Putting your back to the cliff, burning your ships, and throwing your hat over the wall

In ancient Greece, there was a guy called Xenophon the Greek who was being pursued by a huge army of Persians. How cool is Xenophon the Greek as a brand? For some reason Pete the Aussie just doesn't have the same ring to it. But I digress. Back to our friend Xenophon - he decided the time had come to turn and fight. He chose the spot, and one of his generals said "I don't think this is a good spot to make our stand ... there is a cliff behind us, there is no way for us to retreat if things are going badly."

Xenophon said ... "exactly". In fact we are going to march our army until our backs are up to the cliff, and that way the Persians will also know there is no way we can retreat. We are going to fight to death.

The Vikings apparently did something similar. After landing to invade, plunder and pillage legend has it they would burn their ships, again eliminating any chance of retreat.

A slightly less brutal example comes out of Ireland. I remember traveling through Ireland and being struck by not only how green everything was, but also that fences were build from stones rather than posts and wire like we have in Australia. Back in the day it would not be uncommon to come across one of these walls that seemed insurmountable. Upon coming across one of these walls the practice was to throw your hat over the wall. Even if you couldn't see the way over yet, if your hat was on the other side, you had no choice but to work it out.

Nobel prize winning economist Thomas Shelling writes about this approach to commitment in terms of arranging it so that you can't compromise.

I love that idea ... arranging the circumstances so that you can't compromise. That's what a good accountability structure does. It puts your back to the cliff, throws your hat over the wall and arranges your world so that you can't compromise.

When I started my white belt to black belt in 365 days blog declaring to the world that I was aiming to take the revenue in my practice from $10k a month to $60k a month, and was going to blog about my journey, that's exactly what I did. Compromise was no longer an option, it would be too embarrassing. And it worked!

Love to hear your thoughts and experience. How have you created an accountability structure that has locked you in? You can leave your comments below.