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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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What to do when you just want to quit…everything
I was talking with one of my super-smart friends—one of those incredibly kind, wise women whose wisdom in part lies with the fact that she doesn’t make herself “wrong” for feeling what she feels. “I feel like I need to root down into some structure, right now,” she said, and she proceeded to tell me about how she’d recently made herself a healthy habits list.
This healthy habits list included everything from things she needed to hold herself accountable around with her body to her relationships to her internal well-being. That got me to thinking about what would go on my own healthy habits list (and what wouldn’t go on such a list!).
When I talk about habits, I’m always talking about integrating a way of being into your life in such a way that you don’t have to “pump yourself up” or work hard to “motivate” yourself to move into that way of being. When something is a habit, it’s something you do over and over without really thinking about it (which is great when something works well for us, and not as great when it’s a bad habit). That’s why I love combining courage and habits.
Consider this question for yourself, too: what would go on your own healthy habits list? What are the daily habits that would nourish you physically, mentally, spiritually, financially, or otherwise?
Here’s my healthy habits list , the list of healthy lifestyle habits that support me to live each day from a place of courage (and in case anyone is new around here and doesn’t already know? That doesn’t mean perfection. When I talk about living with courage, I’m talking about how we live authentically at the same time that we own our mistakes, work with challenges that arise, and give something back to the wider world).
My Healthy Habits List (Feel free to share!)
Meditation and accessing the body : Doesn’t need to be a long, structured meditation. If I can spend a few minutes taking present breaths after waking up, I’m good. Any time spent accessing the body and getting present is good.
Recognizing the Upper Limit and reframing limiting stories : I finally came to understand the ways that I “upper limit” myself and one habit I’ve cultivated is to do a daily check-in to see if I can recognize anything from that day that was “upper limiting.” This keeps me conscious about the tendency to go to that place.
Salads : I’ll be honest and share that for me, making a salad is a PITA. I’d rather grab and go than take the time. But I know that fresh vegetables are critical to my overall health, so I’m also willing to make this a healthy habit that I’ll stay accountable around.
Social time and reaching out : Between my business, writing my book (The Courage Habit), being the mother of a young child, wanting to make sure I have time with my husband, and regular exercise (including, at one point, training for half-Ironman triathlons!), sometimes the last thing on my list is finding dedicated time with friends. Yet the clinical research indicates over and over that one of the healthiest habits you can have is regular time with people you’re connected to. Finding some way to make sure that I play and have social time is something that goes on the habits list.
Writing fiction : The feelings of being time-crunched that I just mentioned above, also apply here. It’s easier to think, “I need to get work done” than it is to think, “I need to write fiction because it’s this thing that I love to do.” When I create a healthy habits list and then make myself accountable—grounding and rooting in it as my wise friend described—then I make sure that my side projects get more room at the table.
Creating a healthy habits list that hits all of the bio-psycho-social notes of what you need physically, mentally, and socially is a great way to go.
With my own healthy habits list (currently hanging in my kitchen) I find that I’ll be most successful at keeping the habits going when I make the bar for success low (e.g., a regular salad instead of that new salad with the funky dressing that requires special ingredients from the store will suffice to fulfill my “I had a salad” requirements) and if I tie each habit to something else. For instance, if I always make a point of checking in with friends when I take my lunch break, that ties the habit of checking in and getting social time with something that I do daily, anyway (take a lunch break).
One other quick thing: for those of us with a rebellious streak, if you’ve read this far, some part of you might be thinking, “Ugh, a healthy habits list isn’t for me. I hate that kind of structure!”
I’m not one who likes being tied down to rigid structure, either—but I find that within a few days of being committed to a list like this, I’m able to integrate these habits into my day in such a way that they don’t really feel like “structure.” It’s worth confronting and reframing limiting Stories about how you perceive this kind of accountability (or how you perceive establishing healthy habits, for that matter).
