know when to quit

In 2016, I trained for and completed my first half-Ironman triathlon, which entailed 1.2 miles of swimming immediately followed by 56 miles of biking immediately followed by a half-marathon (13.1 miles of running). I did all of this while running our life coach certification program (and all the other parts of my business), parenting, marriage-ing (I feel like that should be a word, you know?) and the usual things that we all need to manage: paying bills, doing the laundry, getting to the grocery store.

I knew, going into training, that I was going to want to quit at various points–because everyone who puts themselves through something so physically taxing is going to ask themselves, “Why am I doing this? Am I crazy?” Nonetheless, I persevered and in 2016, I did it—I actually completed a half-Ironman.

Within months of completing half-Ironman number one, I was itchy to complete half-Ironman number two.

But I ultimately quit training for half-Ironman number two.

Why? And how did I know when to quit something versus when keep going? To an outsider, certainly, it would appear as if I “just quit.” But in fact, I took several concrete steps to know when to quit something versus when to keep going.

Here they are—laid out so that if you, too, are trying to figure out whether to quit (working on your marriage, going after that degree or certification, training for a half-Ironman…), you might be able to use them, too.

Know When to Quit Using These 4 Actions

1. Know what your resistance is, to following through. Let’s say that you want to quit a degree program that you’ve enrolled in, and you find yourself not wanting to complete assignments or go to class. Instead of going, “Ah, I’m resistant, this must be a sign that this isn’t for me!” and letting that spiral and get worse…stop. What, exactly, is your resistance? Why’s it there?

I once worked with someone who was convinced that if he experienced resistance while embarking on a project, this was his deepest intuition telling him “not to do it.” From there, the diagnosis had been set and he stopped examining what his resistance was about and began accumulating ever-more evidence that he needed to quit this year’s relationship, spiritual practice, or job.

Left in his wake were damaged relationships, debt, only surface-level transformation and a spotty employment history. In not examining his resistance, much less trying to work through it, sure, he was following his whims…but that wasn’t necessarily taking him anywhere deep.

I realize that when strong feelings come up, especially feelings of resistance to staying with something, it can feel hedonistic and freeing to say, “Well, then, fugghedaboutit!”

It’s hedonistic, but it’s not very adult, and when it’s a chronic pattern, it un-grounds your life. And there’s this very lush, verdant, enlivening soul-work to be done in being willing to stay with something and see what the resistance is about.

2. Do something about your resistance to following through. If you really want to know when to quit something (or if you truly want to quit something) knowing why you’re resistant is only a piece of it—then you’ve actually got to do something about your resistance.

Again, let’s say that you want to quit that degree program. Doing the homework feels like a chore. Your mind keeps chirping at you when it’s time to go to class, “Ugh, I don’t waaaannnnna.” You examine your resistance (step one, above) and get some clarity: The reason I’m so resistant is that I just feel overloaded in every area of my life. There’s too much going on. I’m tired and cranky and this just isn’t fun.

So there it is: the voice of your resistance.

Now, though? Do something about the resistance, and be prepared to be consistent with it for awhile. Try to actually make it better!

This is the part where most people flail. Most people can come up with every “reason why” they are resistant, but when they stay in that space they’re just in the navel-gazing of their own process.

There’s a next step here, and it’s critical, and it’s the step of sovereignty over your life: pro-actively making changes.

To deal with the resistance of feeling like you’re overloaded and tired and not having enough fun, you might need to do some things, things that are very difficult and completely contrary to how you’ve done things for a long time.

Things like…telling people in your life that they need to step up and do more (even though you’ll feel “mean” when you ask them to do their part). Or leave the house even while your kids are telling you that they neeeeed you (I had to walk out the door to train on several occasions where my daughter was convinced that she neeeeeeded me and only me; every time I came home, she was happily playing with her father). If you have some cash flow, you might need to throw money at the problem.

Maybe not feeling so overloaded would be as simple as sleeping fifteen minutes longer in the morning while your partner handles the kids or getting out for a one hour Zumba class (“Oh, but I can’t ask my partner to handle that!” you protest, to which I say, “Uh, yes, you can—and hopefully you’re seeing right here how this is your work, and the voice of ‘I can’t ask for that’ probably keeps this entire pattern exactly where it is, year after year).

