Do you suffer from mental inertia?

Risk is a classic strategy-game: you raise armies, you attack territories, you conqueer the world. I discovered this board game when I was a kid, and fell in love with it. I know that hardcore strategy nerds find it too simple, or too random, and have hundreds of better alternatives to suggest. I’ve tried many of them, liked some of them a lot, but I still come back to Risk every now and then — probably the comfort of the well-known.


Lately, I’ve discovered the iPad version. Identical to the board game, At first, I would mostly play with friends during long flights. I realized the digital version had two key differences with the board one: you can play way faster and you can play against the computer. That’s how I enter an era of Risk-marathons: playing non-stop against 5 computer-controlled opponents at the highest difficulty level. Both out of curiosity for the quality of the artificial intelligence inside the software and to test my own internal machinery, I wanted to see if I could find a way to beat the computer every single time.


By playing hundreds of games at high-speed, you can observe patterns that you could not easily see at slower pace. I realized that, at Risk, you had essentially three types of immediate goals, each requiring a very different mindset: consolidate, expand, or survive. You switch between those three depending on your situation. When you start, you have a couple of assets, and you want to make them more solid: you are in consolidation mode. If everything goes as planned, you become so strong that you can consider more territories without jeopardizing yours: that’s expansion mode. But if you’ve suffered from too many bad blows, you switch to survival mode, and do whatever you can to avoid getting weaker.

Consolidate, expand, or survive. Three modes. Once you understand that, you just need to improve your tactical skills in each mode. And to learn when to switch from one mode to another.


Switching to the appropriate mode sounds easy. You just need to analyze correctly your situation, identify the right mode, and adjust your priorities accordingly. Easy.

Except if you suffer from a very common flaw: mental inertia. Mental inertia is the unconscious force that pushes you continue to think the way you used to think before. You’ve been trying to survive for 4 rounds, avoiding to provoke any enemy’s attack? Guess what, it’s very likely that you’ll continue to behave like that way longer than you should. In other words, you will switch mode too late. And that will happen regardless of the mode you’re in: you’ll continue to expand if even the board is screaming that you should stop, you’ll consolidate your positions to the point that you will forget what it’s like to take the risk of expanding, you won’t switch to survival mode even though your old assets have been decapitated, etc.

Mental inertia will make you loose every time. Even if your tactical sense is good, it won’t matter unless your mind switches rapidly enough to the right mode.


Let’s forget about Risk for a second, and let’s take a look at your life. Do you suffer from mental inertia? Do you sometimes feel that you’re operating on auto-control if even the situation would require a more adequate approach? Are you clear on what modes you need to switch to, depending on your situation?

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