Now it’s your turn: what would you want to go on your own healthy habits list? You might also want to join the YCL e-letter to get access to the Your Courageous Life library full of resources, including the Shift Plan and an upcoming worksheet for creating your own healthy habits list .
There were all of the good things, lined up neatly in rows: There was my husband, Italian and creative and endlessly compassionate—when I think of him, I often think, “he is a beautiful human being”—and our delicious, healthy, fresh baby girl. There was my self-made business that had, some months, grossed more in a month than I had made in an entire year. There were the friends, the invitations, the exciting things on the horizon. And what tipped everything was this: the half-million dollar home in California that we bought, our dream home right out of the gate, in the town where we wanted to live and with the groovy original 1975 architecture that matched all of our midcentury modern furniture.
I had sat down and—this is the only correct and true word—curated my life. I had asked myself what it was that I truly wanted, and it had all come to fruition. Marriage, motherhood, mortgage. And with it, came a low-grade, gritchety, nagging sense of unfulfillment that began shortly after signing the papers on the house and moving.
I’d start crying. Or complaining. Or both, within the same hour.
Not prone to pathologizing emotions, I didn’t think too much of this, at first. I think that crying is normal. I think that complaining comes up when we want to be heard or when we’ve got too much pent-up emotional stuff and we’re trying to vent it out, in some way. I think that no one is perfect and that living an authentic life means feeling the authentic emotions—so I cried, I complained.
For months, it would be better. For months, it would be worse. I upped the ante on all of my personal tools and practices. I read more self-help books than I read fiction, and then switched back to more fiction (and then back to self-help). I took digital sabbaticals. I worked less, I worked more. I distanced myself from friendships in an effort to go internal and just be with myself. I reached out to all of my friends in an effort to stretch into more social support.
And I cried. And I complained.
In some ways, neither of these things were problems. I’d be writing, and tears would come up, so I’d cry. Then I’d be over it, and I’d move on with the rest of my day. Or I’d complain to someone and that little venting of the complaints would ease my mind a bit—I was being heard, witnessed—and then I’d be okay.
I drew cards, consulted oracles and energy workers, reworked my diet, considered a new coach or therapist, volunteered more so that I could get out of my own head and into using some of my privilege for something other than my own (narcissistic! selfish! I told myself in my difficult moments) crying and complaining.
For months at a time, it got better. I’d prematurely celebrate—I made it through!
For months at a time, it got worse. Some annoyance and judgement of myself crept in. I began crying and complaining about the fact that I had such difficulty with crying and complaining.
I’d sit, access the body, meditate, pray to my spirit guides, listen without attachment to the fears of my critic, reframe limiting stories, reach out and create community, read about habit-formation, go solitary. I’d reign myself in, I’d let myself all hang out.
And then? This amazing thing happened. I got a book deal! For days after the news, I was on cloud nine, maybe on cloud nine million. I was so happy that I couldn’t imagine crying-and-complaining ever coming again for another visit.
Nope. Back it came. I worked on my book, and when I talked to people in my inner circle, I cried or complained. Then I stopped, then I started, then I stopped, then I started.
Hiding Out From Your Life
Until finally, the knot unspooled itself, and I came to understand: Kate, you are hiding out from your life .
Everything about the pattern was suddenly clear: Whenever life got good, I started crying and complaining.
I did that because I had spent so long in the trenches of crying and complaining and wishing that life would get good, that these crying-complaining trenches had become familiar and safe.
If it has occurred to you that I just sound inordinately privileged and that you would never, ever squander such blessings–well, you’d only be pointing out something I was acutely aware of. I didn’t grow up with this kind of access. I grew up with holes in my shoes, food insecure, always acutely aware of how dire finances could get. Things could be emotionally unstable at home, as well. The child in me that had lived through that had spent so long scanning her environment for What Was Wrong and Wishing It Could Be Better that she didn’t know how to just be when life was good and all the wishing (and work) had become reality.
