Strategy vs Tactics (Tactics Alone Fail Every Time)

Weight loss: a $64 billion industry devoid of strategy.

Strategy vs tactics: what’s most important? Or is that even the correct question?

Strategy: the overarching goals, reasoning, and planning behind your tactics.

Tactics: the actions you take in order to achieve some end.

Strategy Gives Your Tactics Context

Strategy is important because it places your tactics in context. If you understand that the mini habits core strategy is to decrease your sense of overwhelm to promote action, you intuitively know that having 15 of them, while tactically sound, it’s actually contradictory to the underlying strategy.

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

– Sun Tzu

Merely copying or following tactics isn’t enough. Without knowing the relevant underlying strategy, empty tactics will usually fail to bear fruit.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

– Sun Tzu

You need a good strategy first because it informs your tactics. As Tzu says above, a lack of strategy leads to noise and then defeat. Tactics that align with smart strategy, however, will accelerate victory.

Weight Loss: An Entire Field of Unstrategic Tactics

One of the worst offenders of using tactics without strategy is the weight loss industry. See the picture above to see how I feel about it. So many books and programs give people tactics to follow, promising X pounds lost in X days if they do. There are multiple strategic errors in these programs.

  1. Short-term only: The first problem of strategy is the failure of these programs to look beyond days and into months or years. Because this is, sadly, an especially greedy business, most “experts” are incentivized to only cater to short-term results, which will give customers short-term satisfaction and long-term failure. Good for business, bad for the customer.
  2. Uninformed customers: Even if a miracle happens and there’s some semblance of strategy underlying the tactics in a weight loss program, it’s rarely communicated well or fully to the customer. 
  3. Shallow: The prevailing weight loss “strategies” are just disguised tactics—eat only X calories a day or eat from this list of foods and exercise. For this area, it’s doubly bad, because you need multiple strategies for things like emotional eating, snacking, temptations, situations like peer pressure, meal choices, home cooking, eating out, grocery shopping, handling shame, and so on. This is mostly left blank and up to the reader, which is unacceptable. You know why it’s unacceptable? Because the typical weight loss book tells you everything you already know—eat more vegetables and less junk food and work out—and doesn’t provide meaningful strategy to help you execute those tactics. Everyone knows the usual tactics by now, and they don’t ever change because there’s no underlying strategy beneath them!

Let me show you how strategy and tactics work together with the original Mini Habits strategy.

Mini Habits: Strategy vs Tactics

Mini habits are too often seen as merely a simple tactic. “Oh, just take small steps. No need to write a book about it.” I’ve had reviews state this almost verbatim. They are completely wrong. I call mini habits a strategy and not a tactic for good reason.

The strategy of mini habits is to create consistent daily success by reducing behavioral friction to its absolute minimum. Part two of the strategy is to leverage this success into more success through momentum (for the short term) and habit formation (for the medium and long term).

The tactics used to accomplish this strategy are simple and “too small to fail” daily goals that serve as starting points, not ending points (like most goals). That’s one push-up a day, reading a couple pages in a book per day, meditating for a minute per day, and so on.

Tactical and strategic harmony is crucial to success with mini habits, and to anything else you want to achieve. Start by asking what you want, then immediately move to strategy (and spend most of your time/energy here), and once you determine the ideal strategy, then you can finally decide what tactics to use that align with your strategy.

This clarity and execution of the ideal can be the difference between success and failure. It’s not overly difficult, but it must be intentional. It’s not a matter of strategy vs tactics, but a matter of strategy AND tactics. When excellent strategy is paired with smart tactics, success is predictable and inevitable.

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