Remove Your Options2 min read

Doubt is uncertainty—about yourself, your path, or your goal. It pulls you back, slows you down, and dissipates your energy. You hesitate to move forward, or you move forward half-heartedly. No meaningful goal can be achieved this way. We need the whole of you to step forward, please.

In the ancient Chinese military manual, The Art of War, the strategist Sun Tzu advises: “When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” When people believe that there is no way out, they fight with all their might, tapping into strength hitherto unknown.

We can apply the same principle and the opposite strategy to our daily lives, giving ourselves no way out. When we have no option but to make a change, then we will work for that change wholeheartedly. When we have to succeed, we will. There is no room for doubts, so no doubts come. This inner intensity greatly accelerates our growth.

In Buddhism there is a saying: “Meditate as if your head is on fire.” When your head is on fire you are not distracted. You don’t have competing priorities. And you are most definitely not thinking about lunch. 

If you have to earn an extra thousand dollars in the next two weeks to pay for the medication of your terminally ill child, you will find a way to do it. You won’t procrastinate, get distracted, or doubt yourself. You will focus and move forward with all your might.

When we have other options besides failure—a plan B, C, and D—it is harder to generate that intense type of energy. It is easier to get distracted from the goal, make excuses, or simply not take action. When you know that you will fall on a comfortable cushion, you are not so focused on walking well. Part of you is indifferent.

Needless to say, this particular method is more extreme. It won’t suit every type of person, nor every type of goal. Yet the core lesson applies to everyone: the more committed you are, the less you will doubt. So if everything else fails, remove all your other options. This method will not fail you.

A determined person advances toward his goal like an arrow toward its target. 

Is that you? If not, why not?

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.

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