Death Ground & Deadlines

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Anthony Pica
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Death Ground & Deadlines

Death Ground & Deadlines

Imagine an army, backed up against a river, nowhere to go. The enemy is directly ahead. Flight is not an option: it's either fight or be destroyed.

The cornered army musters up the strength and resolve necessary to overcome the challenge. Despite their disadvantage and smaller size, they outmaneuver the enemy and win.

When there's no escape, soldiers tend to double or triple their spirits.  An increased sense of urgency emerges and determination to survive becomes overwhelming.

Military strategist Sun Tzu a few thousand years ago coined this psychological phenomenon as Death Ground.

"In difficult ground, press on; On hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge; In death ground, fight."
— Sun Tzu

On some occasions, death ground was used intentionally as a strategy to motivate soldiers to fight harder, survive, and win.

At first thought, a concept from a few thousand years ago might not seem relevant to us today, but it's useful to ask "how can I apply old ideas in new ways?"

You can use Sun Tzu's death ground concept in your personal and professional life as a strategy to get stuff done.

How? Set a deadline to create motivation and a promise of delivery.

With Death Ground & Deadlines, you can turn a perceived disadvantage into a real advantage.

By giving yourself a target date to complete a project, you're putting yourself in a difficult position—just like an army backed up against a river. Take advantage of a finite period of time (fabricated by a deadline) to motivate yourself. To work hard. To create something of value.

Scarcity of time increases the value of time. The more you value your time, the more you use it wisely.

The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds. Our attention and thoughts become diffused. Our lack of intensity makes it hard for the brain to jolt into a higher gear. The connections do not occur. For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured.
— Robert Greene, Mastery

And if there's a negative consequence of not meeting the deadline, even better.

Here's an example. When I get tech certifications, I don't wait until I'm comfortable to schedule the exam. Instead, I schedule the exam when I feel like I would get a 50% passing grade. I pick a date about 5 days in the future, pay the exam fee, and set a deadline for myself.

As a result, I switch into high gear performance mode and concentrate 100% of my attention on learning as efficiently as possible. Indeed, the death ground strategy is how I got 4 Salesforce certifications in 4 months.

Because I set myself a deadline, and because I would lose a couple hundred dollars if I didn't pass the exam, I worked hard and focused hard.

You can use Sun Tzu's death ground concept in your personal and professional life as a strategy to get stuff done.
— Anthony Pica

Having an exam date + paying an exam fee is analogous to being backed up against a river. No one wants to fail a test and waste money.

When I don't have a deadline set, I tend to study with a semi-focused mindset over a longer period of time while succumbing to various distractions. In other words, my time is perceived as less valuable.

Deadlines make time scarce and thus more valuable.

You can fabricate a temporary hardship, such as a deadline, to leverage Sun Tzu's death ground strategy. You can back yourself up against an imagined river to increase your spirit and motivate yourself to get stuff done.

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