parmenides Fallacy which according to Professor Phillip Bobbit, “occurs when one tries to assess a future state of affairs by measuring it against the present, as opposed to comparing it to other possible futures”, which can frequently lead to inertia.

It’s always better to take action of some kind than no action at all even if the result is not the one you intended. The ‘torment of precautions’ Napoleon described include symptoms such as shyness, timidity, self-consciousness, nervousness, guilt and above all, frustration. In order to cast off these frustrations and move through the inaction, one has to quite literally abandon one’s fears and let destiny fall where it will, whilst continuing in a forward momentum.

“Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.”

A great many people unwittingly set themselves up for continued failure by holding negative attitudes, as touched upon previously, and habitually picturing a lack of success in their imaginations. These thinking patterns have often developed over many years and their roots can be seen in childhood. Without realising it, these people doom themselves to mediocrity and unfulfillment purely by the thoughts they entertain in their minds.

General Eisenhower once said, when asked what would have happened if the Allies had been thrown back into the sea when invading Mussolini’s Italy, “it would have been very bad, but I never allowed my mind to think that way”.

This mind-set is typical of all successful people. Holding onto the concept of “I can’t” before having even attempted a course of action, without any evidence to the contrary, is highly irrational. This is a recipe for inaction and failure. It is vital to move forward in a positive manner using the best of your abilities and knowledge whilst letting the results take care of themselves. The fact that our dreams become impossibilities in our minds before anywhere else is important to remember.


Napoleon was not without his faults, one of which was the infamous invasion of Russia which resulted in catastrophic French loses and the annihilation of the Grande Armée. The French Emporer’s fixation on the next big win, seemingly without consideration for the facts on the ground, led to the beginning of the end of his military and political career.

Even when focusing on the positive, it is important to be aware of problems and potential pitfalls in the short and long term. Otherwise a blind rush based on an injection of positivity will likely cause just as many problems as anxious inaction.

That’s why it is important to “take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in”, in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Written on 7/14/2013 by Edward Beaman. Edward Beaman is a freelance writer and blogger with a fiery passion for creating persuasive and engaging web-based content for clients worldwide. You can find out more information on his website: Edward Beaman – Freelance Writer.

Photo Credit: Maciej


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