During a conversation with a client this week, it dawned on me how unhelpful mantras such as “failure is not an option” and “don’t quit now” can be as I listened to a client who lamented “I am never able to stick to anything”.
She talked about walking away from jobs, never finishing books she started, giving up on diet plans, and even changing therapists throughout her journey. While I agree that integrity and commitment are vital to success, I think we often underestimate the courage and wisdom it takes to know when to quit.
Knowing when to walk away from relationships that are beyond repair, when to leave jobs that no longer fulfil us, when to put down books that are no longer needed, and when to change up our way of eating and exercising when it no longer serves us is as important as sticking to something that works and seeing it through to the end.
I have started, committed to, and walked away from many different sports and forms of physical activity as my needs have changed over the years. Whilst stuck behind a computer 8 hours per day grinding away at a research thesis, the high-intensity mental challenge of Crossfit is exactly what I needed at the end of a long sedentary day.
When I started work full-time as a clinician however, the last thing I needed at the end of the day was to be emotionally challenged and so, I walked away from Crossfit. In guiding, encouraging, and supporting others on a daily basis, I became cognisant of a desire for some coaching and mentoring of my own. In my quest for a slower pace as well my own mentoring as I developed new skills, I turned to Olympic Lifting.
A major injury as well as a greater demand for me to regularly make complex decision led to me abandoning lifting in favour of running as a means of regulating my overwhelm whilst thinking things through methodically. Now, in the absence of many major decisions or complex problems to think through, I find running boring, monotonous and lonely. Noticing myself to miss the banter and comradery of Crossfit, I have returned to this form of group exercise – this time however, with a very different agenda to what I had first time around.
Do I regard myself a failure for giving up at any one of these times? No. I simply see that each phase in my life had different needs which were met by different activities. And once those needs changed or the activity no longer served its purpose, I moved on.
What has been more important to me than sticking to any one particular activity, has been a commitment to maintaining my physical and mental health in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable.
So, I encourage you too, to give yourself permission to notice when things are no longer working for you and to walk away from such things in favour of that which is better serving; remembering that knowing when to quit is not failure, but rather, a vital part of long-term success.
If this is a concept that overwhelms you or you’re having trouble ascertaining whether or not quitting is really in your best interests, remember that you don’t need to figure it out on your own.
A psychologist, dietitian, exercise physiologist, or other practitioner who is trained in the area of your concern and has your best interests at heart can help you resolve your ambivalence and get clarity about the best way forward for you.