30 days of focus: The psychology of quitting

There’s a lot of thought leadership out there already on the psychology of focusing and being productive. We focus on focus… and that’s a good thing. But I think we should also spend some time thinking about how not to quit.

Have you ever quit something? I have.

I’ve quit jobs and clients and projects and workout routines and business goals and personal goals. Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do (i.e. an unhealthy business relationship) but most of the time, quitting is the wrong thing to do.

We know that focusing on something to completion is good…
And we know that quitting before we’re done is bad…
And we know that we’ll probably feel regret at quitting…
So why do we quit anyway?

When I’ve quit things that I shouldn’t have quit, there’s a lot that goes on in my mind prior to the quitting, and I’m sharing my thought process because I suspect that maybe you’ve thought this way, too:

I never start out thinking that I want to quit. I usually start out thinking that I want to succeed. Before long, I start to hit the hard part of whatever it is I’m doing. My thinking goes like this: “Wow, this is hard.” Then: “This is really hard”. Then: “This is harder than I imagined it to be.” Then: “Is the cost worth it?” Then: “I still have a long way to go before I’m done.” Then: “I’m not sure I have what is needed to finish.”

… and as soon as I think that, I’ve basically quit and am just going through the motions for a little longer before I finally give up.

What seems to be happening here is: We’re on a journey from start to finish but because the task is difficult, our minds want to make our lives easier. (Sort of a survival instinct, I guess). So it builds a bridge of logic toward the easiest, fastest, safest, most pain-free ending. It seems like our minds chain together logical statements toward the inevitable conclusion of quitting.

So here are some mental tools to help me (and you) overcome that problem:

  • I’m pretty sure that our tolerance for pain/discomfort/hardship is a sort of muscle that we can strengthen by facing and embracing pain/discomfort/hardship. With physical exercise, we tear apart the muscle so that it rebuilds itself to be stronger. I wonder if it’s similar with our resolve not to quit. If that is true (and I think it is) then we need to gain exposure to activities that deliver a little bit of discomfort and then increase the level of discomfort until we can tolerate a lot.
  • Being aware of the bridge of logic that our minds are building will also help. By being conscious about what we are thinking, and then making sure that we are “forcing” our minds to keep thinking positively through the challenging activity should help us redirect that bridge of logic.
  • One reason I’ve given up some things is because I haven’t spent enough time at the beginning envisioning success and burning with a passion to achieve it. A few minutes before the project or task or activity can help shape our vision.
  • You need an end goal in mind before you start. If you don’t have a firmly-established goal, you won’t know when to stop and you’ll be tempted to stop sooner than if you have a goal.
  • One of my most frequently-used tools is some kind of countdown. So when I’m working out, and I have a minute to do a difficult, repetitive task, I watch the clock and countdown with it toward 0. Or, when I’m writing a project that I don’t want to write, I set a word goal and every word “counts down” toward 0. Creating these “mini goals” help to make seemingly insurmountable challenges to be a lot easier.
  • This is something I do when I’m working on a business-related project I want to quit: It’s easy to get distracted with other things — new ideas, stuff you have to check on the internet, etc. So I keep a piece of paper handy and list those things as I go. This gets them off of my mind and even though I want to do them right now, I end up building up a nice a little list of rewarding activities to do after I’ve completed my project.

Use these tools to help you avoid quitting and push forward with greater focus!

Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and he's a real estate investor and a copywriter for real estate investors.

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