When the doctor says you’re going to die

​“I’ve got chest pains. I’m coughing all the time. I’m out of breath going up the stairs. What can I do?”


“But… I can’t. I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve tried. I can’t do it. There must be something else.”

“If you don’t, the chest pains will get worse. It will hurt to swallow. Your heart will work overtime. You might have a heart attack. Your risk of getting cancer…”

“What if I smoked less?” 

“… will increase. You’re slowly and painfully going to die.”

It’s easier to quit smoking when the doctor tells us we’re going to die. Most people don’t want to die. So they let the doctor make the decision for them. The doctor decides it’s in their best interest to quit. So they do.

Life’s easier when the burden of choice is lifted from our backs.

That’s why professional services are so prevalent.

We all know we should eat better, move more and try to be more healthy. 

But to do so requires effort. You have to learn how to sort the true from the false. You have to figure out who to listen to and who not to. Then you have to take all of the information and convert it into a useful format that you can apply in your own life.

That’s hard, so you get a personal trainer, or follow a diet you see online, or try out an exercise program a friend is on.

Say you’re in a job that you don’t enjoy. In fact, maybe you detest it.

You want to quit but it pays the bills. Plus it’s not that bad. But you could find something better. Something more suited to your skills and attitude. But what if you don’t find it right now?

The flip-flopping between leave and stay is endless. Until you get fired.

The decision’s been made for you. You’ve got to move on now. You’ve got to adapt and learn. You’ve got to try something you wouldn’t normally have had you been stuck in that job.

In The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene describes how to “create a sense of urgency and desperation” by placing yourself on “death ground”:

​“You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Since nothing seems urgent to you, you are only half involved in what you do. The only way to change is through action and outside pressure. Put yourself in situations where you have too much at stake to waste time or resources–if you cannot afford to lose, you won’t. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory where you must depend on your wits and energy to see you through. Place yourself on “death ground,” where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive.”

​You can put yourself on death ground through the use of contracts, verbal agreements, accountability partners, public commitments and deadlines.

On the home page of my blog, it says, “I write daily about mastery, strategy & practical philosophy.”

That’s putting myself on death ground. I’ve said that I will publish every day, so I do.

Sun Tzu describes the impact of placing soldiers on death ground in The Art of War:

​“Put them in a spot where they have no place to go, and they will die before fleeing. If they are to die there, what can they not do? Warriors exert their full strength. When warriors are in great danger, then they have no fear. When there is nowhere to go they are firm, when they are deeply involved they stick to it. If they have no choice, they will fight.”

​You can place yourself on death ground, or someone else can put you there. Either way, the outcome is the same: You have no choice. You must fight.

If there’s something that must be done but you cannot bring yourself to do it, the use of a death ground strategy could be the way to accomplish it.