DrinkIn most pursuits it's a bad idea to burn bridges. Trading is an obvious example, if one keeps making all or nothing bets then sooner or later it's going to be nothing. Chess is like this too, the professional way of playing being to avoid leaving one's position so brittle that a failed attack means you are lost. This is why Bent Larsen liked to push his rook's pawns; an advance of this pawn rarely compromises one's position beyond hope.

There are also times that bridge burning can be good, when the bridge leads somewhere to which you never want to return. A good example is in throwing out old clothes after losing weight when retreat is no longer an option. Another is to announce to acquaintances that one is giving up the thing that lies on the other side of the bridge. Take your pick between booze, cigarettes and blondes, the statement makes it harder to go back because of the loss of face. One must, of course, mind losing face for this to work.

And this brings me nicely to the point of this email, I'm about to burn one of my own bridges with an announcement: A wonderful 30 year relationship I've had with (moderate amounts of) alcohol has recently come to an end. And I'm now left wondering why I didn't do this earlier.

Scott Brooks replies:

I've had a similiar experience.
When I first got into this business it was recommended that I read Tom Hopkins book "How to Master the Art of Selling". It was a very old-school book on selling (but hey, 20 years ago everything was old-school), but it did have some pretty profound advice that I decided to follow.
I'm going from memory here, but what Hopkins basically said was, "Remove all people and all things from your life that don't add value."

Then I made several decisions that I believe had an important impact on my life.

1. I stopped hanging around with a group of friends that were hoodoos
2. I gave up drinking altogether. I was never a heavy drinker, but not giving it up was symbolic to me in that it I believed it seperated me from the vast majority of people
3. I reaffirmed my commitment to not use four-letter words.
By far and away, giving up the hoodoo's was the best thing I ever did. But quiting drink and not using four-letter words is a constant reminder to myself (since most around me cuss or drink) that I hold myself to different standards, that are solely my own.
Now, I'm certainly not proselytizing my way of life to anyone reading this, nor do I look down on others that make choices that are different than mine.

Steve Leslie writes: 

To Nigel, I say, congratulations on your decision and I hope it has meaning for you beyond the physical benefits you will likely experiences.

The Outlaw Josey Wales said it best, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

I applaud Nigel for making a public and personal decision. I emphasize the word personal.

I agree that moderate drinking, consumption of fine food, recreational gambling, enjoying a fine cigar, or trading futures, in most cases is probably not very destructive. When it is a chronic condition when it might become a problem.

Even helping out those in need and advising others can be a noble pursuit.

Many of us are aware when this crosses the line and becomes destructive to our own lives.

For those who might not have the gift of discernment or may be too soft-hearted or gullible, it can be very helpful to have at your disposal an inner circle of advisors. It also is important to distinguish as to whom one includes in this circle. Napoleon Hill in his excellent book “Think and Grow Rich” discusses this in great detail. Others such as Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Jim Rohn have also expounded the validity of such a strategy. It would serve us all well to visit Hill’s book and review his profound wisdom.

Nigel Davies replies:

Steve makes a good point that such decisions are personal. It wasn’t meant as a criticism of other peoples’ choice to drink either moderately or immoderately. In fact one of my all time favourite quotes is by former World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal, who on learning that the Soviet authorities were going to clamp down on vodka drinking exclaimed: “The State against vodka? I’m on the side of vodka!” It was vodka that killed him, by the way, though without the vodka he might not have been able to tolerate life in the USSR.

My purpose in going public was really just to keep myself in line; making a public declaration like this really binds you to the decision. And I made the choice to quit after starting not to feel too good the morning after even moderate consumption. This sudden intolerance could be a result of having taken up Zhan Zhuang (’standing like a tree’) some months back — I’ve been advised by that such practices can produce this kind of effect. Whatever the reason I can say that I now feel better than I have done in years. And it will be a sad day if I ever build a bridge to go back. 

