Dateline:  January, 49 BC – severe cold of the Italian winter.

Location:  the northern bank of the Rubicon River, marking the boundary between the Roman province of Gaul (most of Western Europe at the time) and Italy proper controlled by Rome and its allies.

 The Game: invade Italy and capture Rome.

 One Rule:  An ancient Roman law forbade any general from crossing the Rubicon River and entering Italy proper with a standing army.

 The Players:  the Roman General Julius Caesar and his army, and General Pompey the Great who governed Rome and Italy with his much larger army.

 At Stake: a Roman Republic civil war, life, death, life imprisonment, fame.

Got it? Okay!   Let’s use the lens of Caesar making his historic Rubicon decision that took him past the point of no return to look at a basic 3-step decision-making process.  The three phases:

  • Gathering Phase – gathering the necessary information.
  • Uncertainty Phase – reviewing and assessing the information collected, do I or don’t I.
  • Action Phase – actually making the decision and taking the desired action.

Caesar and his men had successfully conquered most of Western Europe referred to as Gaul. Each war had been decisively won as he grew the region under his command.  In January 49 BC, Caesar and his legions were camped on the northern banks of the Rubicon River.

Now, the Rubicon was not any ordinary river. At the time, it was the official border between two regions, the Roman Republic province of Cisalpine Gaul in the north and Italy proper and Rome to the south. According to the law of the Roman Republic, any general with a standing army that crossed the Rubicon into Italy proper would be declared a public enemy.  It was, quite simply, considered an act of war – a civil war that could overthrow the Roman Republic.  Once the river was crossed, there was no going back.

In the Gathering Phase, Caesar started putting together the information he needed: reviewing the status of his men and supplies, learning as much about his former friend and now formidable foe, General Pompey, the life or death rules for crossing the Rubicon, the pros and cons of both sides of the river, and the odds of successfully conquering Italy and Rome.

At the same time that he was gathering information, Caesar had also entered the Uncertainty Phase.  There is uncertainty both in his desired future and the status quo – just staying where he was at.   His rational mind had all of the facts he needed but the emotions of fear, safety, doubt, confidence, failure and success continued to work through his mind repeatedly.  He was pulled back and forth in his mind between the safety of the north side of the river and the potential of great promise and danger on the south side.

In the early morning of a cold January day, Caesar entered the Action Phase.  Grabbing a silver trumpet, he leapt on his horse, blew the notes of the” advance” and swiftly splashed across the shallow river.  Reaching the other side, he shouted emphatically back to his men: “The die has been cast.”  He and his legions of men defeated General Pompey’s army and captured Rome.  Caesar became both the dictator of the entire Roman Republic and a legendary hero.

Two phrases have survived over two millennia to describe the “point of no return” in all decision-making that we face today:

  1. Crossing the Rubicon’ – to cross the Rubicon is to go beyond the point of no return. There is no turning back.
  2. The die is cast’ – the final aspect of decision making has occurred and there is no changing your mind. For example, in the game of dice, once you shake and roll them, you can’t ‘unshake’ them – the decision has been made and the action taken!

Remember, to cross the point of no return is to actually make the decision (the die is cast) while at the same time taking the action (crossing the Rubicon).

Key Points

  1. You make decisions all day, every day, from the very minuscule, mundane ones (what to wear in the morning) to the life-changing ones (starting a new career).  And . . . sometimes decisions are made for you through the circumstances of your life (a new someone in your life, not getting that mortgage for your first home).
  2. Every decision involves making a transition from one point in your life to another, no matter how small, routine, major, or life-changing they are.
  3. Every decision and transition involves stress of some type along the scale from eustress (positive stress) to distress (negative stress).
  4. Brain research has yet to find a decision of any type that does not involve emotions as part of the process.

So Now What

  1. What fears, uncertainties, or doubts hold you back in making decisions or transitions? Make a list of them on paper so that you can see them and question them.
  2. Is your purpose strong and clear in your mind? What is so engaging about your purpose and what you want to achieve that you can feel its continuous pull into your future?
  3. What emotions can you associate with your future goals to increase their pull on you?

Making successful decisions and transitions in your life is the central theme in Lifeworth, Finding Fulfillment Beyond Networth, the best-selling book written by myself and my brother, Hal.  To learn about the book, to read reviews, and to get your free copy of the Introduction and Chapter 1 Losing Your Marbles, click here.


–   Dana Couillard