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As the old sayings go, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” This concept is deeply embedded in the American culture. As children, many of us were advised to never give up, to always finish what we started. The assumption that persistence is essential for success while quitting leads to failure imbues us with a sense of imperative to honor societal and personal commitments, even though we may be sabotaging ourselves and others in the process.
Working as a coach, speaker and author, Dr. Stanley Robertson is dedicated to dispelling the stigma associated with the concept of quitting. He suggests that, if done properly, quitting can actually become the ultimate winning strategy.
WHY ARE SO MANY OF US RELUCTANT TO QUIT?
Quitting often feels so wrong. Dr. Stan offers two reasons we are hesitant to stop, even when it’s in our best interest.
First, American society has associated the word ‘quit’ with a negative connotation. Being a quitter has become synonymous with being a loser. As a result, many of us have regrettably suffered from ‘quit shaming’. People might make fun of you, disrespect you or say negative things about you when they discover that you have abandoned a project or decision.
Second, research has found that human brains are hardwired to complete we start. The Jigsaw Puzzle Study divided subjects into two groups. Both groups were asked to complete a puzzle, but one group was interrupted and kept from finishing the task. The group unable to complete the puzzle ended up thinking twice as much about their unfinished task as compared to the group that completed the puzzle. In essence, when we leave work unfinished, it doesn’t feel satisfying. This results in the brain spending extra energy and mental focus on the unfinished work.
WHEN TO QUIT IN THE WORKPLACE
To be an effective manager and to enjoy healthy business and personal relationships, it is necessary to master the ability to decide when to give up on what is not working. It may be wise for leaders or managers to consider quitting as a viable option in the following circumstances:
You always need to be right. It’s time to let go when you feel the need to dominate the conversation in meetings and exclude the input of colleagues. You’re likely sacrificing the contributions of others in order to maintain control, superiority, or to come out looking like the winner.
You’re avoiding the facts or hard truth. Commitment to ongoing projects and past decisions can cloud present thinking. It’s not easy to accept when there is no future in the project, idea or job, regardless of past success or investment.
You’re not getting the expected ROI. If the expected results or return on your investment (ROI) continue to fall short of your targets, it’s time to question whether this path is the right one. Consider pivoting when a project when it fails to generate expected results, even though some metrics seem successful.
Your priorities have changed. Whenever priorities change, it’s critical to reevaluate the work you’re pursuing to ensure it remains relevant and aligned. Avoid blindly going forward simply because it’s what you’d previously decided.
WHEN TO SUMMON DETERMINATION AND PERSEVERANCE
Dr. Stan emphasizes that quitting is not always the right approach. While often we stick with projects or decisions too long, quitting for the wrong reasons can be just as detrimental to our long term success. Here are a number of circumstances in which he suggests we persevere:
You feel unappreciated. It’s frustrating to be undervalued or not receive the praise you deserve, but those are not reasons to quit. If your plans or ideas are rejected by your team or your hard work goes unnoticed, continue to do your best, offering creative ideas and contributions that add value to the organization.
Your work becomes challenging. Hard work builds character and competence. While it’s not easy to work through conflict, stretch your skills, navigate new experiences, and deal with uncertainty, those are a natural part of the life cycle.
Someone else is doing it better. Jealousy or frustration over your own lack of accomplishment is not typically a good reason to quit. You may want to reflect on how to improve your own work, but don’t let someone else’s success get in the way of your own.
QUIT SUCCESSFULLY USING A FOUR STEP Q-U-I-T PROCESS
While it can be easy to quit for the wrong reasons, it can also surprisingly difficult to quit for the right ones. The following process for effective quitting is applicable to any person or organization, and can be used in both a business and personal setting.
Q: Quit Quickly. The most successful organizations and managers are quick to recognize when things aren’t working. They then strive to adjust their behaviors or decisions as fast as possible, recognizing the opportunity cost of delaying does not serve them.
U: Understand Associated Negative Emotions. Whether the stigma and emotional baggage attached to the idea of quitting emanates from you or from those around you, it is helpful to accept these feelings and then let them go. Practice inner awareness to better manage and ultimately dispel any corresponding negativity.
I: Initiate a New Behavior. Once you have given up what is not working you will need to determine a wise replacement for the lost behavior, goal or person. Through this process you will discover potential solutions, create new opportunities, and relieve lingering feelings of past loss or failure.
T: Transform Your Behavior. It’s critical to establish a new mindset and adopt new behaviors that support the change. You may need to learn a new skill, enlist the help of different team members or redesign workplace routines. By doing so, you’ve not only implemented the change, but also transformed the surrounding mental and physical environment to ensure that the change will be an effective and lasting one.
The most successful people know that intentionally quitting is a winning strategy. The key is to have the discipline to persevere when needed and the awareness to quit when it will allow you to focus your efforts on more fruitful strategies and goals.
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