Journalists spend a lot of time studying how to quit “problematic” behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and drugs. But what about quitting your goals? Or giving up on your dreams? What makes us do that, and how do we prevent it?
I dipped my toes in the water of why people give up on their dreams. In all of my reading on the topic, a pattern became clear: many people quit on a dream because they didn’t adopt a sustainable practice for working towards it. But how do we make goal-achieving sustainable? I read ten current articles about why people quit on their goals and looked for commonalities across them all. The full list of these articles is at the end of this piece. I’ve found that there are seven main components needed to stick with a goal. They are as follows (in descending order of importance):
1. Discipline/Perseverance (70% of articles list this as important)
2. Other people (70%)
3. Belief in Self (60%)
4. Adaptability (50%)
5. Combating Fear (40%)
6. Desire/Motivation (30%)
7. Incorporating it into your lifestyle (20%)
Let’s dig a little deeper to see what this means.
70% of the articles I read mentioned the need for discipline and perseverance to forge ahead into the world of sticking with what you started. For you to reach your goal, you need to have the self-discipline to not just start working toward your goal, but to keep working on it, even when you don’t feel like it. Or in the words of Annie Mueller “Tenacity is more important than talent.” The ability and commitment to see something through, for better or for worse, goes a long way toward goal attainment. If you do not have that commitment at the outset, then the moment you hit a hiccup, you’re likely to bail.
If having your own stick-to-it-iveness is hard for you in regards to your goal pursuit, it may mean that you don’t actually want the goal. If you are more interested in the outcome but not the work, you likely won’t stick with this dream. For example, I fancy having an amazing “beach body” but I super detest working out and super love eating carbs. As I’m not interested in working out, and have no intention of giving up french fries, I’m likely not going to stick with the goal of “being fit” and will likely give up on this dream. In fact, I’ve given up and restarted it so many times, I should be crowned queen of the “do-overs.” When it comes down to brass tacks, I want the outcome and not the work. For this goal, I lack the discipline. And therefore, this goal is not sustainable.
Other pitfalls here are things like believing that success happens over-night or the need to see immediate results. If we go back to my exercise failure, I’ll workout once, feel amazing, and then look in the mirror. Know what I see? The exact same body (albeit covered in sweat). No new muscle-definition. No loss of pounds. Those things can take months. To stick with a goal, it is important to manage your expectations and realize that hard work pays off, but it can take a while.
OTHER PEOPLE (70%)
Other people are as important in your ability to keep a dream alive as your self-discipline. This makes sense, as we are inherently social creatures and success doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
Several of the articles noted that others not believing in either you or your dream can cause you to give up. Others can tear us down just as they can lift us up. People who espouse ideas like “I just don’t care what others think” are talking in pie-in-the-sky terms. It’s not that you shouldn’t care what “others” think, because you will regardless. Instead, you should focus on who comprises those “others.” If you’re going to care what people think, and you will, then be smart and choose others who lift you up. Is your squad encouraging you and believing in you? Then YES listen to them!! If, instead, they are tearing you down, then it’s high time you found yourself a new squad.
That alone can be a daunting task, but trust me, if you want to maximize your ability to achieve your goals, it’s damn-near necessary. You can’t control whether you care about others opinions (there’s a whole discipline of sociology devoted to how we symbolically interact to know about the world around us, including who we are), however you CAN control who you allow yourself to care about to some extent. Put your focus there. I also recommend reading the Subtle Art of not giving a F*uck as Mark Manson does a much better job talking about this need/phenomenon.
You need to be careful about how you communicate with your squad as well. It turns out that by telling people what we are going to do is sometimes enough for us to feel as if we’ve already done it. Focus on telling others what you DID and are DOING.
BELIEF IN SELF (60%)
Coming in a close-third, at 60%, is your own belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, then even if everyone else does, it will be for naught. Let me start by saying that you are amazing. No, I don’t know you personally, but I know humans. And by and large, all humans are amazing. Human beings are some of the most fascinating species I’ve ever encountered. We have fun for the sake of fun. We create problems out of boredom. Given enough time, attention, love, and hard work, we accomplish other-worldly things. We are all amazing. You are included in that.
That also means that we have the immense capacity to learn. You may not know, at this point in time, how to accomplish your amazing goals. But you can learn. You don’t need to know everything at the outset. Think about making a website. You may not know how to program one from scratch at the outset, but you also don’t need to. You just need to know what the end-goal is, and how to take one small step, like first getting a domain. Once you’ve learned that step, then focus on the next one. And that’s how it’s done. Step-by-step. Many people believe that they need to know how to do the task at hand immediately, or they give up. But I’m here to tell you that that’s just plain wrong. That’s why we learn. And because you are amazing, I know you have the ability to learn what you put you mind to. We’re already operating on the understanding that you are okay with putting in the time, and that you’re surrounded by awesome, uplifting folks who you’ll listen to. Now you just need to agree that you will make it through small, actionable steps.
Half of the articles mentioned the need to be adaptable to keep your goal sustainable. This component can also be thought of as flexibility, or the willingness to pivot.
