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Is quitting ever a good idea?

We look at whether to hang on or to give up when the going gets tough.

Have you been enjoying watching the Olympic Games over the last few days? Are you determined to get up early and watch the events live, happy to catch up with the review programmes – or do you just think ‘meh’ and tune into something else?

Whatever your engagement with the Games has been, you can’t have missed the fallout surrounding the decision by Simone Biles to pull out of her team gymnastics event – and possibly out of the Games altogether. It had us chatting in the Box Office about why the word ‘quitting’ has such negative connotations, especially when doing so can actually be beneficial for your mental health.

Helen Glover, who came fourth in her rowing event two days after Simone pulled out despite hoping for a medal, was quoted as saying ‘trying and failing is not a problem, as long as you try’. If you equate this to Simone’s decision, it stands that she should have tried, for the sake of her team mates and her country, even if she knew she wasn’t going to win. But what would that have cost her?

As creative people (as I know followers of Boxcitement are!), we are more sensitive than many to external pressures – from creative block to effective time management, we know that having a bad day at the office can affect output, production, confidence and ultimately business success. People who are right-brain oriented (yes, that’s us creative types) will naturally experiment more, explore different possibilities, innovate and change direction – and quitting in these situations often leads to a better outcome and a happier person even though the change in direction may be difficult at the time. Have you ever been tempted to quit because the pressure felt like too much? While we may not have the eyes of the world on us like Simone, all of us have the pressure of keeping going when we don’t want to, of overcoming challenges like the pandemic and Brexit that sometimes feel insurmountable, and having to focus on aspects of our lives and careers that we don’t want to.

We have scoured resources on the psychology of quitting (yes, it’s a thing) to come up with an action plan to help anyone needing to make the decision to change direction.

Be confident in the decision you have made
The real art of quitting is to know whether it’s the right time to quit. It can take months to decide to make a huge decision – not the few moments that Simone took – but once that decision is made the best approach is to be confident with it. Persisting in the new direction instead of regretting the past can help propel you to achieve greater things in the future. Lack of confidence in the decision to quit can cause anxiety – don’t regret what you have already done.

Don’t ignore the signs
Be grateful for the opportunities that have come your way, but if they are no longer motivating you, if you are struggling to continue and are becoming scared of new challenges, it may be time to quit. It’s easy to ignore that nagging suspicion that you might be getting too comfortable (this could be in a job, a relationship, or with your own self development). Without quitting you will never know what new opportunities are out there, and you are stifling your growth – it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone now and then to keep that spark alive.

Accept that all things come to an end
If you are struggling to quit a personal attachment, a safe job or a failing business it’s completely understandable, when you don’t know what may replace that situation. But if you remind yourself that everything comes to an end eventually, and that it’s far better for you to instigate an end rather than have it imposed on you, you are empowering your future. If your present situation isn’t benefitting you, and you can’t change that, it’s best to move on.

Be adaptive, and assess your commitment regularly
Committing to a person, a role or a situation isn’t a guarantee of success – it’s the admission that you want this to work, but you are also acknowledging the possibility that it won’t. If you don’t put pressure on yourself to succeed you won’t doubt yourself if you fail, and doubt can often lead to quitting. Opportunities may well arise from a new situation that you hadn’t anticipated and may be more fulfilling than you had expected – especially if you can adapt to any changes in your situation even if it hasn’t lived up to your expectations.

Focus on the long-term
We as human beings are resilient and capable of recovering from set backs and challenges – it’s just that sometimes short term pain can stop us from seeing the bigger picture. If you can focus on your future goals, it makes present challenges easier to deal with – a knee-jerk reaction can lead to regret in the long term. Alternatively, if when you look at the bigger picture you can see that it’s not going to work, then it’s time to cut your losses, knowing you gave it your best.

Don’t consider quitting as failure or wasted time
Often the decision to quit something can leave you feeling liberated, like a weight has been lifted (as described by Simone Biles). But it’s always a good idea to reflect on and learn from the decision that made you quit, as you will be able to appreciate how that decision has helped you to grow. Don’t dwell on the time spent deciding whether to quit, instead accept that you have learned from the experience and focus on what happens next. Remember, quitting is not failure, it’s simply the realisation that your circumstances needed to change and that you were right to be pro-active about it.

Take your time
In moments of doubt, the worst thing you can do is hurry up and quit. Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide whether this is the right time to stop:
Are you learning anything? Is there room for growth and development?
Are you being challenged?
Are you inspired?
Are proud of what you’re doing?
Do you have time to spend on your other interests, or with your family?
Is there a good chance the circumstances will improve enough in the long-term to make it worth pressing on?
If the answer to all of these questions is “no”, congratulations. You probably have the easiest decision to make.

I must admit I am conflicted about Simone’s actions. Whilst no-one can claim to be inside her head, and it was clearly a huge choice for her to make, I do wonder whether she may come to regret what was quite a quick decision – after all, rising above adversity is often what we become most proud of. But I have to say it’s been interesting to reflect on why we quit and how that affects our lives – and for that I have Simone to thank!

Best wishes for now - Deb

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