“When your army has crossed the border,
you should burn your boats and bridges,
in order to make it clear to everybody
that you have no hankering after home.”
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The past is seductive, my friend.
Regardless of whether our past is full of victories or stocked with defeat, our inclination is to look back on it. To be defined by it, believe its stories about our future. But if you want to win tomorrow, you have to stop retreating to the past.
This tendency explains the former athletes whose later years seem tragic as they live as a caricature of themselves in their glory days. But it also explains the person who was abused as a child by a relative who should have been a protector. They struggle their whole lives with trust issues, and with the idea that something is so fundamentally broken in them that they can never be whole.
These are extreme examples, but most of us live with some aspect of this issue:
- Anger problems towards people in your current life stemming from an inability to forgive someone in your past.
- Feeling like a failure because you can’t recreate or live up to previous triumphs.
- Uncertainty in decision making because of previous business failures.
- Problems with fear or anxiety because of previous trauma.
- Sadness and depression that seem insurmountable because of past losses, breakups, or grief.
This list, of course, is far from complete.
I once heard a speaker at a men’s conference say that all men should be spending time mentoring younger men. I realized that I’d avoided doing this since my son died. I’d pretty much kept to myself (writing is different; when writing, you can dispense good advice without the reader questioning your credibility to do so). I hadn’t shared my time with other men, hadn’t poured my experience into them.
It dawned on me that I had disqualified myself from mentoring men because I lost my son.
My inner voice said, “You have no validity in speaking of raising sons, since one of yours died.”
As a Christian, I knew that this voice was the enemy’s. The limiting story is almost always from the adversary.
But as I said, the past is seductive.
The past draws your mind toward itself, like a moth to a flame. It invites you in, where you’re comfortable, because it’s easier than trying to create a new future for yourself.
It’s easier to avoid relationships than to overcome the fear of rejection you have since your spouse was unfaithful to you.
It’s easier to stay in your unchallenging job than to push through the shame of that time you started your own business and went bankrupt than to try something new.
It’s always easier to rest in the story your past tells you than to believe you could write a new one. (Click here to Tweet that!)
Even if the past is painful, it’s what you know. It’s what you believe to be true of yourself, and it’s scary to allow yourself to even consider that those definitions might be false or changeable.
But what of the future? The only certain thing is that if we don’t change today we’ll be the same tomorrow.
It’s easier for us to be drawn to the flame of the past, because there we don’t have to change.
You’re reading this, though, because you’ve decided you don’t want to live in the past anymore.
We want to become healthier (in all the ways that matter: mind, body, spirit, work and relationships).
We want to feel better.
We want to be happier.
And that quest, my friend, requires us to go to war.
We must attack our limiting stories.
As Sun Tzu said, we must burn our boats and bridges. Because if we leave ourselves easy access to the comfort of our past, we will inevitably go there to seek shelter. As crazy as it sounds- who would rather define themselves as unlovable than to try to seek real love? Who would suffer poverty because they were afraid to seek wealth?- your heart knows what I mean. Given the choice when the battle becomes intense, we have a propensity to run towards the shelter of what we’ve previously known.
We must burn the boats and bridges.
But how, you might ask, can I have a different reality when the changes I need to make are so huge? It’s too much, you might say.
Just ask yourself one question:
If I want to conquer this issue, what is one small step I can take towards the goal?
Once you have identified one small step- one thing- that would prove helpful in your quest, then there’s only one thing left to do.
You start today.
Need to lose fifty pounds? Cut 500 calories from your diet today. (That’s three soft drinks, for example). That one change will produce one pound of weight loss every week.
Need to quit smoking? Smoke one less cigarette today. Reduce your habit by one cigarette as often as you can tolerate it. Start with one, today.
Need to get out of debt? Find one thing you can live without that you consistently spend money on, and discipline yourself to apply that money towards your debt. One thing. But find it today.
One thing, one step, one less, one conversation, one act of forgiveness. These one things will set your feet on the path.
But once you’ve moved onto the battlefield, you must burn your boats and bridges.
If you want tomorrow to look different than yesterday, you start today.
I found someone to mentor. One man, one meeting, one opportunity for me to stop listening to the limiting voice and to start sharing my heart and my experience with someone else, someone not as far along the path as I am. I’m starting with one.
What will you do, my friend?
The book-a-week challenge is in week seven! Click here to see what we’re reading this week!