How to Quit Quitting
This is not my first attempt to dissect the psychology of quitting. In a way, I guess that means that I have already failed but have not yet given up. How’s that for an auspicious start?In this blog post I will not be offering a quick and easy roundup or list of tips on how to quit quitting. Rather, I want to share wisdom I have picked up over the years which I believe can inspire others. While these thoughts can be applied to a variety of situations, given that this is a fitness blog, I will be relating most of the lessons I’ve learned back to diet and fitness.
Don’t be a quitter…sometimes.
“Don’t be a quitter”. When I hear that phrase, it takes me straight back to youth sports. Being a parent of four myself, I get the sentiment. If I’m going to pay for activities and shuttle them around to their practices, I’ll be damned if they just decide on a whim not to play a sport. I also value hard work, determination, perseverance and commitment and want to pass those values down to my kids. I don’t want my kids to quit something they’ve started unless it is doing them harm.
However, I also think it’s important to understand that quitting isn’t always such a bad thing.
There are undoubtedly some cases in which quitting is a good thing: say, quitting a bad habit like smoking.
Yet there are also many gray areas, such as quitting a job that isn’t making you happy. Should you quit and pursue something that fulfills you, or should you stay where you are to remain secure? Unknown outcomes are tough, and in such instances, your personal circumstances will factor in making these high stakes decisions.
Ultimately, we must consider what is good for us in the long run, and how to persevere through the ambiguity about when you should and shouldn’t quit.
Skin in the game
I think it’s fair to say that the more invested we are in something, the more difficult it is to quit. For instance, think of the amount of consideration that goes into getting divorced versus the consideration that goes into breaking up with someone you’ve gone on a couple of dates with.
I divorced in 2014, after 9 years of marriage and 2 kids. My ex and I talked about it in 2011 and then I waited 3 years until I was sure, and then another 3 months just to be really really sure before making the final decision. Now, we are both much happier and probably should have done it sooner but there was a lot at stake, which made quitting difficult.
The more you have skin in the game the less likely it is you will quit on something. Numerous times, when I’ve seen someone lose a bunch of weight and asked them how they did it, they happily tell me they bet their friend, or they were competing to win a big ticket prize.
Basically, if you’re wanting to do something good for yourself that you’ve failed at before, try to up the ante. You don’t have to risk money in a bet just to get the results. Perhaps you just try setting a goal and then telling everyone you know about it! Sometimes our own pride can be enough skin in the game to keep us accountable and help us persevere when we want to give up.
Resistance and the power of action
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” -Steven Pressfield
I read the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield quite a few years ago, and to be honest I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as some of his other books like Gates of Fire. After all, the former book is about the struggles of being a writer which I didn’t relate to at the time, while the latter book is about Leonidas and the Spartan’s kicking ass at Thermopylae which I like to think I relate to much better.
The irony here is that The War of Art has proven extremely useful over time, because the lessons I learned immediately popped into my head when I started brainstorming for this blog post. One of the key themes of the book is contending with that heavy dread one feels sometimes (or most times) when sitting down to produce something creative.
Pressfield refers to this feeling as “Resistance” and his answer to combat it is Action. I think my biggest takeaway is that we humans often times blow things up in our head to be much bigger than they are. We feel like we must be struck by this incredible inspiration from the Gods and only then can we go create an artful masterpiece.
The truth as described by Pressfield is that the masterpiece will work itself out in the end, but only after you put in the work. Relating this back to quitting, it’s important to make sure we don’t trick ourselves into thinking there is a perfect time to start and all of the conditions have to align before we can do something great. If you want to do something, just take action. It’s so damn simple; maybe that’s why we always mess it up.
Just start working, make progress, fail, continue, but never stop putting in the work. The more you feel that resistance the more imperative it is that you take action.
Brutal honesty: asking why and saying no
Obviously, the easiest way to quit quitting is probably to not start in the first place. If somebody gives up on a fitness program or diet, the number 1 reason they give me is that they just don’t have enough time, and the number 2 reason is that they can’t afford it right now. That’s what they tell me, anyway, but what they are really saying is that it’s not very important to them. More specifically, that there are too many other things that are more important to them.
