On Being a Quitter

I was originally going to title this: "Dead Horses... When to Stop Beating Them."

But then I thought, do I really want to encourage people who are googling "dead horses" to find us here, where we prefer our horsies not dead and, in fact, frisky and rarin' to go? Oh, and sporting wings if possible.


Plus I also wanted to offer a nod over in Rick Hanson's direction, since he's a constant source inspiration, and watching one of his recent "Just One Minute" videos on accepting the limits of your influence was the impetus for this post.  Plus Rick is moderating what looks to be a very cool, FREE online seminar in October called The Compassionate Brain and I wanted to let folks know about it.  And then I thought, sheesh, would Rick really want to be found in the company of dead, depressing, and possibly rotting and smelly horse corpses when he could be in a post about the joys of being a quitter instead?  Oh wait... that doesn't sound much better, does it?  But hell, coming this blog, it could be a lot worse.

This post also contains an Exciting and Totally Premature Announcement, which I will most likely regret but what the hell.

First up, the Announcement!

Looks like Cranky Fitness is going to become the basis of a series of ebooks!

And don't worry, we're talking relatively cheap ebooks.  Some material will be new, and some of it old dusty stuff from the archives, but carefully chopped up and updated polished and all new and shiny again!  If you're a recent follower of this blog, you won't have seen the older posts. And if you're a long-time reader, you'd have to be one who eats a crapload of blueberries and has a fantastic memory for any of it to ring a bell, so you're good too.

The first ebook, focusing on exercise, is in the works as we speak and should come out before too long.  I am partnering with a publisher, yay!  But then I've had flirtations with publishers before... thus the caveat that this could all go down the toilet at the last minute.

On the other hand, even if said publisher suddenly realizes what a half-assed health blog this is and changes its mind, there is still going to be a series of ebooks!  Once I've finished the damn thing, I'll go the self-publishing route if I have to, which has gotten a lot more approachable and inexpensive since I last looked into it.  But so far, it's looking good.

Okay, now back to the topic at hand, which, in a tortured way, is actually related.


Figuring out Whether, When, and How To Quit Something

So how do you know when it's time to toss in the towel something you've invested a lot of time in?  It could be a competitive sport or an exercise activity, a particular diet plan, a relationship, a job, a house, a blog, a child... oh wait, you're kinda stuck with that last one.

And what if a losing investment has nonetheless become part of your identity?  Who are you if you're no longer a... marathoner, or a lawyer, or a wife, or a llama breeder, or a vegan, or whatever?  Tough stuff.

(And why am I even offering advice when these questions are so personal?  'Cause that's what I seem to be doing a lot of lately!  I've discovered that climbing on a soap box and solving imaginary problems is not only an increasingly seductive side-effect of reaching middle-age, but it's way easier than doing actual health research.  Though, um, there'll definitely be some of that in the eBook! Also, who better than a McSlacker to offer tips on quitting? I've quit so damn many things in my life that I should have a PhD in it.  And I've discovered there are some tricks to it). 

So in my mind there are two distinct categories:

1. No-Brainers

These are things you know, at both an intellectual and an emotional level, aren't working for you any more.  Perhaps they're bad habits or addictions, abusive relationships, insanely stressful work situations, cults that require increasingly weird and embarrassing rituals, whatever.

In this case, your obstacles are less about deciding the right course of action, and more about moving from Prochaska's "Pre-contemplation" stage, to McSlacker's "Whew, I kicked ass and moved on and why didn't I do that sooner!" stage.

There is a whole freakin' library of books on how to overcome addictions or otherwise change something that's not working, so I'll just pass on a few basic suggestions and urge you to look further than one section of a post at an extremely silly blog.

  • Be mindful and gentle with yourself throughout the process--self-criticism is counterproductive and fosters denial. Setbacks are common and human. Perfection is an impossible and pointless quest!
  • Seek support.  Seriously, don't try to go it alone. Support can be confidential and customized to your level of comfort with "sharing," which has been put in quotation marks especially for those of you who find the whole concept of it kinda barfy.
  • Spend a lot of time thinking of a positive vision of your glorious post-change future.   Make it vivid!  You can embellish it with unicorns and multi-colored friendly dragons and waterfalls if that helps. And know that with every small positive decision you make or action you take, you are getting closer.
  • Get practical about logistical obstacles and take care of as many as you can beforehand to make the actual change as easy as possible.
Ok, that's it. Now get thee to a counselor or other professional, a support group, a self-help aisle at a bookstore, a friend, or at least visit Dr. Google who probably has plenty more resources.