This means that when you hit a dead end, you don’t turn around and go home. Instead, you can head in another direction. Because we are not experts or masters at the outset, we simply cannot know what the end will look like or entail. We will make mistakes. If we “fail,” it is necessary that we do not view it as failure, but instead a learning opportunity. Viewing failure as a full-fledged failure is the only failure that is real (say that three times fast).
By instead viewing failure as “learning” we can adapt and still work towards our end goal. Life happens. It takes our perfect little snow globes and shakes them up. But you know what? Snow globes are more beautiful that way, and through the beautiful messes, we can come to accomplish truly wonderful things. It is absolutely okay to find out what doesn’t work. In fact, it is in the very nature of finding what doesn’t work that we are able to finally figure out what does work. And that knowledge is invaluable.
COMBATING FEAR (40%)
This component could technically be linked with belief in self, but I feel it’s different enough to qualify for its own segment. Sometimes we believe we can do something, but we are afraid to do it. Either because we currently feel safe and secure, or because we are afraid of sacrificing time, negative friends, or even fearing success. Many of us feel like imposters. Even Emma Watson has experienced imposter syndrome.
Many of us, especially us introverts, also thoroughly enjoy flying under the radar. Some goals require that we become known. Visible. And that, too, can be terrifying. I strongly encourage you to move forward anyway, in the face of those fears. Do it in spite of them.
There’s also no reason to be irresponsible about valid fears and forward progress. If your goal is a new career path and you fear losing the security of your current job, you can make your first priority to save up 3–6 months of savings. There are ways to have safety nets if fears are the main source of your cemented road block.
30% of the articles mentioned the need to avoid boredom. While this can also apply to perseverance, its especially important here. You need to want to do what you’re doing. Again, not 100% of the time. That’s unrealistic. But if every time you start to work on a goal, you dread it, it’s probably not going to last. And you may need to reconsider your goals.
Strive to not be bored or have tasks that are repetitive. There are many ways to reach a goal. If one is getting redundant, switch it up. Find ways to make it exciting again. Just like you need to sometimes mix things up to keep romance alive, it’s no less true when it comes to keeping up with a goal or dream. Sometimes you need to make the effort to keep the magic alive. Want to be an artist and you’re tired of drawing the same things over and over? Take yourself to a museum. Go look for the polar opposite of artistic style and consume it. Consume it hard. Go back to what made you excited about the goal/project/whatever in the first place. Reset and re-callibrate.
It can also help to change your thinking on the subject. If you’re starting to view your goals as chores, try and restructure that idea.
It’s important to know, too, that sometimes giving up is good. Stay in tune with your desires and be honest with yourself about them. And know that if you decide to give up on a dream, that can be a good thing.
INCORPORATING GOALS INTO LIFESTYLE
I’ve gotta admit, I didn’t expect the topic of creating a habit/lifestyle that supports your goal or dream to be the least-talked about item. It’s tied for last at 30%, and includes things like structuring your schedule to allow for a routine. Want to practice an instrument once/week? You need to designate time to do that. This also carries the same theme of making sure the goals and tasks are able to be completed in any given time frame. My piece on to-do lists discusses how to best use a list to accomplish your tasks.
If you’re wanting to do “best practices” for obtaining your goal, and you already know what your goal is, then working on applying the principles listed above will help you stay in the race and not have your goal become a pipe-dream. It will let you be a lighthouse and not a sparkler.
Start off by committing to the idea, time, and effort. Despite the crazy number of “quick fix” articles for achievements — success doesn’t happen over-night. The sooner you learn and embrace that, the better your chances of achieving your dream. And secondly, make sure you surround yourself with people who build you up and not tear you down. We are inevitably influenced by others. Be smart about who you choose to be those “others.” If you want to be productive, surround yourself with productive people. In my own life, the best thing I’ve done to improve my productivity was to start hanging out with people who were actually doing things, and avoiding those who only talked about doing things “one day.” The moment I shifted that focus, I started becoming a doer and not a talker myself. While I still love those folks doing the talking, I had to limit the time I spent with them. Doing those first two things will go a long way towards building a sustainable lifestyle that will lead to goal achievement. Add in a healthy dose of self-belief, and sprinkle in desire and adaptability, and you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing your dreams.
I would love to hear about other strategies you practice in your own life. Or ways you apply the above principles. Even more, I would love to hear your successes, because I know you’ve got ’em. Well done for crushing it. Keep it up.
- 7 Reasons People Give Up on Their Goals Too Early
- Why do we give up? (And how not to)
- 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give Up So Easily
- This Is Why Most People Give Up On Their Dreams — I Plead With You Not To Become One Of Them.
- 8 Reasons Why Most People Give up on Their Dreams
- The #1 Sign It’s Time To Give Up On Your Dream (And 5 Reasons To Keep Going)
- 5 Common Reasons People Give Up their Dreams
- 6 Reasons We Don’t Chase Our Dreams
- The Psychology of Quitting
- The Psychology of Quitting: Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Always Fail