Dip Dip Drop - or climb...how to make quitting count!
I've just finished reading Seth Godin's "The Dip" which has this absolutely key takeaway:
If you want to succeed
- Quit the wrong stuff
- Stick with the right stuff
- ...and as you're sticking with the right stuff, lean into the "Dip".
For Seth Godin the "Dip" is the place where most of us quit - but that doesn't mean (by his mantra) that we're quitting the right stuff...rather, it's more likely we're doing the right stuff - but it just got hard. The way he encourages us to organise our minds is:
- Know our goal
- Work out a path (or many paths)
- Be aware of the "hard parts"
- Know the results you seek
- Quit if the results aren't coming
- Lean into the hard parts and ride up the other end
He says a lot of interesting things about success as well, but I'll leave you to read his book, and will focus on this particular element - how to quit wisely.
Why we stick
Unfortunately, our minds are often our biggest barrier. If we really wanted to stick at something, we'd find a way...think about the times you've stuck with a relationship despite all signs to the contrary; or remained in a job that was stressing you out...and we do those because of a different reason we have been able to convince ourselves of eg. I must have misunderstood; I need the money etc etc etc.
(I'm using "fillers" such as "etc" because you can fill in the blanks - you listen to your own inner voice for more than me!)
Why didn't you quit then? Everyone probably told you to. Chances are if it got really bad the other person, or job, or your mental health made the decision for you.
You stuck either because of the "sunk cost bias" (I've invested/sunk so much into this already); a lack of an alternative (why weren't you looking?); it's better the devil you know (we have a fear of the unknown because it is out of our control). Letting nature take its course is also out of our control, and we're most likely going to have to face the "hard place" anyway. If you are pro-active when something isn't right - think about how much time you can save...humans can ride out a stalemate for ages!
Why we quit
We believe we quit when we don't have an alternative. Often we convince ourselves that we have thought it through and made a rational decision eg. I really wanted to train for the run, but getting up in the morning was difficult because my husband works shifts, and my own work is unpredictable, and if I missed running or it was wet, I wouldn't feel good about running in the afternoon...yadda yadda yadda... You know yourself - if you're going to quit something you "Always have a good reason." But again, it is most likely that we quit because we no longer want to put in the effort.
When something is not serving us, absolutely, don't put in the effort, but if the effort is the only solution to where you want to go...suck it up - or quit that pathway overall.
Let's get practical
I appreciate that first bit was a bit mean...but I'm also known as a "challenging" coach..."withering analysis" is how I've once been described - but I get results. Before you worry about seeking my counsel - I've also been called "...charming", "nurturing" and "cheerleading" - it's not that you catch me on a good or bad day, but I tailor my approach to suit what I perceive will motivate you best.
Regardless of the tone I use, the exercises - while tailored during a session - are still the same.
I agree with Godin's overall approach - we have a finite amount of time and energy. If we are spending it on pursuits that do not assist us, that is energy and time either wasted, or that we have to make up (pushing us even further from where we want). Therefore, if something does not serve us, it is wise to quit. However, the one thing I've noticed in myself and all my clients is - if we simply quit and fill that time with something else that isn't going to serve us, we've negated our very positive action.
So, like smokers who quit and enjoy the money they've saved, here are my 5 steps to help you transition from the unhealthy to achievement - so once you've quit the unnecessary, you can lean into the dip and make that climb.
1. Identify your life priorities/goals
You can do this either in the form of a wheel - writing within the segments; or as pillars - I quite like that because I would represent my ultimate goal as the "roof" and the pillars the priorities or mini goals I wish to achieve - or need - along the way. (For example, although my ultimate goal may be to be on the Tatler Social Power Index (it's a thing, click the link), I (personally) would also want to have a strong family relationship; have time for fitness and my physical health; and socialise with friends.) Perhaps this means I may not get right to the very top; BUT I know my journey (and ensuing life experiences) will be positive...which I won't want to quit!!
2. Fill in how much time or energy you have devoted to them - either draw a line, or shade in the amount. You'll notice that some may be higher than you realise, others may be lower than you like.
3. Identify things you can do which will nurture those priorities/mini goals - for example, if I want to spend time with my family and improve my fitness I might go for a bike ride or run with my husband - that actually notches me up on TWO of my pillars/segments. (For the busy professional, optimisation is always a bonus!) These activities work as substitutions - something I've learned from slimming clubs - I'm probably not going to quit snacking, but if I reach for the fruit instead of the chocolate, I've still had a small win. That's the same principle with this exercise. It's only the time/energy bandit you're quitting, not the fact that you have time and energy to devote. This is important because if you "quit" the time waster without an alternative, I'll almost guarantee you'll fill it with another just as wasteful pursuit!
4. Identify triggers for time/energy wasting and have a quick solution - for me, time scrolling social media is time I'm not devoting to trying to get on that Tatler list, and the temptation to "have a quick scroll" when I'm posting something work related is high...a trigger point. So my quick solution is to use an app-blocker to both measure and limit my time. I mention a "quick solution" here because some of the actions you might have set out in point 3 above need planning. I can't go for a run instead of scroll - it's impractical. (That's another place we can slip up). So another option for me is to always have a good book on Kindle - even the free samples will suffice if I don't want to spend too much money. It's then easy for me to switch to a different app - one that I know inspires me to write (mini goals/priorities).
5. Meditate for focus - My 2nd book was about mindfulness and offered many practical applications of this traditional Buddhist practice to broaden the mind. The more capacity we freed up, the more we could direct our energies towards our achievements. My use of meditations within that was largely to help find headspace and clarity. I now use meditations and visualisations for focus - but I do it when I run (optimised use of time and energy again).
As I've said in a previous article, humans are programmed for distraction because noticing something different has aided our survival. As caregivers - especially parents - we will have learned to listen and look out for things which we may need to attend to, or are constantly having our attention demanded. The smartphone has enhanced our ability to attention switch...and this isn't a good thing.
In order to achieve we need focus - and sometimes we choose to quit early because our mind has wandered elsewhere. This why this exercise asks you to identify what you want first. If that is not enough to remind you to stay strong I have then asked you to identify substitutions and ones you can use quickly in a quitting emergency, and finally, it helps if you can train your brain to focus - to know that it CAN persevere, that it CAN see things through to the end.
But what of quitting?
Yes, you may have realised that all of the above is about how to stick at your goal...and you can see it takes a lot of time and energy. So when it comes to identifying what to quit, this is the last thing you could do. When you have your goals identified, write down all the things (perhaps in pencil) that you do that DO NOT contribute to those goals. THOSE are the things you need to quit. BUT, that should be easy now you have an alternative.
Seth Godin is right - you need to quit the wrong stuff, you need to stick at the right stuff - this simple exercise will help you work out what that stuff is - and lean into the dip of the right stuff, rather than drop out the other end.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; watch her psychology & coaching masterclasses on YouTube Or catch her hosting Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV where she and her team discuss how psychology affects our behaviours in the workplace and what we can do about it.
Follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt (but she doesn't check it regularly anymore...she sort of quit.)