dear molly: column personal power

I Don’t Want to Be a Quitter

Why do I always give up on things I was once so excited about? It feels like the second something gets difficult or doesn’t go my way, I give up. It’s become a running joke of how much a quitter I am. I know it’s a confidence issue, but how do I fix this?

 

Personal Story

Feel you. Feel you hard. One day, when I was in elementary school I learned the word “quit” and immediately wanted to test it out. I went home and told my mom “I want to quit piano” and with five kids who each had a million after school activities, she was happy to have one less thing to take me to. I have a vivid memory of leaving my last piano lesson at the house with the blue fence and having tremendous regret. I was too stubborn to admit it then, but I really wish I never quit piano. What I learned that day is how easy quitting can be.

A few years of being an exemplary “quitter” later and another vocab word changed my outlook (shout out to NHMS). I learned what “tenacity” was and I wanted that. Badly. So I started, every day, practicing little acts of tenacity. Relishing the moments when the going gets tough and using every difficult moment as life training to become a stronger person. I gave myself a “love the pain” mentality. The point of sharing this with you is to show that mental toughness is something that you can learn and strengthen. Like a muscle, it requires a little training, but if you have the desire to move past being a “quitter” then you’ve already taken a major step.

 

When we meet something new

Laying the premise to keep in mind throughout this post: Despite the name “quitter”, you are not defined by the things you do or do not continue. You are defined by the actions you take. Do you take actions that are bettering you as a person or moving you forward to the person that you want to be? Then who cares (and who’s business is it) what you leave behind along the way? Trying things out, finding that they don’t work for you, and walking away is a strength. Blindly staying with something out of spite is not. Quitting is not just walking away from something. Quitting is what happens when you walk away from a challenge.

That being said, sometimes we walk away from things we care about. Whether it’s out of boredom, because we aren’t getting the results we expected, or judgment from others, these are the times that we need to hold our feet to the fire and carry on. Persevering beyond the “honeymoon phase” and through the “growth periods” are importing aspects to our growth overall. When we try something new we go through three stages:

Honeymoon Phase / This is when the project or thing is new and exciting. You might have a lot of support from people around you or feel all fiery when you think about it. It’s your new love, it’s exciting, it seems abundant with potential and you are psyched about it.

Growth Periods / This is when you leave “tutorial mode” and start struggling. Problems you didn’t see before arise and you start to get overwhelmed by what’s in front of you. This is when you become a stronger person. This is not the time to walk away from a project. This is the time to press on and truly grow.

Perspective / This is when we decide to accept something into our lives and use it for our development or when we walk away because it isn’t serving us. Perspective is the time after a little win when you look back and think something like “that wasn’t so bad”. This is when you are able to have more perspective on whatever you are currently working on and make a rational decision about whether or not to continue.

A perfect example is learning to ride a bike. We have a Honeymoon Phase riding around with our training wheels on and a parent holding the seat. But one day we take the training wheels off and move into the Growth Period. We struggle and are wobbly on something we used to be so excited and steady on. It stops being just “fun” and starts requiring “work”. It’s when we want to quit or go back to the safe zone of training wheels and parental support. Pushing past this, into your first “win”, is what allows you to reach the Perspective stage. Decide if you want to continue only after you’ve successfully peddled a little while. We all want to quit in the midst of a struggle, so wait to make that call until you’ve had a mini-win and can see with clearer eyes. Start looking at the difficult moments as speed bumps, not roadblocks.

 

Putting it to practice

You can’t fix something that you don’t know the cause of. In my life, there have been three major reasons why I would end up quitting. You have to determine why you quit and then address it, both mentally and behaviorally. Change not only what you are physically doing, but also how you talk to yourself around challenges. Changing that internal conversation will change how you treat new challenges.

Loss of Interest
    • WHY /  Are you starting things for YOU or for others? If you aren’t 100% into it at the beginning you will lose interest fast. You’ll get bored. You cannot motivate yourself based off of someone else’s desires or passion. Is this something that you yourself are at all interested in?
    • MINDSET / Before starting something new ask yourself the hard questions. Are you doing this for you? Are you doing this for your parents? For someone you’re interested in? Or maybe just because it seems like the “thing” to do? Be 100% sure that you are the fuel behind a new project and not someone else before starting.
    • BEHAVIORAL CHANGE / Find your motivator to push past the monotony. Start each new thing with an intense commitment you cannot walk away from (social pressure, financial investment, etc). For me, I know that if I’ve sunk money into something I will stick with it. I started and stopped blogging several times since high school, but the reason that it stuck this time is pretty easy, I bought a domain for three years. I told myself that I could quit after three years if I stuck it out for that time.
When Success Not Coming Fast Enough
    • WHY / Success does not come overnight. We’ve all heard it before, but it’s true. In a world of viral videos, it’s hard to continue drudging along when someone else seemingly “explodes” overnight. When it feels like we are stuck in the mud and that all our hard work is going nowhere it’s easy to quit.
    • MINDSET / If you hear yourself say “I’m wasting my time” double-check if you are actually wasting time, or if you’re just discouraged at the seemingly small amount of progress you’ve made. When you start to get that sinking feeling of “I’ve gone nowhere” remember to look backward and not just forwards. Be gentle with yourself. Relish the experience, not just the results.
    • BEHAVIORAL CHANGE / Make a list of all the small accomplishments you have made along the way so you have a tangible list of all your successes. Aggressively track your progress and give yourself credit for each win. I have a habit of being too hard on myself and sometimes it takes moments to look back and relish in a little moment of pride, to feel the psych come back.
Confidence
    • WHY / This is a big one. When you lack confidence you don’t move forward, you don’t take risks. External factors can heavily influence this, whether that be comparing yourself to someone else’s success, receiving “hate” from people you care about, or feeling like you’re going to fail before you begin. Each of these things shakes our confidence in different ways. If you don’t have a strong foundation of confidence you will have tremendous difficulty during Growth Periods and will find yourself giving up when you fail.
    • MINDSET / Being a runner I always think back to the advice my dad would give me before a big race. “Don’t hope to do well, work for it, and think about it all the time. If you think you’re going to lose, you’re going to lose.” He instilled in me a “winner” mindset. I always envision myself “winning” and that has made all the difference. Next time you talk to yourself, check if you are talking down to yourself. Are you anticipating failure? Are you anticipating you will quit? And then redirect the conversation. You are a winner. You are tenacious. Remind yourself why you started this project. Remember that the past does not dictate the future. If you flip a coin 100 times in a row the 101st time still has 50/50 odds. Every new thing you undertake is a new opportunity with fresh odds. 
    • BEHAVIORAL CHANGE / If you find yourself overly concerned and worried about what others will think of your new passion don’t share your goals so readily with people. Give yourself the room to struggle, fail, leave projects, adapt, without stressing what other people say. Other people are not entitled to force their opinion on you. You are allowed to protect a new, delicate passion project from them.

 

Start with something small. If you find you get bored of things often start with the small goal of finishing a novel that you keep putting down. If you don’t get success as often as you’d like to, make a 7-day, 15-day, and 30-day goal sheet for a project you have. Track your progress at a daily level so you have the ability to look back at your success as motivation to continue on. It’s hard to see how we’re doing when we’re in the thick of it, so give yourself the ability to zoom out. If you are struggling with confidence the biggest advice I can give you is to relax. Treat yourself with grace and kindness. Remember that failing is not an indication of your worth and you’ll find it easier to stand up and try over and over again.

 

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