I hate the thought of quitting. Instinctively, I perceive it as a sign of weakness and failure. In previous articles I've stressed the importance of perseverance and there is no doubt that quality remains very important. However, I have been contemplating recently the virtues and positive aspects of quitting something. If something is unsuccessful despite your best efforts, when is it time to stop? When do you concede that enough is enough?
It is human nature to persevere. A primary reason for this is because we are often afraid of quitting. It's often seen by ourselves and others as failure which can be difficult to accept. Quitting inevitably means change and we often don't embrace this easily. It can take a lot of courage to quit, especially if a project has been going a long time. It's an awful feeling knowing that effort has been wasted for no reward and quitting means starting over again.
It's an unfortunate fact in our modern world that continuing with grim determination to a single task is not always practical. Of course, if you quit too soon or too often then it's a negative and demoralising action that will lead to constant failure. However, if a project has been ongoing without success for a long period of time then it can actually be a very positive thing. In any field of endeavour there are many options to achieve your desired goal. If you've tried everything and your chosen one simply isn't working, it's time to consider others.
This mentality takes some adjusting to. In the past we've been taught to persist at something and eventually we will be successful. “Quitting is for losers” we were told but what if we were to say “I'm not quitting, I'm making a change. I'm moving to a new project that is more important, relevant and better suited to my abilities and resources.” Suddenly, the stigma attached to 'quitting' disappears and the idea is cast in a whole new light. "I'm moving my efforts in a different direction that promises better value in return." There's no failure associated with statements like this.
The key question then is how to know when to quit. Believe it or not, there is actually a way to know before you've even started something. It is because whenever you start a new hobby or project, you potentially have three distinct phases ahead of you:
Phase 1: This is where everybody starts. You are full of enthusiasm, motivation and excitement.
Phase 2: Is where things get increasingly difficult. The novelty has gone and everything requires more effort. Your energy and previous determination to succeed begins to wane.
Phase 3: The happiness and satisfaction of success.
So, it becomes clear that to reach success you need to get through the dreaded second phase. This phase acts as a filter which separates the majority from the small minority. Most people reach a low point and give up when things get too difficult and never get to the magic of the third phase. In life, it is the tenacity to push through that low point that distinguishes the successful from the mediocre.
When these three phases are understood from the outset we begin to realize the best time to quit. It could almost be said that knowing when to quit is to know when not to start at all. Do this by looking past the first phase and concentrate on the second. Do you have what it takes to get through to the third? Are you genuinely interested? Do you have the desire and passion required for success?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions then you can begin to prepare for the difficulties that lie ahead. Harder work and slower progress can be built into your expectations which means it won’t come as a surprise to you. It’s an essential part of the journey and you can be ready to push through to your destination in the knowledge that many others won’t. If, on the other hand, the answers are ‘no’ then you will know immediately that it isn’t worth the time and expense to begin.
If you feel you have what it takes and begin your project, you will still reach the inevitable ‘low point’. This brings us back to the burning question of whether to continue or quit. The answer lies in your attitude toward Phase 2. To continue, you need to look forward to spending time here. You need to embrace it and view the problems and challenges as stepping stones to success, rather than a contribution to your eventual failure. You need to accept that you’ll have to work harder for the same or even less reward.
These tribulations will fuel your appreciation for Phase 3 when you actually reach it. Use the whole process as motivation and imagine that if you can actually enjoy spending time in the second phase, then how much more will you enjoy the third? These are the litmus tests that will ultimately determine whether you quit or continue when things get tough.
But let’s consider the stark reality for a moment. We are all human and, as such, prone to normal human emotions such as frustration and dejection. In these low moments, it is vital to train yourself to be strong and not quit because of them. The key to doing this is not quitting on the small things in your daily life. When you do this, you will find that you can always do more that what you imagined.
Let’s put this into a practical example. If you set out to run 10 kilometres, don’t stop to walk with 500 metres remaining. Push through to the end, even though your legs are sore and it feels like your lungs are going to burst. If you are lifting weights in the gym, don’t quit after nine repetitions. Do the tenth one that you planned, even if your arm muscles are screaming for a rest. Be disciplined and remember that sometimes there’s no gain without some pain.
In summary, quit the wrong stuff, before you even start if it’s possible. Never quit the right stuff. Embrace that second phase, push through the low point and savour the triumph of success. Perhaps most importantly, never, ever quit the small stuff because the danger in that is that it then becomes easy to quit the right stuff.
A few years ago a book called The Dip was written by American entrepreneur, author and public speaker Seth Godin. He introduces the book with the quote “Quitters never win and winners never quit” and immediately follows this with his own advice “Winners quit all the time”. He is making the simple assertion that sometimes a person or company is better served by quitting and moving to something that it more in line with the talent and resources available.
At the time, it was controversial advice because perseverance is a quality that has always been instilled in us. But his theory is very sound providing we quit in an intelligent and purposeful manner. If we realise that the project is not the best objective and there are other options available, then it makes sense to at least consider them. And if the ‘quitting’ can be seen as ‘moving on’, it becomes a positive experience that will enable you to focus your energy on other places where you can succeed.
The exact time to quit something is always a personal decision for the individual. As I’ve explained, the easiest time is actually before you even start but it’s never an easy decision to make. However, the simple action of evaluating your project can identify flaws and weaknesses that potentially make it impossible, or very unlikely to succeed. It takes courage, but it may be a good time to take the bold step of moving on to something that will offer you the rewards you deserve for your hard work.
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