Should You “Burn The Ships”?

An often quoted story in motivational literature involves a Spanish explorer by the name of Cortes that conquered the Aztecs. As the story goes, once all of his men and supplies were on land he set fire to the ships they had arrived on. This effectively cut off any escape and forced his men to fight with no option to retreat. This strategy proved to be successful as his army was victorious in conquering the Aztecs.

There is some debate over whether this story actually happened like it is told. We will probably never know what exactly happened, but the concept of “burning the ships” can be very useful to people with certain personality types. Some people, especially those with “all or nothing” type personalities, must commit fully to a goal if they are to succeed. There can not be any easy escape routes, no option to retreat.

This can be seen clearly when this type of person goes on a diet; they must stick to the diet plan very strictly with little to no cheat meals or they will end up going off their diet, ultimately failing to reach their body composition goals. Certain people just need to have their back against the wall to really motivate them to succeed. For these people the “burn the ships” strategy can actually turn out to be one of the best ways to accomplish their goals.

For other personality types this strategy can prove to be unsuccessful and even disastrous at times. Most people benefit by remaining flexible and keeping their options open, thereby lessening the damage if things do not go as planned.

I am a big proponent of finding what works for you personally, so my takeaway message is this: if your personality fits the first description and you have thus far been unsuccessful in your endeavors, give the “burning the ships” strategy a try. Remove any options that will let you easily quit and refuse to accept any excuses from yourself for why you can’t succeed. Hold yourself accountable for any action or inaction on your part and if possible, find other trustworthy people to help hold you accountable as well.

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3 Comments to “Should You “Burn The Ships”?”

  1. By Tony Papajohn, February 27, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

    Hi Roy!

    You are quite right when you note that “burning the ships” is a good idea for only some personality types. The flaw in many writers is that they presume that “one size fits all” in matters of personal motivation. I suspect that what they mean is “this size fits me” and don’t have the insight into human nature to realize that a certain strategy does not work for everyone.

    In a sense, every motivational meal is best cooked and seasoned to one’s personal taste because that’s the way the mind works.

  • Burn the Ships — February 16, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  • Burning Ships aka Lighting a Match Under Your Ass. « Savory Dish — April 6, 2010 @ 4:26 am

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