Jeff Watson recounts:

I used to be guilty of not burning bridges, and it cost me dearly.  I got a reputation for being a shoulder to cry on, and found myself inserted into the problems and drama of others.  This took a physical and emotional toll on myself and my family, and I finally had to cry, "No Mas!"  About 15 years ago, I made a concerted effort to to free my life of all of this flotsam and jetsam, and the result of doing so has simplified everything in my life. I got away from negative people, the ones who suck the very lifeblood from your soul.  However, I do like to listen to hoodoos, encouraging them to give their views in great detail.  Hoodoos are great fade indicators, and I look forward to their views  like the Israelites devoured the manna from heaven.  I listen to them with a jaundiced ear, and never allow them to convince me that their views are right.  I learn a lot from them, and consider them a great source of what not to do and what to fade.  I've burned a few bridges in the past by not doing business with friends, not co-signing on loans, and not financing ill prepared business ventures.  Although I've disappointed a few people with my "Scrooge" like approach, life has been better for myself and my family, and that's what really counts.  The only bridge I never burned was that of my favorite charity.  Although it sucks up a lot of time and money, and I would personally be better off distancing myself, whenever they need something, I always answer their siren's call.

Chris James adds:

I used to have a lot of married friends who would often try to drag me into their fights to be on the man’s side or the women’s side. When I was younger I use to bite and take one side or the other only to deeply regret it later after they made up. The one I had sided against was not to pleasant to me for a long time.

This is probably a common experience for a lot of people…

Solved it with a one liner. No couple who hears it has ever bothered me again. “Listen, You guys don’t invite me when you make love so consider me dis-invited when you make trouble!”

Eric Falkenstein cautions:

I think in ridding oneself of people who don’t add value, it is important to take the long view. If you are the kind of person who only deigns to return calls or hang out with people in a position to do you favors, right now, you are all too common. You would be an unreliable friend or colleague, because when adversity hits, you can’t be counted on. Further, there are many behind you that engage in mercenary friendships, so you aren’t needed–a fun replacement who values my friendship for the favors I can bestow him is simple. Such a person would be constantly trying to get into asymmetric relationships, always the lower-status guy trying to get the better of his ‘friend’.

No one likes these people, for obvious reasons. Thus, relationships should be addressed with a long view, in terms of intellectual, business, or social growth. To the extent their interests are base, unenlightened, or self-destructive, you need to avoid them.





Speak your mind

14 Comments so far

  1. Tom Siler on February 27, 2008 12:30 am

    I hear you, man.
    Last weekend I was drinking a beer in an afterhours bar in Brooklyn, NY (Probably NOT one of Ayn Rand’s favorite haunts),
    and 30 cops came storming in at 3:30 am. Apparently it was also a cocaine club (although we learned from one of the officers that the clientele’s bags contained a mere 13 percent cocaine - -hardly worth ANY BODY’S trouble.). Anyway all 20 of us in the bar were brought down to central booking for possession charges (probably 5 of us were not even aware of what else was going on in that knock-on-the-door-joint) and 24 hours later the charges were dropped, they told us at the last minute as they showed us the back door to that hell hole. Anyway, dammit, I’m better than all those dope addicts, liquor addicts and sex addicts, and, yes, even better than workaholics. The truth is, I don’t need to smoke tobacco anymore either.
    So if distancing is what it requires, then distancing is what it takes to be successful in this lifetime. If only some of those blacks in my cell could learn that trick of distancing themselves, they wouldn’t get stopped by a Bushwick Police Officer for J-walking. I NEVER get stopped for J-walking in Midtown, because in Midtown Manhattan, I am distanced from my home-ees.
    I am 100 percent behind Y’all in your effort to improve yourselves by getting WAY ahead of those idiots who still drink moderately. GODSPEED!!!

  2. Lon Evans on February 27, 2008 3:28 am

    Dear Nigel,

    “. . . when retreat is no longer an option.” A beautiful suggestion, one by which any speculator can only benefit.

    How often have any of us canceled a stop, rather than admit error? Too often I would judge given my own experience.

    “When retreat is no longer an option.” Lovely!

    A treasure of words.


  3. raytoei on February 27, 2008 4:51 am

    four and a half years ago, i woke up on my birthday and decided to give up a 13 year habit of smoking a large pack of cigarettes a day. Well, I put on a lot weight but at least I kicked the habit.

  4. Anatoly Veltman on February 27, 2008 9:27 am

    Many a newbie commodity fund managers burned the bridges, that would allow them to take profits on upside blow-out days. Wheat shows the way: reversing from overnight gap up to limit-down, an almost 20% overnight decline!

