Remove Your Safety Net For Motivation To Achieve Goals

Remove Your Safety Net For Motivation To Achieve Goals

Conventional wisdom says you should always have a backup in case you can’t do what you set out to do. But sometimes the best motivation can be to get rid of of any safety net and leave yourself no choice apart from achieving your goals.

Zachary Sexton writes an anecdote on Medium to illustrate this idea:

When Hernán Cortés and 600 men arrived in Mexico in 1519, after a long and treacherous voyage across the Atlantic, he gave a rather interesting order.

“Burn the boats.”

The Spanish conquistador’s order was given prior to his stunning mission of battling, defeating and plundering the riches of the entire Aztec Empire.

Or so legend has it.

There is a similar lore about Alexander the Great and the strategy is repeated in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. As Sexton explains, the “burn the boats” strategy eliminates an obstacle in meeting your goals: the thought that you have a failsafe. It forces you to give it everything you have since there’s no other option.

The article is worth reading as it goes on to illustrate how you can use this to beat procrastination. In fact, we recommend adopting the strategy to fix your sleep and wake up on time.

Burn the Boats [Medium]


  • This may or may not be a good idea, but the article is completely ahistorical.

    In burning his boats, Cortés wasn’t committing himself—he had done that by rebelling against Velázquez when he invaded Mexico, violating his orders—rather, he was denying his men the opportunity to easily betray him.

    Alexander the Great didn’t burn his train to commit himself, rather to manage the logistical problems he was going to face once he entered enemy territory. Up until the invasion of Persia, he had been campaigning in areas occupied by Persia, and so he was able to present himself as a liberator. Once he was invading Persia he could no longer rely on the negotiated surrender of cities in advance, and so he burnt the train to cut the amount of forage, food, and water required by over half.

    The lesson to be drawn from this is that sometimes you need to avoid half-measures. Sometimes the safety net comes at the cost of risking the project itself. The moral is to have the courage to accept the consequences of your decisions.

Log in to comment on this story!