Most of us do things that we know aren’t great for us, and we also don’t do a few things that would be really good for us. For example: last year at this time I was really working long hard hours, I was stressed and I was having at least 2-3 beers a night after work to wind down. I was too busy to work out consistently and was getting to the gym 3 hours a week on a good week. I set a goal to get faster running but I wasn’t making any progress. In my mind I had 2 options, I could quit on my running goal or I could make time to train more and quit something else.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. Basically, to experience the gains, sometimes you have to make sacrifices. I reflected on my why, had a brutally honest conversation with myself. Did I want to be out of shape and stressed? Did my lifestyle align with my why, to be the best husband and father I can be? I realized I had to say No to a few things so I could make time for my goals.
So, I cut out alcohol on weekdays and started getting up early to workout so I could train 5+ days a week. I saved money I had been spending on beer, shed a few pounds around the belly, felt better and more importantly started making more progress toward my goal. If you know your Why, you will have a much easier time prioritizing your goals, and you’ll also be able to cut things out of your life that might be hindering your progress toward those goals.
Note: My goal is to run a sub 5 minute mile, and I’m making good progress but not quite there yet. The last run I went on I had a serious doubt in my head that I would ever achieve the goal. It seems like the closer I get the more the workouts hurt and the slower progress becomes. This is my way of upping the ante, now everyone who reads this blog post will know my goal and in a few months they’ll know whether or not I am a quitter. Game on!
Power of momentum
One thing that I’ve learned as a CrossFit Games athlete is that you have to attack your weaknesses. Veterans look forward to a failure in a workout because it might expose a previously unknown weakness that they can work on. A beginner who fails miserably on the first day? Well, they’re probably as good as gone when they walk out the gym door. I think this is where beginners and veterans differ the most. Both types of athletes are motivated, they both want to be successful, but a beginner is not ready to have their weaknesses exposed.
You see, an expert has a comfort level and confidence built up and they readily welcome failure so they can see where they need to improve. Alternately, beginners need to experience some success before they get comfortable enough to take bigger risks.
These parallels exist in business, too. Say you’re a just starting as a car salesman and you struggle to make a sale the first day, week, or month. How long until you give up? On the other hand, a salesman who’s been doing it for 20 years might go a month without making a sale but they don’t waver and don’t give up because they are still confident that things will turn around.
It’s important when starting a new goal to focus on any kind of success, no matter how small it is. Think of your first day on a new diet, celebrate the fact that you drank a little extra water and turned down a donut at 10am. Get excited about losing 2 pounds. Let that motivate you and encourage you that there is more to come. Don’t be afraid to start slow, and don’t throw any expectations on yourself. Just look for the Win in each workout, each and every day and let those small wins build up momentum until you are crushing it.
The gray area: to quit or not to quit
If you’re facing a decision to quit something, but you aren’t sure which path to take here’s my best advice. Start with your Why or your Personal Ethos. If you don’t have one, a great practice is to develop one. Decide what you stand for, what makes you tick, what you really truly want in life and what motivates you. Use that as the measuring stick for your decision making. If one option aligns better with your deeper Why then you are off to a good start.
Once you’ve completed this first step, make sure you consider the impact of your decision on other people and aspects of your life. Once you’ve taken all of this into consideration, that last thing you have to do is just take ownership and go for it. Whether you quit something or stick with it, do it with full effort and conviction.
The best thing about these really difficult decisions, is that both outcomes can end up just fine. If the two outcomes are completely different then the decision would be easy, right? Often times the scariest part of a big decision is the decision itself, and a giant weight will be lifted once you commit to the outcome and own it 100%.
- Ditch the stigma. Quitting has a negative connotation but it isn’t always a bad thing.
- If you want to set yourself up for success, make sure you have some skin in the game. Whether it’s your money, your pride, or your ego, put it out there.
- When in doubt, take action. Nothing bad ever came from someone who keeps putting in the work.
- Know your personal “why” and let it be your guide to saying yes or no.
- Start slow, build momentum and focus on small wins until they become big victories.
What are your thoughts on quitting?