She didn’t know how to be when she grossed more in a month than she’d earned in a year at a salaried job.
She didn’t know how to be when she was crying and complaining so much, and yet her husband looked at her with total love and faith and belief and said, “I think you’re on the cusp of a breakthrough.”
She didn’t know how to be when she was walking the halls of the beautiful house, finding a new little nook or scratch or thing to love.
She didn’t know how to be when she cried in front of a friend and the friend looked at her with total love and faith and belief and said, “You’re going to find your way through.”
She didn’t know how to be when she watched her child grow.
She didn’t know how to be when she watched women going after their own dreams and finding true connection and celebrating themselves.
That child in me, that still lived in the adult in me, just didn’t know how to be.
So, she defaulted to the way that she did know to be: crying (because life is sad) and complaining (because life is hard).
She expressed the two emotions that were never, ever allowed when she was growing up.
The Upper Limit Problem
Danielle LaPorte said, “I’ve bought my own house, with money that came from my own ideas,” and that statement sent a shiver through me—because that, too, is me. I, too, have built a business with my own ideas and those ideas have funded a pretty incredible life. To hit that level of success kicked off more crying and complaining than I’d ever seen from myself.
In the Big Leap, what I’m describing here would be called an “Upper Limit” problem. When you’ve reached the upper limit of what you can imagine for yourself, you sabotage it and take a few steps back or you get really complacent and stagnant, because it’s too much to imagine more. You’ve reached an “upper limit.” Fear is in the driver’s seat.
I’d thought that my crying and complaining were legitimate. After all, wasn’t I such an empath? And didn’t someone need to speak up about the issues the world faces? I intentionally and actively practice allowing difficult emotions, rather than avoiding them, placating them, or attacking them. It makes sense that I would have allowed so much crying and complaining to take place, even as I sometimes judged myself for the experience.
From the perspective of my soul’s evolution, of course, crying and complaining were absolutely legitimate, and even necessary. They were part of the process.
Also from the perspective of my soul’s evolution: after walking through those years of crying and complaining, I have seen something deeper and more real, and I can’t go back to seeing things in the old way, anymore.
Crying and complaining was a way of processing old pain that also became a way of hiding out from my life and the joy that is available.
And now, I see—which is not to say that I’ll never cry or complain, again, but rather, that when those things come up for me, I’m going to be aware of why they’re coming up. I’ll be equipped to ask, “Where are you hiding out from your life , Kate? Where are you hiding out from your life’s joy, and defaulting to crying and complaining because they are familiar?”
Everything in life requires nuance. If you recognize yourself in these words—these words that I write because in the midst of my own process, I never saw anyone else writing so nakedly about this—maybe you need the time to cry and complain (or whatever your version of hiding out from your life happens to be). Hiding out is part of the process of “coming out of hiding.” You don’t just leap straight to “coming out of hiding” without spending some time hiding out from your life .
I think the only reason my own knot unspooled is because I stayed with what I was feeling when I was hiding out, over and over, while reminding myself that I am not what I feel.
People talk about “authenticity” and wanting to “live authentic lives” but what they are usually referring to is (a fantasy of) infinite happiness.
I have lived a different kind of “authentic life.” I have lived a relentlessly authentic life because I was willing to be with the crying and complaining. To be honest, it took a shit-ton of courage to continue to explore it with presence. I was frequently frustrated with myself, and particularly with how long I felt it was taking for me to get anywhere. I was sometimes exhausted by just how aware I was of my internal landscape.
So if you recognize yourself: Carry on, warrior, with presence.
Check in and see: is turning over the pain, so well-worn by now, a form of hiding out?
Notice where it’s a necessary process on your path.
Notice where it’s time to let go.
When something is ready to transform, it transforms. Once you see clearly, you won’t be able to un-see. It will be painful. It will be beautiful.
It will be both, and it will be clean and good.