Point of No Return

How to spot problems before they happen

The nature of time does not care if you keep your promises; it marches on without that consideration. To guard and protect the life of your promise, you will need contemplation on multiple levels. We have a tactic that can be helpful to your journey. We call it the POINT OF NO RETURN and it can be a fundamental change in how you look at time.

Here is our 5-step process on how to spot problems before they happen: 

1. Understand the mechanics of your point of no return

Let’s say you promise your friend you will show up at 5:00 pm to pick them up from a doctor’s appointment. Then you show up at 5:35 pm At what moment was the promise broken? Maybe 5:01 pm, right? Or was it broken at 4:30 pm because you didn’t leave work with enough time? Or was it broken the day before because you didn’t ask your boss if you could leave early? Or was it broken the second you made the promise to your friend because you knew your boss was never going to approve your leaving early in the first place?

You crossed a point somewhere along the way, where your promise was unsavable. We call this moment the POINT OF NO RETURN. It’s the moment where the current plan will fail if no adjustments are made. But with the right efforts, you can change the point of no return. To do that, you will often need to apply step two with yourself AND with others…

2. Travel the timeline

Most people are not in the practice of measuring points of no return as a daily practice. In fact, some may interpret your concern that things will go wrong as paranoia. That is why you need to walk the timeline with them. Start in the present moment, describe each step it takes to keep the promise from here, and show them the moment where the plan falls apart. Don’t assume it’s obvious to everyone. Here’s an example of how a discussion like this might be structured. 

Scenario: You and your spouse are Volunteer Race Managers for a charitable 5K run downtown that starts at 9:00 am. You two are responsible for getting the race started and no one else knows how to do that. Even though the race isn’t for a couple of hours, you already know you are late because you believe you have passed a point of no return. Your spouse doesn’t seem worried, so you say something (like the following suggestion) to get them on the same page:

  • It’s 7:00 am now, we are still at the house and the kids need to be dropped off at their grandparents before we go to the fundraiser.
  • The kids need to be fed, dressed and their stuff loaded into the car. Usually that takes us an hour which has us leaving the house at 8:00 am. 
  • It takes 30 minutes to get there and it’s in the opposite direction of the fundraiser. Adding for traffic, that will take us 90 minutes total, which would put us at the fundraiser at 9:30 am. And that doesn’t account for parking the car, paying for parking and walking (however far) to the fundraiser location. If we add that, we are going to be 45 minutes late and the race will not start on time. 
  • If we actually want to be on time, we need to ask the grandparents to come pick the kids up. If we don’t do that, we are going to break our promise to get things started on time. And a lot of people waiting at that starting line may choose not to support the charity by participating in the race next year.”

That last sentence is very important because it communicates consequences. A lot of people assume that others understand the consequences of broken promises, but that is often not the case. “Being late” is usually NOT the big deal…it’s the domino effect of what comes after being late that needs to be said.

3. Procure and apply additional resources

If you’ve crossed one point of no return, the only way to keep your promise is to create a new point of no return with an alternative plan. This usually requires additional resources. It could mean paying for overnight shipping, asking a friend to help you out, or even paying someone else to keep your promise for you. None of these are ideal solutions, but sometimes there is no other way out. This is why wealthy people with strong personal networks are sometimes better able to “save” their promises; they have the funding to erase problems of their own creation. That is not necessarily fair, but it seems to be true in many cases.

4. Don’t just measure once

Measuring your point of no return should happen several times during the life of your promise. It’s not just one moment. Even when you fix your first problem, a second one is lurking out there somewhere. Worrying is often seen in a negative light, but in moderation, worrying saves promises. Once in a while, ASSUME you’re about to cross a point of no return and walk the timeline forward to see if you can spot it. 

5. Teach others before it happens again

Trying to teach this concept in the heat of a moment is not productive. You’re usually short on time and need to focus on problem-solving, not some lecture.  If you and those around you understand the “point of no return” BEFORE your promise starts, you will all be ready (and likely more willing) to act on a moment’s notice instead of having some drawn-out debate at a critical time. Even still, explaining this “point of no return” over and over again to people in your life will get exhausting, but it does make a difference.

Thought-Provoking/Discussion Questions for You, Your Team or Family

  • Do you think you worry more than the average person? Do you think worrying affects your mental health?
  • Do you have back-up plans or protocol anywhere in your life? If so, where and why?
  • Do you feel like you are usually early, on time or late? What behaviors contribute to how you classify your timeliness?