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Joe Simpson’s Life-Or-Death Decision

Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were already seasoned mountaineers when they made a daring first ascent of a 21,000 ft peak in South America.

They traveled light and took an aggressive route that left pretty much zero margin for error.

If they got stuck during the climb, it was game over: there was no rescue helicopter, no backup, no Plan B.

It was either reach the summit or die trying.

Insane stuff.

And you know what? They beat the odds and made it to the top.

Which sounds like the end of a cute little anecdote about positive thinking and self-belief.

But disaster struck on the descent when Simpson fell and smashed his right leg.

The instant it happened, he knew he was done for - a broken leg was a death sentence at that altitude with no hope of rescue.

But Yates risked his own life and stuck with his friend, slowly lowering him down the mountain a little at a time with the ropes they carried.

Perhaps they would make it after all.

Suddenly, Simpson became stuck beneath an overhang, and the tension on the rope started to pull Yates off the mountain to his death.

Yates cut the rope and survived, while Simpson plunged 150 ft into the gaping maw of a crevasse.

When he came to, he found himself on a narrow ledge with a vertical ice wall on one side and an abyss on the other.

With his injuries, climbing the ice wall back up to the surface was impossible.

Which left him with a decision: remain on the ledge and slowly freeze to death, or lower himself into the darkness and hope there was another way out.

Despite being a hardened climber he was almost paralyzed with terror.

But he quickly grasped the reality of the situation.

And he lowered himself into the abyss...


Now examples of action versus inaction don’t get much more extreme than that.

But it relates to you and me just the same.

We avoid taking action about pretty much anything: getting in shape, changing careers, or starting a new life.

It’s easier to maintain the status quo and hope that things will somehow just spontaneously change for the better.

Keep breathing, get up each morning and go through the motions.

There’s always tomorrow, right?


While the consequences of inaction aren’t as immediately clear as Simpson faced, they’re present all the same.

They lurk over the horizon, just off the radar until we have our own ledge moment in the doctor’s office or after climbing a long flight of stairs.

This stuff isn’t going to go away just because we ignore it.

And you know something else?

Every time we fail to make a decision and take action, we lose some of our mojo.

So we end up a little bit less able to make a decision and take action the next time around.

And so it goes - a downward spiral to learned helplessness.

But there’s some good news.

As we know from Smash Your Comfort Zone, our action-taking mojo works just like a muscle.

If we don’t use it, it gets small and weak.

But if we use it regularly, it gets stronger.

And the more we use it, the stronger it gets.

So the bigger stuff you tackle, the easier it is to take on even bigger stuff.

That’s how Metallica can play in front of 80,000 people, and Richard Branson can start businesses all over the world.


To them it’s not that hard!

Why? Because they started small and made consistent incremental progress to get to where they are now.

And it will work for us too.

We can all set long-lasting change in motion today.

Like maybe you have a latte habit that’s spiraling out of control.

Or perhaps you’ve been intending to take a 15-minute walk every lunchtime for months now.

Whatever it is, I’m sure there’s something you want to start doing (or stop doing), but have been putting off.

Well, now is the time to make a decision and start putting it into action.

And it doesn’t matter how small that first step is, the most important thing is that you take it.

Then it's just a case of building momentum and moving in the right direction.

That’s exactly how Joe Simpson managed to escape from the crevasse and save his own life.

We can all do the same.

- Tim

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Images: Bigstock

Reference: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

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