My recent birthday brought back to mind a few personal considerations. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame and at the age of twenty-two, I wrote down fifty goals I planned to achieve by my 50th birthday. I was without work during the summer of 1991, having failed to secure a position with Teach for America after making the final cut and now, after graduation, back living with my mother. I returned to live with my mother with the intention of becoming self-sufficient. I told my mother, "If I don't have a job within three months, then throw me out." She was convinced with a little persuasion. I had asked my mother to help me follow the strategy of "Death Ground," where I can learn to feel that I have no other recourse, so I must fight through the struggle to become better than the situation. I found a job.
There is no shame in the struggle. There is no shame in the occasional failure. There is shame, however, when the struggle is avoided because of a fear of failure, and that shame will trickle into your subconsciousness as time goes by. We all experience this fear, but we all do not experience being on what Sun Tzu referred to as Death Ground until the end of our lives. We actively think that avoiding situations that make us act as if our lives depended on it are to be avoided. No. They are to be embraced, because that fear of failure can energize you to act in your best interest. For example, imagine you are backed up to the overlook of an ocean, and the fall will kill you. There are three people chasing you and you are trapped. What will you do? Will you fight? Feel and channel the energy into finding a solution.
Creating your own psychological death ground, with real consequences, can be energizing against failure and self-doubt. I use this approach periodically, in specific areas of my life, to energize me into improvements. I have a year left to achieve some of the goals I had written years ago. To achieve these goals, I assessed the need for more time, and to avoid wasting time. I believe I need more money, so I need to change my consumption. I assessed that some habits interfere with my focus and concentration. So then, I will trim those activities off my daily behaviors. The act of elimination is never easy but like the broken, dried limbs of a plant, trimming those limbs will only make the plant stronger.
Set the goal(s) in mind and make them salient everyday. Let the goal be a part of a trimmed habit, to lend the energy in keeping up with the steps toward your goal. Think of the ocean of lost time, and the three attackers (entertainment, distractions, fear) that want to take your time by dropping you into the ocean. To be a better father, mother, husband, or wife. Be a better friend or entrepreneur. Be on Death Ground.