We all face obstacles in pursuing our goals, whether they’re professional or personal.
We think we’re on the right track but realize we’ve chosen the wrong approach. We’re enthusiastic and hard-working, but our support system disintegrates when we need them the most. We’re just about to make significant progress when we run out of time or funding.
Tenacious as we may be, we all have our breaking points—that moment when the potential rewards stop justifying the effort. Usually that’s the hump that separates your best shot and your best reality.
Before you throw in the towel and go back to something safe and far less taxing, ask yourself the following questions:
• Why did you want to pursue this goal to begin with—and has anything changed?
You had a good reason for committing to this plan. Odds are you still want those things as much as you did before; you just stopped believing you could have them because your attempts have yet to yield results. Now you have to ask yourself: If you push through the discomfort, will it be worth it in the end?
• Have you been operating with too much information?
With so much information at our fingertips on the good ole World Wide Web, it’s easy to overwhelm yourself with more knowledge than you can apply. You read e-books and blogs, participate in teleconferences and coaching sessions, and join user forums to talk about getting things done.
One of two things happen as a result: you spend more time planning to act then acting; or you devote minimal energy to multiple plans instead of committing to one solid approach. Instead of drowning in all the data, why not narrow it down and start again from a less overwhelming space?
• Did you set a smart goal? SMART goals are:
Specific—you know exactly what your world will look like when you achieve this goal.
Measurable—you have a specific plan to mark your progress as you go.
Attainable—you have the attitude and aptitude to make your goal reality.
Realistic—you’re willing and able to do the required work.
Time-bound—you’ve set a concrete timeframe for completion to create a sense of urgency.
If you didn’t set a SMART goal, you may have set yourself up for failure. How can you possibly make something happen if you don’t know exactly what you want, or didn’t really believe you could do it? Are you really willing to walk away when you didn’t give yourself every opportunity to succeed?
• What’s the worst that will happen if you keep going and don’t reach your goal?
Often when I want to turn around it’s because I’m afraid of failing—afraid other people will be disappointed in me or judge me, or afraid I’ll have wasted my time. In all reality, no one ever judges us like we judge ourselves; and we always grow and learn through the process of striving, regardless of what we attain.
If you don’t keep going, you’ll never know how far you could have gone, and you’ll miss out on being the person you’d become through the effort itself. If you do keep going, well, it’s like this quote: “Shoot for the moon, for even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”
• Are you acting on impulse or emotion instead of thinking things through?
Sometimes our emotions give us hints about what we want and what we should do, but other times they’re just responses to stress, and maybe even indications we’re on the right track. If you act in that moment of intense emotion—be it anger, fear, or frustration—you may regret it once the wave has passed.
So sit back. Take note of what you’re feeling. Feel it fully, without judging it or yourself. Then act when you’ve gotten to the other side. At least then you’ll know you made your decision in a moment of peace and clarity.
• Would you enjoy giving a loved one the honest explanation for why you gave up?
And I mean honest. Would you like telling your son, I stopped trying to quit smoking because cigarettes are more important to me than having more golden years to spend with you? Would it be fun to tell your mother I decided not to go to school because I’d rather spend all my time with my girlfriend of three months then prepare for a career that will ensure I won’t end up jobless and homeless?
If you lay out it out like this, odds are you’ll realize you had a really good reason for doing this difficult thing, and no matter how challenging the process is, it’s worth plowing ahead.
* Would your life be better if you gave up on this goal?
This may not sound motivational, but sometimes giving up is actually good thing. Perhaps you set a completely unrealistic goal, and its pursuit is filling you with a constant set of inadequacy and anxiety. Or maybe the goal isn’t in yours or your family’s best interest, and it’s better to get out before you invest so much time it’s near impossible to walk away.
You could easily use this as a justification to delude yourself, so think about it carefully. Is this goal really a good thing, when you weigh all the consequences of its fulfillment?
* How much have you already put in?
A concept studied in social psychology called “the sunk cost principle” indicates the more we’ve invested in something, the less likely we are to prematurely walk away.
How invested are you? How much money and time have you devoted? How many sacrifices have you made? Are you really willing to chalk it all up as a loss because you’re not feeling confident in your abilities?
* What would you tell someone else if they were in your shoes?
Would you tell your best friend to throw in the towel because he/she can’t possibly reach her goal? Or would you practice your finest motivational speech and help her see what you see in her potential? Unless you’re secretly a frenemy who hopes she fails in life odds are you’d push her to be her best—so why not push yourself?
It may sound kind of cheesy, but you need to be your own best friend. You, more than anyone in this world, deserve your belief and motivation.
If you’ve gone through all these questions and still feel resolute about the decision to give up, you have my blessing to abandon your goal. (Bet you feel so relieved!)
If you don’t—if there’s some lingering doubt—keep working toward that dream that fills you with passion. Take a different approach if you need to. Enlist new assistance. Scale back your time commitment to something you can more easily maintain. But whatever you do, don’t give yourself a reason to one day utter the words, “I quit because I was scared.”