The One-Ball Lesson

The One-Ball Lesson

Sept. 4, 2020

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“Burn the ships!”

I’m seeing that motivational ploy all around the internet lately.

Is it a good strategy?

Of course, “burn the ships” refers to the military commander who landed his boats on an enemy’s shore. Outnumbered, the commander ordered the troops to burn all the ships. Why? So that there were no other options. Either they win the battle or they die. There was no option of running away.

Sounds motivating, does it not?

It dramatically puts our mindset in the place it needs to be. With no options, there’s only one thing to do: focus everything on succeeding.

Unfortunately, we don’t know all the examples where the ships were burned and the armies were defeated. Or the businesses that were started with, “Failure is not an option!” and then failed shortly thereafter.

Burning the ships might be a recipe for disaster.

But does it have any merit? Can the philosophy be utilized without the unnecessary death threat?

A while ago, I was getting ready for a lesson at the club. I noticed no one was there. No one at the desk, no one on the courts.

Then I realized that the club was locked. I couldn’t get my basket of balls. It was three minutes till my lesson. What were my options?

I could get back on my ships and cancel the lesson.

Or I could improvise and do the best with what I had.

What did I have?

I had one ball in the side pocket of my bag.

Is it possible to teach someone new to the game with only one ball? If she can’t make ten in a row normally, how will only using one ball work?

Probably terribly.

But I was optimistic nonetheless.

So, I asked her if she wanted to ignore the ships. No need to burn them. We could always just cancel and try again later.

She was game.

And it worked.

Even though she was a beginner, she focused because she knew we only had one ball.

She made ten balls in a row over and over again.

It was the best lesson she ever had.

The moral of the story?

Burning the ships is unnecessary and dangerous.

Retreating back to the ships at the first sign of trouble is self-defeating.

But forgetting the ships and laser-focusing on the task at hand is powerful.

Sometimes, one ball is enough.


My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.