    Some hapless specs in Silver futures have rolled from March contract straight out to July and even December, instead of active May. Sure brings the memory of April 27, 1987: when Silver reversed from $11.25 to $7.50 in one session, costing me over a million in unrealized profit! Only because I lacked the experience to utilize the spot-month switch; and got stuck in limit-down outer months, with no bridges out!

  5. steve leslie on February 27, 2008 10:50 am

    Studies indicate that the recidivism rates for ex-felons are highest when they return to the neighborhoods which nurtured them.

    The same is noticed in substance abuse. Those who leave rehab and return to their associates fall back into the same patterns and temptations.
    This is illustrated well in the movie Clean and Sober with Michael Keaton and Kathy Baker.

    When I counsel youth at my church I bring out several points:

    You never seem to pull others up to your level, they pull you down to theirs.

    When you wrestle with a pig, you both get filthy and the pig likes it.

    cheers to all

  6. Dan Costin on February 27, 2008 3:11 pm

    There’s the idea of burning the bridge when the bridge leads you to trouble, and then there’s stopping MODERATE alcohol use because…??? Maybe it’s not useful anymore, so easy to give up. It would have taken real courage to give it up when it mattered, when it lubricated the social interactions of those first awkward dates with your first spouse, when it cemented relationships with your life-long friends and partners.

    How burned is the bridge? No champagne at New Year’s? No wine at communion? No teaching your children how to handle it responsibly (just say no!?!) ? Because if you don’t, they’ll use it irresponsibly.

    I can burn the bridge to fat cigars, fast food, and fair-weather friends, but to find a good reason to just completely give up a substance that has so shaped civilization and the human condition, that would reduce my humanity. Unless it was killing me.

    Looking forward to an old age of sipping water with a small gluten-free sugar-free salt-free wafer (all potential killers), basking in the glow of my screens. Don’t take my info addiction away!!!

  7. jeff on February 27, 2008 4:05 pm


    I remember very well the day of April 27, 1987 when silver went from bid limit up to offer limit down. I got hit pretty hard that day, and ended up licking my wounds for a couple of weeks.
    Those metals markets can really humble you in a hurry.


  8. John on February 27, 2008 7:36 pm

    New York Times yesterday had a related story on “The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors” — http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/science/26tier.html

    “…Xiang Yu was a Chinese general in the third century B.C. who took his troops across the Yangtze River into enemy territory and performed an experiment in decision making. He crushed his troops’ cooking pots and burned their ships. He explained this was to focus them on moving forward — a motivational speech that was not appreciated by many of the soldiers watching their retreat option go up in flames. But General Xiang Yu would be vindicated, both on the battlefield and in the annals of social science research. He is one of the role models in Dan Ariely’s new book, “Predictably Irrational,” an entertaining look at human foibles like the penchant for keeping too many options open…”

  9. Nigel Davies on February 28, 2008 3:47 am

    Dan Costin wrote:

    “It would have taken real courage to give it up when it mattered …. No champagne at New Year’s? No wine at communion? … to just completely give up a substance that has so shaped civilization and the human condition, that would reduce my humanity.”

    So how much are you drinking?

  10. Dan Costin on February 28, 2008 10:46 am

    Enough to channel Buckley, but not Nick and Nora. :-)

  11. Rick Rocha on February 28, 2008 1:00 pm

    I understand how difficult it can be to give up the booze. I gave it up 2 years ago, and the quality of my life has substantially improved. Not to mention the fact, that my mind is clear for trading, and I handle stress a lot better.

    I will admit, that I have the “extreme personality” and nothing would make me feel better than having a vodka martini after stressful trading conditions. I eventually began to drink if I won a trade, if I lost a trade, and then I’m sure you can conclude what happened as time went on.

    As a trader and speculator, I dont like to admit defeat or feel that I have a lack of will power or discipline. The reality is, I could not beat the booze on my own, and a twelve step program is necessary for me to continue my sober journey.

    I now realize, that when your wrong on a trade or your hypothesis is null, its best to admit it quickly and try another way. I cant control my drinking, so I’d rather not waste time and energy trying.

