Burn the boats, cut the hair

I pulled out the clippers. I don’t need hair where I’m going. And why hold onto it anyway – it’s just going to fall out sooner or later. Last thing I need is clumps of hair coming out of my head. So I decided to shave it off in one decisive moment. This’ll happen on my terms.

There is no commitment without surrender. It’s interesting because committing to an action seems on the surface to be the opposite of surrender. Surrender implies defeat whereas commitment suggests aims toward some success/desired outcome. But the reason commitment is also surrender is because alternate paths and options are cut off. And paths are seldom linear things – we must surrender to the unknown obstacles that we’ll encounter while moving toward the goal. The only options left are to work the problem minus distractions of alternate paths – which helps focus on creative solutions. Only a singular focus on the mission remains. Surrender to the path.

A historical example I always loved is that on invading Mexico Cortez is said to have told his men to burn the ships so they could not retreat (I think it’s accurate but I’ll stand corrected if my history is off). They would conquer the land or die trying. This move constitutes a brilliant pre-emptive strike. But instead of attacking the enemy it’s an attack on one’s own psyche, on team morale, toward maintaining clarity on the mission. No surrender. No alternatives. Success or death.

Lest this get too abstract I think a concrete exercise might help illustrate.

Here’s something I’ve done over the years, maybe it’ll work for you (it’s not for everyone): If you live by some body of cold water, say the Pacific ocean as I do, commit to going in. New Englanders – this will work for you too, especially effective if it’s not summer:). And no wetsuits either. Go in and cover your head. Stay in for 2-5 minutes or longer. MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: check w/your doctor first if you have medical issues!

It’s scary to jump into 55 degree h20. Your body will say no. But if you truly commit then your mind will say YES. And you will be proud when you’re done.

What I love about this is the levels at which the exercise works. First off there are real stakes involved (physical pain, though transient and tolerable). There’s a decision to do this. There’s fear/apprehension and of course surrender when you shut the car door and are left in your undies/swimsuit staring at the freezing cold water. There’s stages of entry: feet, knees, waist, head – all potential fail points as each step gets progressively “harder”. Once you’re in there’s the shock of cold and the body’s withdrawal reflex to get out asap! Then there’s the battle of the body against the mind. How strong is your will? Here’s where you test your mettle. Are you tough enough to stay in and do as you said? Or will you give in to the desires of the body. Finally, there’s the payoff, the satisfaction of executing your plan. For this example the satisfaction works on 2 levels: a) the mental satisfaction of doing a hard thing, b) the endorphin release. Speaking personally this is among the most sure-fire methods for getting high naturally. I’m not sure if this is the case for everyone but I feel reborn every time I do this. There’s nothing like it.

Try it out. Let me know how it works for you.

moment of truth

the new do
Uh, looked better the other way