Only YOU can prevent forest fires!
– Smokey the Bear
Despite Smokey the Bear‘s fear campaign, not all forest fires are bad.
Fire is actually an essential part of forest ecology. In addition to clearing out combustible trees, brush and leaves, it stimulates the germination of new trees. In fact, cones from sequoia trees require the heat from fire to open and disperse seeds.
But we spent much of the 20th century trying to stop all forest fires. We damaged ecosystems and created tinder boxes for huge, hot, destructive fires. We ended up killing many of our forests with our kindness.
We do the same thing in our organizations, in our relationships, and in our lives. We label the fires of change, conflict and constraints as bad—and we avoid them at all costs.
Just as forestry experts now use controlled fires to burn off dangerous undergrowth, here are 3 things you need to burn if you want a healthy life, authentic relationships or a streamlined organization:
• Bad Habits. I never fall off the wagon—if it was that abrupt, I’d realize it was happening. For me, unhealthy living begins with an innocent snack here or there, a missed workout that’s “not a big deal”, staying up just a little later to finish a blog post. Burn the bad habits. Feel the pain of discipline and let it set you free.
• Bad Behaviors. Over time we tend to let more and more slide with those we are closest to. The biting sarcasm that’s gone too far. The lack of follow-up on commitments. The erosion of standards we both once held. What behaviors are you overlooking in your spouse, friends, coworkers, or clients? Set those decaying behaviors ablaze and start over fresh.
• Bad Commitments. Every organization I’ve ever been a part of has suffered from mission creep. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of a Fortune 100 company or a local community board, the temptation—especially after success—to add initiatives that don’t align with your core mission is inescapable. Sear away the distractions and cling to your guiding purpose.
Bad habits, bad behaviors and bad commitments accumulate slowly and inconspicuously—like fallen tree limbs and dead leaves. Soon, not only is new growth stunted—in your organization, in your relationships, in yourself—but you’ve got a layer of dead things that are ready to erupt at any moment.
So don’t be afraid of fire. Use it wisely; use it often.
What else would you add to this list? What will you burn today?