Should You “Burn The Ships”?

An often quoted story in motivational literature features a Spanish Conquistador by the name of Hernán Cortés that conquered the Aztecs. As the story goes, once all of his men and supplies were on land he set fire to their ships. This forced his men to fight with no option to retreat. This “Burn the Ships” strategy proved to be successful as his army was victorious in defeating the Aztecs.


Some People MUST Burn the Ships

There is some debate over whether this story actually happened like it is told. Nevertheless, the concept of “burning the ships” can be very useful to people with certain personality types. People with an “all or nothing” type personality must commit fully to a goal if they are to succeed. There can not be any easy escape routes. There must be no option to retreat, because it is human nature to take the path of least resistance.


All In to Win

This can be seen clearly when this type of person goes on a diet. They must stick to the diet plan very strictly with few or no cheat meals. If they don’t, they will end up going off their diet and fail 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 be one of the best ways to accomplish their goals.


Not Everyone Should Burn the Ships

For other personality types this strategy can prove to be unsuccessful, and even disastrous. They will benefit more by remaining flexible and keeping their options open. By doing so, they will lessen the damage if things do not go as planned.


Find What Works for You

I am a strong advocate of finding what works best for you personally. If you have an “all or nothing” personality and have thus far been unsuccessful in your endeavors, give the “burn the ships” strategy a try. Remove any options that will let you easily quit. Refuse to accept any excuses from yourself for why you can’t succeed. Hold yourself accountable for any action (or inaction) on your part. Finally, find other trustworthy people to help hold you accountable.

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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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