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Give Up To Get On – Why Giving Up Can Be Good For You

No, we’re not talking about quitting a bad habit like smoking or drinking but knowing when to persist with a goal and when to give up. Quitting not only frees us from the hopeless pursuit of the unattainable but permits us to commit to new and more satisfying goals. Learning how to quit is an important, conscious counterbalance to the built-in habits of mind, many of which are unconscious, that keep us committed to a path we would be better off abandoning.



To gauge your level of persistence, take a look at the following statements. Answer yes or no, trying to be as honest as possible:

  1. I believe that things usually work out for the best.
  2. I think quitting is a last resort.
  3. I’m energized by challenges other people find daunting.
  4. I worry a lot when things go off track.
  5. When I can’t get what I want, I want it even more.
  6. I’d rather stay in a situation or relationship too long than leave it too soon.
  7. I never walk out of something I’ve paid for, even if it’s boring or dull.
  8. I’m an optimist by nature.
  9. I believe in staying the course.
  10. I tend to second-guess myself.
  11. I spend a lot of time talking about my failed relationships.
  12. What people think of me is very important.
  13. If I lose something, I can’t stop thinking about it or looking for it.
  14. I won’t settle, but I will shop until I find exactly what I want.
  15. Succeeding is very important to me.
  16. I have trouble compromising.
  17. I make to-do lists and complete them all the time.
  18. I’m not good at distracting myself when I’m stressed.
  19. I consider myself more focused than other people.
  20. I think giving up is a sign of weakness.

The more items you agree with, the more likely you are to err on the side of persistence, even when it’s unwarranted, and the harder it may be for you to consider quitting. But consider the following simple observations, which apply to goals in all areas of life, including love, relationships and work:

  • People who ultimately reach their goals have to do more than learn from their failures. They have to give up on their failed goals fully and completely.
  • Giving up frees the mind and spirit, and it’s the act of quitting that permits growth and learning and promotes the ability to frame new goals. Failing without quitting diminishes the self and often incapacitates our ability to act. Without the ability to give up, most people will end up in a discouraging loop.
  • The most satisfied people have the ability both to persist and to quit. They know when it’s time to stop persisting and start quitting. And vice versa. When they quit, they really quit. Then they shift gears, set a new goal and start persisting all over again. They don’t look back.
  • Some people are naturally better at both persisting and quitting. While that’s not as democratic as believing in doggedness, the good news is that anyone can master the art of quitting.
  • Quitting is a healthy, adaptive response when a goal can’t be reached or what appeared to be a life path turns out to be a blind alley or when life otherwise throws you a curve ball. Simply putting quitting on the table – seeing it as possible course of action – is a helpful corrective to the tunnel vision persistence often creates and a necessary first step to changing your perspective.
  • To succeed, you need the ability to persist balanced by the ability to quit.

The psychological term for this is goal disengagement, which is a series of interrelated steps, not a oneshot thing. Disengagement isn’t the quitting associated with the off-the cuff, ‘screw you’, slamming-of-the door kind, but is something else entirely. It’s not the act of a coward or someone who doesn’t have the energy to stick it out. This kind of disengagement is mindful and intelligent, and takes place on all levels of the person. It alters how you think, feel and behave. Done right, giving up can motivate you to set new goals and consider new possibilities.

You’ll find more on the art of quitting in Give Up to Get On by Peg Streep and Alan B. Bernstein.