This is actually one of the most courageous parts of how you know when to quit something : doing all the things that it takes to NOT quit, to NOT just give up, to NOT just throw up your hands and say, “Well, I don’t think that I can do this.”

3. Evaluate what you’re doing from the wider vantage point of your life—both the temporary and the longer-term circumstances that you’re in. If you want to know when to quit something , you’ve got to factor it into the overall picture of your life.

We all have hardships and difficulties, big life shifts, things that intimidate and overwhelm us. There’s no one who goes through a year of her life without them, so it’s rarely true that you should quit something just because life is hard—everyone’s life feels hard, in some way or another.

So if you’re trying to know whether or not to quit something (like a degree program), ask yourself: am I stressed out and resistant and overloaded right now because of temporary circumstances that have the possibility of shifting?

Maybe you also just moved within the past six months. Maybe someone close to you died. Maybe you’re still trying to work through the cognitive dissonance of a narcissistic sociopath being elected to office. Maybe your kid is going through a transition that is disrupting her sleep (and yours, to boot). Maybe you’ve hit a financial cul-de-sac and it’s scary. Maybe you just really dislike the professor you’re working with for a semester or two. To know when to quit something , you have to ask yourself if the additional pressures are temporary and if you’d feel differently about them, about your life, three months from now.

And also? If you want to know when to quit something (or if you even should), it’s good to examine the flip-side of how staying in might ultimately serve your life. Would that degree program enhance your ability to make money, long term, creating more financial stability? Would you regret not following through, later, because it’s part of a larger life dream? Do you have a pattern of not finishing things you start , and would there be value in seeing this through?

A great question to ask if you want to know when to quit something is this: If I knew that everything with this endeavour would be hard, but would ultimately work out and turn out okay, would I stay the course?

If the answer is “Yes, of course!” then guess what? You’ve actually arrived at the moment of transformation: staying the course and NOT quitting is going to teach you everything you need to know about where and why you give up on yourself, across the entirety of your life.

4. Finally but most of all? Do not sabotage your options, while you’re in the process of making the decision whether or not to quit.

Do not sabotage everything by treating your resistance differently for only two weeks, and then when life hasn’t magically changed, saying, “Well, I tried to do things differently, and it STILL didn’t work!” Changing patterns of resistance takes time, so you aren’t going to get immediate results.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the degree program, don’t start skipping assignments or classes while you officially decide.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the marriage, don’t pick more fights while you officially decide.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to train for a half-Ironman, don’t skip workouts while you officially decide.

The logic in our heads when we start to bail on things is, “I just need a break, a little space to figure this out or get some rest—then I’ll come back to this project, refreshed.” Usually, however, it doesn’t work that way. For instance, students who skip class or assignments to “rest” end up needing to work harder to make up the points—that’s why the “rest” is a sabotage maneuver.

And if, after reading this, you still skip the assignments or start the fights or bail on your scheduled workouts…understand that you’re not still “trying to decide.”

You already have decided.

You’ve decided to quit. Sabotaging your options is, for most people, the first part of how they quit things.

If reading those words strikes fear in you—Oh, god, I’ve been sabotaging it! Wait! That’s not the decision I really wanted to make; I don’t want to quit this!—then I’ve got great news:

you can simply decide to get back to it, this time fully committed.

Only this time, what you’re fully committed to isn’t just the degree, the marriage, the triathlon—it’s a full commitment to seeing who you are in this process, how you sabotage yourself through resistance, what the mental loops are that play over and over again…and all the rest.

When I decided to quit training for my second half-Ironman, I figured out what my resistance was about, made life changes to see if that pushed the needle in a better direction, asked myself questions about the immediate and longer-term desires for my life, and kept at my training the entire time while I was figuring out what I wanted to do, next. Quitting became the obvious right choice for me when I saw that my body, this year, just kept wearing down and with it, my mental state was feeling more worn down—this despite consistently applying attention to my resistance and making tweaks and changes to shift it.

If you want to know when to quit something , give yourself the benefit of a process while you decide whether or not to quit. It’s more nuanced than just a feeling of resistance. What you discover from giving a process to your decision will ultimately mean more than what you finally decide.

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