Are You a Quitter? Studies Show How Giving Up Can Be A Resilient Choice. ✊

‘The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’


Determination is a highly prized attribute and an important feature of resilience. Engaging with adversity requires determination, and persistence is necessary to sustain performance in the face of stress or difficulty. But what happens when we give up? The third component of the resilience formula is bouncing back. Bouncing back means we no longer engage or persist – by definition we give up or ‘disengage from our goals’.
‘Giving up’ isn’t seen as a positive attribute. We are told from an early age that we must always persist. In the United States, doggedly pursuing a goal is synonymous with achieving happiness. Moreover, psychologists Greg Miller and Carsten Wrosch suggest that ‘the notion that persistence is essential for success and happiness is deeply embedded in popular and scientific writing’. From this perspective, resilience is equated with being invulnerable. In reality, it isn’t. Giving up on a particular goal may be the best thing for your mental health. Studies have shown that people who disengage from unattainable goals enjoy better health and well-being, and that withdrawal from these goals may enable people to recoup personal resources that can be used to reengage in new, more realistic, attainable goals. Instead of equating ‘giving up’ with failure, perhaps we should view quitting as a positive choice in the circumstances.

Do I go all out – do or die? Or do I set a timeout marker to trigger re-evaluation of the goal or a review of the situation? If so, what conditions may make the continued pursuit of the goal untenable? Or is this something that I would rather die trying than give up never knowing if I could have done it? The question here is again ‘will I look back in regret someday?

George Vaillant

Quitting and the Gift of Learning


A key component few acknowledge when they write or talk about resilience is the process of learning during an experience. Resilient people constantly recalibrate their strategy in order to determine if there is a different or better way to move forward. Sometimes rebounding or bouncing back means disengaging from the pursuit of a particular outcome altogether.

As you read this post, I’d like you to consider a time when you ‘gave-up’ or disengaged from a goal. What made you make this choice? How did you feel before, during and after you withdrew? Did you feel guilty? Proud? Relieved? Perhaps you are wrestling with a decision about quitting something right now. Or perhaps you have never, ever given up. You’ve always engaged and persisted, never having to rebound and learn from the experience. If this describes your strategy, I’d like you to consider the degree to which it’s working for you.

I want to Quit Checklist


If you’re considering making a choice to quit, or want to know how to decide, here are 5 tips to help you make a resilient choice:

  1. Ownership: Who really owns the goal or aspiration? Does the goal belong to you or are you living out someone else’s fantasy? Olympic gymnast ‘Mike’ is a perfect example of misplaced ‘ownership’. Mike was an 18 year old member of the British men’s Olympic gymnastic team. He’d been a gymnast ‘all his life’. The problem for Mike was he wanted to give up; to live a normal life. His other problem was he didn’t want to disappoint his dad. As Mike’s motivation and interest in gymnastics had waned, his fathers had grown. His son’s accomplishments defined him, gave him status in the community, and gave him a purpose. Mike was afraid to confront his father about his decision to quit the sport. Instead his solution had been to leave travel magazines in plain view around the house, thinking that his father would see them and ask Mike why he was planning to travel. His dad never asked. I’ve often wondered how long Mike persisted training for a sport he no longer cared about. 
  2. Enjoyment: One of the easiest questions to answer is, “Am I still enjoying what I do?” Does this job, school, course or vocation fill-me-up? Does it give me a sense of purpose and fulfillment? Are there times when you lose yourself in what you are doing – what psychologist Csikszentmihalyi called a flow state. 
  3. Your Ladder is Against the Wrong Wall: The late American icon Joseph Campbell, writer, broadcaster and scholar is one of my go-to people for inspiration and insight. One of his famous sayings is that many of us, ‘Get to the top of the ladder and find it’s against the wrong wall’. Having the courage to quit, to find the ladder that will help you climb to the life you want, is why making a choice to change is so energizing and fulfilling. If you feel like your climbing the wrong ladder it’s never too late to clamber down and find the path that’s right for you.
  4. Quitting Hurts: But it’s not as painful as staying in a soul-destroying job or sticking with a relationship that is destroying your sense of self-worth. Making a decision to quit can result in an instantaneous feeling of liberation; of being able to breathe for the first time in ages. For many however, quitting is a process. This is when being resilient becomes your best friend. You will need to engage with other people’s emotional response – hurt, disappointment, maybe anger – and you will need to remain steadfast in your belief that quitting is the best thing for you. There will be the inevitable times when you feel the world is against you or that it’s not worth the effort, this is when you need to rely on your BFF or your network to help you get through. 
  5. Making Friends with Your Future Self. When we are in the midst of quitting a job, friendship or relationship it’s hard to imagine what life will be like when the choice is behind us. One way to ‘keep-the-faith’ is to ask yourself this question, “If we met in 12 month’s time, at this same time and place, what will your life look like, and what specifically would you have done to feel more fulfilled in your job, relationship or vocation?” Projecting yourself into the future allows you some much needed breathing room from the tyranny of the present. Focusing on your ‘NorthStar’ will enable you to stay focused on the significant benefits of your choice.

As much as we lionize persistence, and use determination or having ‘grit’ as a cultural yardstick, disengaging, or making a choice not to persist may just be the best thing for you, and rather than suggesting some personal failing, represents instead the characteristic of being resilient.

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