Benjamin Hardy is a doctoral candidate in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Clemson University. His research throughout his graduate studies has focused on a unique concept he calls “The Point of No Return.”
In this article, Hardy will detail what a Point of No Return entails, what it looks like, what it feels like, and what happens once you’ve crossed that threshold.
It Starts With 100 Percent Commitment
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” ―William Hutchison Murray
Surfing big waves is a very different sport from surfing small waves. When surfing big waves, the consequences for failure are much higher. Actually, there’s a chance you could even die if you’re not successful. As Indo Surf Life reports:
“It takes a certain type of person to want to surf big waves, when the horizon goes black and a huge wall of water is bearing down on you, you have to want that wave in order to make it! If you hesitate or aren’t fully committed you are going to get eaten!”
To catch and ride a big wave, you must be 100 percent committed. If there is any hesitancy whatsoever, you will fail. You may even fail if you fully commit. But the only way you might succeed is if you’re dead set on seeing it to the end.
When you’re fully committed to something, you have a different posture than if you’re only partially committed. When partially committed, you’re hesitant. You’re not confident. You’re unsure and undetermined. However, once you become dead set on something, all of the mental fog goes away. You become clear on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You stop thinking about the other options available to you. As Dr. Barry Schwartz has said in the book, The Paradox of Choice, “Knowing that you’ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than constantly second-guessing it.”
According to Hardy, jumping into a highly demanding situation requires the same commitment as catching a big wave. Sometimes, in order to even get into demanding situations, you need to cross beyond a point of no return. You need to be so committed that turning back is literally not an option. Once you’re this committed, in your mind it’s as though you’ve already achieved what you’ve set out to do. You’ve put all your chips in. It’s all or nothing. This is the granddaddy of forcing functions: to create an environment that restricts you from acting against your firmest convictions. One such incident was in 711 AD, when Muslim forces invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Once his force landed on the foreign land, the commander, Tariq ibn Ziyad, ordered his ships to be burned. While his ships were up in flames, Tariq gave the following speech to his men:
“My Dear brothers, we are here to spread the message of Allah. Now, the enemy is in front of you and the sea behind. You fight for His cause. Either you will be victorious or martyred. There is no third choice. All means of escape have been destroyed.”
Benjamin Hardy’s Graduate Research
Hardy has spent his entire doctoral program researching “point of no return” experiences. Specifically, he’s studied the idea of point of no return in relation to entrepreneurship. Over and over he’s seen the same themes. Nearly every person who has actually started a business told me they have experienced a point of no return in some form or another. Conversely, nearly every aspiring or wannabe entrepreneur has yet to have such an experience, although many anticipate one day to cross this threshold.
A point of no return is the very moment you create a situation in which you can’t go back. It involves far more than just thinking about something. It requires a high degree of investment, taking on risk, and altering the role you’re playing. In every instance, a point of no return requires a shift in identity. You go from dreaming about something to actually doing it.
Before you pass a point of no return, you are hesitant and unsure. There remains a chance to draw back. You’re still weighing your options. Thus, your head isn’t entirely in the game. There’s lots of mental cloudiness about the decision and about your future. As a result of this uncertainty, your confidence isn’t optimal about what you’re pursuing. However, once you’ve gone beyond your point of no return, your situation changes dramatically. Immediately, you will feel an increased sense of confidence and clarity. All third options have been removed for you. Your back is now against the wall. Yet, this was a conscious decision. You are the one who put yourself in this position as a forcing function. You weren’t compelled to do this by anyone but yourself.
You passed your point of no return because you know that change only happens when it must happen, when there is no other option. So you were willing to put yourself into a demanding and intimidating situation because you are committed to something beyond yourself. You’re committed to evolving, so much so that you’ve created barriers making it very very difficult, if not impossible, for you to bail on your commitment.
A friend of Hardy’s named Doug works for an innovative home security company called Vivint based in Salt Lake City. One evening several years ago, Doug was with one of the leaders of the company, Casey. Casey told Doug that he had a lot of potential and could sell well. He then invited Doug to increase his commitment by taking on a new role. “Instead of simply selling security systems, why don’t you recruit a team and manage that team?” Casey asked Doug. This conversation opened Doug’s eyes and got him excited. That night, he decided he was going to commit the next five years to Vivint and see where that took him. Leadership, Doug realized, was a role available at any time to everyone. And it was available right now.
Within a few weeks, Doug had recruited a few members of his new team, which for him was a point of no return. Now there was no backing out. He didn’t want to have a Plan B. “When you have a Plan B, it’s easy to stop working when it’s a hot day and you’re not selling,” Doug said during a Vivint training. Once he recruited a few team members, he had people looking to him as their leader. He was now in a new role with far more responsibility. This not only locked him into Vivint, but it provided the traction for him to reach the next level of his personal evolution. He was able to be someone different than he had been in his past. In his words, “I had to train these new people and I knew they were counting on me as their leader. So I had to fulfill. I couldn’t quit once I was that far in. I was two feet in and I couldn’t quit at that point.”
Anything less than 100 percent commitment and you will succumb to internal resistance and eventually fall back into old patterns and environments. Only those who are 100 percent committed to something are willing to change themselves for that thing. If you’re committed to a relationship, you’ll change yourself to make it work. If you’re committed to a craft, you’ll change yourself to achieve excellence. This may require letting go of relationships, addictions, or beliefs that would stop you from making the changes you need to make. Ultimately, you must become a new person with a new identity if you’re truly committed to something. That level of commitment freaks most people out. It’s a price most people aren’t willing to pay. As Steven Kotler has written, “This is what the self-help books don’t tell you. Fully alive and deeply committed is a risky business. Once you strip away the platitudes, a life of passion and purpose will always cost, as T.S. Eliot reminds us, ‘Not less than everything.’”
Benjamin Hardy is nearing the conclusion of his doctoral program. His first book, The Proximity Effect, covers in much greater detail how to create point of no return experiences.
What will your point of no return be?