Pay Up and Get Out

One of the best pieces of lifestyle advice I’ve ever read was in Harry Browne’s book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.” It’s also the best way I know of to make a change.

Harry wrote, “Pay the price to get out of your boxes.”

“Boxes” can come in many forms, but I’m basically referring to a situation you’ve trapped yourself in. Something that’s holding you back, making you unhappy, and preventing you from living the life of your choice.

An example might be that you’re trapped in an unhappy relationship. Or you told a lie and you’re living in fear of being found out. Or perhaps you made some bad investments that are continuing to cost you money that could otherwise be spent on fulfilling your purpose.

Browne’s strategy involves first accepting responsibility for the situation. You’re not saying you’re to blame necessarily, or that what happened to get you in there was fair. But it’s a waste of time to argue those points, because it does nothing but distract you from the solution.

Instead, simply accept that things didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Then sit down, detach from the situation, and figure out what the price is to get yourself out of it.

Every escape-from-the-box comes with a price, and much of the discomfort we suffer is a direct result of trying to avoid that price — or trying to find a way out of the situation for free.

Let’s look at the three examples mentioned above. The price of ending your unhappy relationship might involve the discomfort involved in confronting that person, a shouting match or tears, and maybe even an expensive divorce.

The price of your lie might be the shame you feel upon admitting it, and the efforts you must go to in order to reestablish a reputation of honesty.

And the price of a bad investment might be paying a set of penalties to get out of a contract.

Whatever it is, you can change your situation immediately — or at least within a very short time — by figuring out the price and getting it over with.

If you’re having trouble going through with it, Browne suggests comparing the price of getting out of your boxes with the price you’re paying by staying there. And don’t forget to assess the freedom you’ll enjoy when you’ve ended the unpleasant situation and you’re able to devote that time or resources to the fulfillment of your Purpose.

This strategy is closely related to another brilliant Browne concept called the Previous Investment Trap.

You’re in the Previous Investment Trap anytime you think that time, effort or money you spent in the past must be considered when making a decision in the present.

Have you ever spent a lot of money on a course and then realized it wasn’t for you? But you just kept slogging away even though you knew a different course would suit you better, simply because you paid so much for it?

Or did you ever purchase something you no longer wanted — a stock or a house or a business — but you couldn’t get rid of it because you were waiting for the price to rise so you’d break even?

Here’s the thing. The money you spent on that course is already gone. Are you going to keep spending your time on it too? Or will you chalk it up to lessons learned, and quit immediately so you can spend your time on something more fulfilling?

The money you lost on that house is no longer relevant. The question is what is it worth right now? And what can you do with that money to improve your position if you were to liquidate it immediately and reinvest in something more closely aligned with your goals?

What matters most is what you have at your disposal right now, and what your current resources will allow you to do for the future.

Recognize your losses, accept them and move on. Don’t try to justify past mistakes by dragging on an unfulfilling situation. Look only towards the future and the changes you can make with your current resources.

Paying the price to get out of your boxes, and the Previous Investment Trap are similar, yet important lessons.

They teach you not to get hung up on past mistakes. And to cut the Gordian Knots of your life Alexander-style so you can focus on the productive actions you can take right now.

If you approach life with these tactics in mind, you’ll eventually get into the habit of assessing the price of a situation before you commit to it. And you’ll be spending your time on positive action, on things you can change.

[Ed. Note: Ryan Murdock is the author of “Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams.” When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. He recently released his first travel book, called “Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America.”]


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  • Excellent principles, so true but sometimes difficult to implement consistently ! The truth will liberate us, so will the courage to cut losses short, forget our pride and move on. Cheers.

  • priyabrat

    nice article again..

  • Patrick Hennessy

    Many years ago, long after I had my last drink, life was still difficult and unsatisfying. Certainly, my life had improved in some areas; I was no longer fighting the physical cravings for alcohol, I wasn’t going to jail, I could remember what I said and did the day before and I became employed and employable. And yet I was unhappy, frustrated, restless and discontent.
    When I revealed my true sense of dissatisfaction with life to my sponsor/mentor, he said to me, “Patrick, sooner or later the patient MUST participate in his own recovery.”
    The first stage of “participating in my own recovery” involved “picking up the tab”. What he meant by that was accepting responsibility for the situations I was in right here, right now in life. He advanced the notion that my life today is simply and EXACT mirror reflection of the choices and decisions that I made yesterday, last week, last month and even 10 years ago. It did not matter what % I was right or wrong on the past – just for me to recognize that if I want a better life tomorrow – it is my best interest to make better decisions TODAY.
    The past holds the key by inventorying the decisions I made that led me to the place I am today – separate the healthy from the un-healthy and stop making the same self-defeating decisions and harboring self imposed thoughts of limitation.
    This proved to be just a beginning – but a VITAL one. No further advancement toward abundance was possible until I “picked up the tab” for my past thoughts, actions and behaviors. At that point I was free from the baggage of the past and the prison of my own thinking; now able to be the architect of my future.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you Patrick, well said

  • Katherine Marcum

    Thanks for sharing. That was a hard lesson to learn. Coming out of the box we have created for ourselves is difficult, be is possible and necessary.

  • Thank you for this article. It’s something I’ve needed to hear on many occasions in my life. It takes courage to leave a bad situation or to admit a mistake but getting out of it pays off in the long haul. The stress of remaining in an untenable situation, or putting off confronting it, can suck the energy out of every day. Pay the price and move on. Today I have phone call on my “to do” list that I’ve been putting off, because I’m worried about the answer I’m going to get. This article has given me to encouragement to go ahead and make that phone call. Thanks for nudging me to do it.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Excellent Judy, thank you.

  • Hello Craig,
    This is one of the most thought provoking, practical, and painfully truthful articles I have read. It hits home in many ways.
    Right now, I am at the point where ‘I am deciding’ to pay the price. It is both a good and bad place for me.
    Thank you for the wake up call.
    Barbara J

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Happy to help, Barbara.

  • Helen

    Hello Craig, I have done the deepest inner work here, on the contest, and feeling many blocks falling off. I am SO OPEN NOW, and trusting. I am going to go back and read all the articles you have here, several a day, and send my appreciative thoughts.
    This is a great article. The contest has given me the support and accountability to let go of my issues with my father, but also to realize that I cannot have any significant other, and do the work I came here to do. That is a life changing realization, has been very painful, but finally, with the support here, I FEEL SAFE ENOUGH TO DO WHAT I HAVE TO DO NOW….let go,,,, and MOVE FORWARD ON MY OWN, WITH THE UNIVERSE BEHIND ME……THANK YOU! for all of your help……h

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Happy to be of assistance!

  • I was going to leave an original comment of my own
    until I read Patrick’s above. So I’ll just restate what
    he said:

    Participate in your own recovery. Then pick up the tab.
    Those 9 words say it all.

    This is me tipping my virtual cap to you, Patrick.
    Well done. Well done, indeed!!!

  • Make that 10 words. My 55-year old math skills
    aren’t what they used to be…:-)

  • Thanks very much for all your comments. I’m just back from the Sahara and getting caught up.

    I’m really glad to hear you found this article helpful. And I’m grateful to Craig for the opportunity to “pay it forward” by passing on this Harry Browne strategy that helped me so much on my own path.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great to hear from you Ryan, hope your travels to the Sahara were fantastic!