When were you last congratulated for quitting? Most of us would be hard-pressed to remember such a time. After all, quitting is usually associated with failure, weakness, and giving up. Being labeled a “quitter” is not something many people aspire to.
Instead, our achievement-oriented culture urges us to push through adversity, overcome all obstacles, and strive for success. Yet, quitting — like failure — is a normal part of life. There will be times in our jobs, relationships, friendships, business ventures, sports, and pastimes, when the best option is to quit.
Don’t get me wrong — I know that grit, determination, persistence, and hard work are necessary to achieve worthy goals. Change can be incredibly uncomfortable, and the temptation to give up during a rough patch is a natural part of that process.
But “toughing out” situations that no longer serve you, or are harmful, makes little sense. In fact, achievement for achievement’s sake can lead to unfulfilling and detrimental outcomes such as burnout, poor health, reduced sleep, high stress levels, feelings of hopelessness, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Clearly the physical and emotional costs of not quitting can be high.
Which presents a conundrum.
We know that anything worth achieving will take hard work. We understand that obstacles, barriers, and distractions will come up along the way. Yet we also know that persisting for the sake of achievement, despite detrimental outcomes, is counterproductive.
That’s why it can be tricky deciding whether to quit. The good news is, with a little reflection and introspection, we can determine when quitting is in our best interests or if we’re simply going through a rough patch.
Positive vs. Negative Quitting
Let’s start by making a distinction between positive quitting and negative quitting.
Intentionally choosing to quit can be termed “positive quitting.” It involves a considered reflection of progress so far, the anticipated effects of quitting or continuing, and a conscious decision-making process. Intentional quitting usually occurs when there are long-term issues at play or conflicts that can’t be resolved despite previous attempts.
On the other hand, “negative quitting” is giving up when things get hard or go wrong, or you simply don’t feel like continuing. The temptation to give up usually appears when there’s a bump in the road. Life may throw a curveball and you metaphorically throw your hands up and say, “I quit!” Negative quitting is normally an impulsive decision involving short-term issues where there’s been little attempt to resolve them.
A Quitting Criteria
There will be times when the desire to quit is strong. Running that impulse past a few criteria can help you decide whether quitting is the best option (or if you’ve simply hit a bump in the road).
Quitting may be the best option if:
- Your health is suffering, or you get sick frequently.
- You have emotional burnout and feel cranky, short-tempered, or easily upset.
- Your sleep is disturbed, or you can’t switch off.
- You have physical symptoms (e.g. skin rashes, hives, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat).
- Your enthusiasm has been lacking and you feel weighed down by obligation.
- You’re worried what others may think about you if you quit.
- You only continue because you feel guilty about letting people down.
- You keep running into obstacles or conflicts, despite previous attempts to resolve them.
- You’re convinced you need to keep going, because you don’t want to “waste” previous efforts.
- Your values no longer align with the original purpose, i.e. it’s no longer important to you, or the situation clashes with things that are important to you.
If you can tick off a few of these items, it may be in your best interests to investigate the option of quitting.
Question Yourself to Learn the Answer
As we’ve seen so far, a key difference between positive quitting and negative quitting is the time spent reflecting. Positive quitting involves an intentionally reflective decision-making process, while negative quitting is an impulsive response with little-to-no conscious thought of the ramifications.
So, ask yourself these questions (or sit down with a trusted friend and have him or her ask you):
- What was the original purpose of the goal, situation, or relationship? Has that changed? If yes, how has that changed? If no, how have you changed?
- What specifically is not working? Is that a short-term issue or a long-term issue?
- Can you do something about it? If yes, will that resolve the situation?
- If no-one said anything negative about you, what would you do?
- If you felt fifty percent more confident, what would you do?
- Five years from now, what will have been the better decision — quit or continue? If you continue, how will it affect your life? If you quit, how will it affect your life?
By following this process, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the situation and why you want to (or should) quit.
Listen to Your Gut
While the discussion so far has centered on forming a logical, common-sense decision on whether to quit, don’t underestimate the value of your intuition.
The initial gut-driven impulse to quit may, in fact, be the best decision. The key is to explore that instinct and let your intuition float to the surface while you investigate the deeper issues of how the situation impacts your life and where to go from here.
In other words, don’t just listen to your gut and don’t just rely on logic to make your decision. Both are important parts of the process.
The Golden Rule: Don’t Quit on a Hard Day
It’s normal to want to give up when things get hard. That’s usually when most people quit. But just because something is hard, or you have a bad day, doesn’t mean you should quit. In fact, bad days can be a great motivator if used effectively — they can remind you why the goal, situation, or relationship is worth the effort.
So, give yourself some perspective. If you have a bad day, accept that those days will happen. Follow the golden rule and sleep on your impulse to quit. If quitting truly is the best option for you, that will become clear even on the good days.
Open the Door
If you’re going through a sustained rough patch or have a nagging sense of unease, try the above process to gain a little clarity.
Above all, don’t be afraid to quit. Sometimes, the best decision will be to end a relationship, quit a job, break off a friendship, disband a project, or let a commitment fall to the wayside. Quitting can be necessary to make room for positive change, and can be an opportunity to develop and grow.
Remember the old adage from Alexander Graham Bell: “When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”