    I hope my experience can gave you some perspective.

  12. George Parkanyi on February 29, 2008 10:54 pm

    You guys make it sound like burning bridges is some kind of cake-walk.

    Ever tried burning down one of today’s steel-and-concrete spans?

    And ever tried explaining to Homeland Security your attempt?



  13. Lon Evans on March 2, 2008 4:30 am

    Cheers George,

    I do enjoy your wit. But seriously (well, kind of . . . ), what about burning a structure currently supporting one’s sorry ass?

    Wait, isn’t that what Nigel refers to? Now I’m confused, even as the flames lick up and around my own sorry ass. Damn, I guess I’m to take the cooling plunge, whether desired, or not.

    And after swearing that the previous time would be “the last time.”



    P.S. Got a deck chair you can lend me?

  14. toni junior on March 3, 2008 2:51 pm

    tags: Addiction, vices and drinking and Lies to oneself.
    Dr Albert Ellis and his 12 Lies that we tell ourselves, and so ruin our lives.With comments, Here are his 12 lies:

    1.I must have the love and approval of others. I must avoid disapproval at all costs.
    Everyone is UNIQUE. Investors, Peoples, Cultures and Civilizations have their Achilles Heel.
    For the Irish and the Native American Indians, it is drinking.(partly due to genetics).
    For the Chinese, it is gambling - it is the ’social status’ of WINNER.
    2.I must be perfect, a success in all that I do. I must not make any mistakes.
    Over 50% of ladies are on a diet. Many teenagers are binge eater/drinkers and anorexic!
    Before, I ate ice cream by the gallon. Then, I substituted a positive goal of marathon running.
    Now, I eat it (ONLY at the ‘parties’) once a year or so.
    3.People must always do the right thing. When they do not, they must be punished.
    Even self-punishment rarely works, but rewards do.
    4.Things must be the way that I want them to be – otherwise life will be intolerable.
    Give up alcohol; start up with ladies;give up ladies;start up with song.-”wine,women,song.”
    5.My happiness (or unhappiness) is caused by external events.
    I have no control over my happiness (or unhappiness).
    Very Bad: drink because you are unhappy.
    Bad: unhappy and cannot control drinking.
    Neutral: drink and sometimes happy/unhappy.
    Good: drink with friends; it has NOTHING to do with being happy/unhappy.
    6.I must worry about things that might be dangerous,unpleasant or frightening–
    otherwise they might happen.
    Priest Joke. In the confessional.
    Father, I have sinned.
    I am addicted to drinking. Even when I pray to G-D, I think only of alcohol.
    You are a sinner.
    Go and think only of G-D.
    After two weeks, In the confessional AGAIN.
    Now, I pray to G-D ALL THE TIME, even when I drink.
    So, G-D is foremost ALL THE TIME?
    But, I cannot stop drinking.My father and grand-dad was an alcoholic and I work in distillery.
    You are a saint.
    The drinking will eventually become unimportant.
    You will worry ONLY about the IMPORTANT things.
    7.I will be happier if I can avoid life’s difficulties, unpleasantness or responsibilities.
    Averaging down on a ‘bad stock’ is riding the trend downwards.
    Confront the ‘addiction’ to the past wrong choice directly.
    8.I am weak and need to depend on those who are stronger than I am.
    Will-power and adherence to a higher standard.
    9.Events in the past have strongly influenced me – and they must continue to do so.
    Re-imagine and re-define yourself; break that ‘prison of the past.’
    10.I must be upset when others have problems. I must become sad when others are unhappy.
    Be your own cause of happiness and sadness. Do not rely on others or ‘become infected.’
    Irrational exuberance and ‘pigs led to slaughter.’
    11.I should not have to feel discomfort or pain. I must avoid them at all costs.
    Sharpe Ratio: risk/reward. pleasure/pain.
    12.There is one right and perfect solution to any problem (usually mine).
    It is a tragedy when it is not found.
    Many flexible solutions exist. My fave dessert is bananas with alcohol. Alcohol is
    burned off leaving a liqueur taste.
    Are we not all ‘alcoholics’ working in DIFFERENT distilleries? see the ‘Priest Joke’
    Know yourself and be true. — from toni junior


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