2. Stuff You're Not Sure You Want to Ditch

This is a different issue--you've got something in your life with a lot of positives!  But you're not sure if the time and energy you're putting in are worth it.  Yet you've already invested so much, how can you just let it go and feel like a loser for hanging on for so long?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
  • Has the issue of wanting to quit come up a lot, over a long period of time? Or is it recent?
  • Just how sucky does thinking about your commitment make you feel? Just a little, or massively sucky?
  • Are you the sort of person who generally perseveres, or do you flit from thing to thing?  If your usual pattern is to stick with things too long, you may want to look at that. On the other hand, if you get discouraged easily and tend to give up on things too soon, would a bit more patience be a good idea before you make a decision?
  • What aspect of the activity or situation bothers you the most, and is it worth figuring out ways to make that particular piece less awful?
  • Have you tried figuring out ways to decrease your time investment incrementally or temporarily without losing everything all at once?  Sometimes situations that seem black and white at first, "quitting" vs "sticking it out" -- can have some in-between space if you look for it.
  • Have you tried actually writing out some pros and cons to quitting? What would you lose? What would you gain?
  • Do you have a good sense of intuition, and if so, what does your gut say?
  • What does this commitment mean for you ultimately?  Is it about accomplishment, loyalty, self-esteem, etc?  Are there other ways to get at the same thing that are less costly?
And if after you've asked yourself these questions, it's becoming clear you want to move on, here are yet two more pieces of advice:

1. Leave the door cracked open a bit if possible.

Try using words like "hiatus," "leave," "break," "sabbatical," "separation" or others that hint of a possible return, even if it doesn't seem practical or likely.  It can ease ambivalence about leaving, even if you're pretty sure it's permanent.  Plus, sometimes things change!

I said goodbye to Cranky Fitness back in the beginning of 2010, with no plans to return. I had tried to turn it into a part time job, but alas, couldn't get quite enough ad revenue to swing it.  But I left the blog up, and checked back in every quarter or so with an update... just in case.  Then after a year and a half (an eternity in blog time) I missed it too much.  Cranky Fitness commenters, especially. You guys rock! Plus I'd reinvented myself as a Life Coach and figured it might make sense to use Cranky Fitness to let people know about that.  Quitting back in 2010 was totally the right thing to do! And yet, so was returning. But both were made easier by the fact that I left that door open a crack.

(Observant readers may also recall that I started a companion blog a few months back, "Cranky Enlightenment" and then changed my mind and decided to deal with personal growth stuff here instead.  But... I used the word "hiatus" over there, even though I'm not posting.  Just sayin'.  You never know!)

2. Have no regrets 

One of the biggest obstacles to quitting is that it seems to turn something from an "ongoing quest" into "a bit fat honking acknowledgement of wasted time." Getting over this notion is tremendously liberating.

Because here's the thing, and the older I get, the more positive I am that it's true:

Nothing is ever wasted.

Or, more accurately, some things may well have been a waste, but there is no possible way to ever know which things those were while you're still alive and breathing. So there's no use beating yourself up for something that seems like it wasn't a good idea.

Even what appear to be the most awful, pointless, dumb-ass situations have often either been crucial learning experiences in my life, or have led to meeting wonderful people or taking advantage of amazing things later that could never have happened without the crappy thing.  But sometimes it takes years to for it to happen!  And some cherished past accomplishments may have felt great at the time, but these may well have been diversions from an even greater opportunity, or may have set in motion things that eventually sucked big time. Who knows?

Did I regret all the time I'd spent on Cranky Fitness the day I quit?  You betcha!  Do I regret it now? Not one bit.  Life is weird that way.

So what about you guys, anything you're thinking of quitting?  Had any good or bad experiences with quitting?

Pegasus image by: Taltan

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