Oct 022010

To succeed at anything you do, you have to be able to flow with the time and circumstances. When the times favour an advance, advance with vigour. When it is better to retreat, do so with haste. Advance and retreat are a natural part of life and success. To retreat when you should advance leads to missed opportunities. To advance when you should retreat leads to disaster. But how then will you know when to retreat? There are a few signs to look out for. Read on to find out.

I-Ching: Hexagram 7; Six in the Fourth Place

The army retreats. No blame.

In the face of a superior enemy, with whom it would be hopeless to engage in battle, an orderly retreat is the only correct procedure, because it will save the army from defeat and disintegration. It is by no means a sign of courage or strength to insist upon engaging in a hopeless struggle regardless of circumstances.

1. Inadequate Preparations

An army that was not prepared risked defeat in battle. This needless slaughter and loss of life would weaken the nation militarily and financially. Thus, a wise general would not risk battle when his troops lacked supplies, training and equipment to fight well. He would also be cautious when he did not know the strength and situation of the enemy forces. Instead, he would retreat to buy time to turn things around.

Olympic athletes train for years to compete in an event. Students study for months to take an exam. Much time, effort and research goes into the design of a business proposal. Preparations are vital to the success of any endeavour. If you are not prepared to succeed, it is better to retreat and try again next time.

2. Unfavourable Situation

A wise leader learned to avoid the enemy if it had superior numbers, better equipment, adequate supplies and the strategic position. When the situation favoured the enemy, it was folly to attack him. Instead, the wise general retreated to preserve the lives of his men. That way, he could wait for the situation to favour him and attack.

Situational factors can work against your chances of success. If you have only been with a company for a few months, it will be hard to ask your boss for a raise. This is simply because you have not done enough to show why you deserve it. Asking for a raise under such circumstances is likely to meet with rejection. It would be better to retreat from doing so for now. Instead, work hard and look out for opportunities to show why you deserve a raise.

3. Bad Timing

Timing was crucial to warfare. An army that attacked at the right moment, when the enemy was vulnerable, could score a huge win with little casualties. But if an army attacked when the enemy was fully prepared, it could lead to defeat and severe losses. Thus, timing could easily turn the tide of battle. If the times did not favour an attack, it would be better to retreat than to risk costly losses.

Timing is everything. When the time is right, every action you make reaps double the rewards. When the time is not right, all the effort you put in amounts to nothing. If you wish to discuss a relationship problem with your partner, it would not be a good idea to approach them when they are in foul mood. Not only will he or she be defensive, you will face great resistance in trying to get your message across. During such times, it would be better to retreat and await a better timing to bring up the subject.

4. No Confidence in Succeeding

Confidence was vital in battle. If an able general believed he could win after assessing the situation, it was likely he would do so. But if the able general did not believe he could win, it was unlikely that he would. In the latter case, it was wiser to retreat and preserve his strength.

If you do not feel confident of success, it is better not to attempt something. Firstly, you lack the confidence to surmount the odds you face. Secondly, a half-hearted attempt could destroy your future chances of success if you fail. Lastly, failure in this case could cause you needless humiliation. Retreat would be more prudent. Not only will you conserve your strength and avoid failure, you can prepare for success when the moment arises.

Taking Action

When the odds are against you, it is unwise to engage in a struggle that you cannot win. There is no glory in defeat or failure. Worsening matters, defeat and failure might lead to losses you cannot afford. When the times are not favourable for an advance, it is better to retreat early to preserve your strength. To do so at the right moment means you will live to fight another day at a time and place of your own choosing. Thus retreating when you should is in harmony with your times and circumstances.

What are your thoughts on retreat? Are there any other circumstances you should retreat from which I have missed out?


The I Ching or Book of Changes. Translated by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes. New Jersey: Princeton University Press; 3rd edition, 1967.

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  3 Responses to “Retreat When You See These Signs”

  1. I really like this article. all too often people plough on before they weigh the pros and cons of the situation and understanding if the conditions are favorable or not. Knowing when to retreat and when to make a move increases one’s chances significantly in terms of succeeding.

    • Hi Shan,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article.

      You are perfectly right in what you say. Knowing when to retreat and advance is a vital life skill that everyone should learn. Only by doing so can we hope to live life in harmony with our times and circumstances.

      Thank you for your comments!

  2. Really liked what you had to say in your post,thanks for the good read!
    candice michelle recently posted..Dr. LaitmanMy Profile

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