Not a very sciencey one this week, but I hope you enjoy the ideas in this blog post.
As my exercise classes become gradually less crowded, and people give up on their new year’s resolutions, I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief, for the purely selfish reason that my classes are less overcrowded. But at the same time, I’ve started to think about quitting, and how we’d all benefit from knowing more about why we can’t seem to keep our resolutions, and when it’s ok to give up on a goal.
According to the University of Scranton, only around 8% of people actually manage to achieve their new year’s resolutions, so a majority of us just don’t seem to be able to meet our targets. This might be because we set aims too high too soon, rather than gradually building up a habit, whether it’s going to the gym more, eating healthier foods, or changing some part of ourselves. Or it might be because we chose the resolution badly: be a better person probably isn’t going to cut it as far as a target goes: they need to be measurable, so at the end of the day, we can say: yeah, I’m one step closer to where I want to be. and then later, we know we’ve hit the target. A lot of us struggle to be patient: if you’re trying to get fit, you won’t see the benefits straight away; it takes a while, and a lot of people, upon seeing no results after a couple of weeks, might just pack it in, thinking it’s not worth it. In this case, the best thing to do would be to keep trying, and be patient. Find joy in the activity, the motivation, not just in the end goal. While the goal can be a strong motivator initially, our drive can weaken if all we can think about is how we haven’t got there yet, and it’s important not to think too far ahead when we should be thinking about the present, and about the effort we’re making to change ourselves for the better. Then if it still doesn’t work, and it’s not working for you, maybe it’s time for a change of tactic, or a change of plan.
But quitting isn’t always bad. Winners do quit: they just know when to do it, and how. Quitting is not weak. It’s an educated decision we make when we know what we want or need, and how to get it. To move onto better things is not to quit, it’s called adapting – trial and error. In an ideal world, we’d replace the thing we’ve quit with something more productive, more beneficial, or use it to make more time for something we haven’t been paying enough attention to. To quit is not to fail.
Perhaps the toughest subject to handle, is when to quit your dreams. As a child, we live in this sort of “dream stage”, as it was described by one of my teachers at secondary school. We all wanted to be singers, actors, professions we’d seen on TV. Even when we’re making decisions about college subjects, we’re still in this stage when we don’t really know what we want to be and the choices we make might still be based on these wild aspirations that we don’t fully understand the reality of. Obviously people are going to drop out of university and college when we’ve made these decisions so soon. Sometimes we don’t know what’s right for us until we try it. But does that mean we can’t be singers or actors or writers? No it doesn’t. The job exists, right? So why shouldn’t you be the one to do it? I heard some valuable advice at an event lately. Of course, there is a chance that you’re never going to have that dream job, and you’re not going to make it. So maybe there’s a logic to setting a target, a time frame in which you hope to achieve your ambition, and if you don’t make it, you don’t find your “big break”, maybe approach it from a different way, or find something else to do – by all means don’t just sit around wishing – and maybe later you’ll find an opportunity.
Maybe I’m a quitter. I quit tap-dancing lessons when I was very young (I can only imagine I was awful at it, having no co-ordination whatsoever); I quit playing football, again, something I was very very bad at, and in fact, didn’t make me feel good at all, after the amount of stick I got for being so bad (and ok, maybe I got stick for other reasons too, but I won’t go into those). I quit my part-time job this week, and I feel better for it: now I have time to focus more on things that matter, from my mountain of university work to actually feeling happy and relaxed. I might be a quitter. But I’m also a trier. If you try a lot of things, you’re bound to fail, you’re bound to quit something at some point. But where’s the harm in that?