Sink or Swim: How to Get to the Next Level of Your Life Before You Feel Ready

“We talk about “sink or swim,” but there’s not as much sinking going on as you might expect. There’s a fair amount of treading water, a whole lot of people unwilling to get into the pool at all, but not so much sinking” -Seth Godin

Recently, I decided to throw all my chips into pursuing my dream of becoming a top-tier writer.

I’m no longer looking for a job after having finished my Accounting degree, and I’ll tell you, its felt a bit like being pushed into the deep end of the swimming pool; I either sink or swim.

The waters are now up to my neck and I’m having to do everything I can to not only survive, but also thrive.

And while this might seem risky, putting yourself into such high demanding situations is actually the most effective way to get to the next level of your life before you feel ready.

Here’s why.

Nothing Happens until You Burn the Boats

“If you want to take the island, then burn your boats. With absolute commitment come the insights that create real victory.” -Tony Robbins

There’s an old story from 1519, where Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés led his army to the shores of Mexico in the hopes of overthrowing the Aztec Empire.

Upon arrival, he did something remarkable and quite strange; he instructed his own men to burn the same ships they’d arrived in.

Why? Because when you burn the boats, you burn your options. You can no longer go back the way you’ve come. You either go forward and succeed or you stand still and die.

With such high stakes, a powerful mental shift occurs:

You no longer have to question how you’re going to act.

The situation is so demanding of you, that you’ve already decided how you’re going to act and now must move with full force in your desired direction.

The reason I give you this history lesson is that you very well can operate from this same metal space on daily basis. You can get to the point where you act on your goals out of compulsion, rather than it simply being another option.

Creating such a demanding environment will be a matter of either,

  1. Making a high investment into your goals.
  2. Making success your only option.

When you make a high investment into your goals, you increase your emotional attachment to those goals. The more emotionally attached you are to a goal, to more you’ll be driven to achieve it.

Hence, the bigger the investment; the bigger the emotional attachment, and the more likely you are to push forward in the pursuit of that goal.

Secondly, making success your only option would involve raising the stacks for yourself and playing your whole hand. You put all your chips on the table and force yourself to move in your desired direction.

If you want to travel the world, then buy your ticket before you have enough money to pay for the trip.

If you want to be a full-time writer, then you quit your day job before you’re making enough to survive.

In such situations, your ability will be doubled if not 10x’s. Said Will Durant,

“I think the ability of the average man could be doubled if it were demanded, if the situation demanded.”

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

You’ll Never Know If You Made the Right or Wrong Choice

“Scared about making the wrong choice? You won’t ever know if you did. Cognitive dissonance won’t let you.” -Ryan Holiday

The reason most people don’t want to burn their boats is that they’re scared about making the “wrong choice.”

They think it’s an easier and safer bet to approach a new goal while leaving their ships at shore in case something goes wrong.

However, without such a demanding environment, it’s easier just to not do the work and their back up plans become their life.

As Benjamin P. Hardy once wrote,

“[Most people are] hedging their bets, creating several backup plans in case their dreams don’t quite work out. Ironically, they end up dedicating the majority to their backup plans, and that becomes their life”

While you can read all the books, watch all the YouTube videos, and create all the backup plans in the world, at some point you’re gonna have to leave them all behind and burn the boats.

You’re gonna have to stop clinging onto sides and put yourself into a situation where you either sink or swim.

It’s only when you let go of your instinctual need for safety that you can truly thrive.

In Conclusion

While most people will tell you that it’s good to have options, actually the opposite is true. To a degree, the fewer options you have, the freer you are. The more you can focus on what really matters and leave the trivial behind.

You need to burn the boats and remove your options. Make your only option to move forward and succeed. If you’re scared about making the wrong choice; don’t worry, you’ll never know if you did.