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Why It May Make Sense Not to Persevere

Note: This is part of a series of blog posts I’ve been doing about adopting a more positive mindset. You can find the others in my list of blog posts.

You may know the phrase: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

The problem is, sometimes you won’t succeed no matter how much you try.

I know this goes against much of what our society believes, but as Shawn Achor points out in Big Potential: “In work and in life, when we repeatedly stumble and fall along a certain path, rather than dusting ourselves off and trying again (and again), it might be time to ask if we are simply on the wrong path.” <p. 216>

You can also think about this in terms of picking your own battles. Sometimes it’s not worth the cost and energy to keep pressing on with something.

Still, it’s not always easy to give up on a certain approach. Americans are taught early on that if you just try hard enough, you can achieve whatever you want. So how do you know when that’s not the case?

5 questions to ask yourself

The first thing to remember is that when you put a lot of time and energy into something, by default it means you can’t spend those resources on something else that may better serve you. This can be in a job… a relationship… a project… an exercise or diet plan… a social group… or more.

And it doesn’t help that once you get to a certain point, you feel like you can’t give up. You’ve got so much invested that it seems impossible to stop now.

But if you’re feeling at all uneasy about the path you’re on, ask yourself these questions and answer honestly.

  1. Are you feeling consistently devalued and/or demotivated by the path you’re on?

  2. Have you tried things to make it better – including changing your mindset – to no avail?

  3. Is it taking more from you than it’s giving back?

  4. Are you only continuing because you find it hard to imagine an alternative?

  5. Would you advise a friend in a similar situation to make a change?

If you answered yes, consider checking with some trusted friends to get an outside opinion, although only if you’re prepared to listen. Those friends may also be able to help you find new options if you can’t think of any on your own.

These aren’t easy things to consider, but remember that staying on the wrong path will not benefit you – quite the opposite.

Connection to mindful eating

When I read this part of Achor’s book, my first thought was about diets. They’re the wrong path for so many people – as they were for me – and yet they’re hard to give up. I’ve written before how being on a diet is like being in a bad relationship, and I stand by that.

This could also apply if you’re trying a certain kind of exercise because you think you should, when in reality, it’s doing bad things to your body and/or psyche. In those cases, it’s simply not worth it.

How I’ve been using this

In my own life, I’ve had to face the fact that I may never get to the top of Mt. Katahdin again. My knees simply don’t seem to be up for it. I can get to the tree line okay, but after that, coming down becomes too agonizing to be worthwhile.

And I’m okay with that. Tree line isn’t bad, since it’s high enough to get some great views. It’s also not worth it to me to potentially make things worse for my knees by pushing it.

Of course, I haven’t gone to a personal trainer or anything like that to see if they could help. Who knows, maybe someday I will. But for now, it’s simply not that important to me. Getting to the top was my mom’s goal, and I did it twice for her. My goals now are less lofty – I simply want to enjoy the hike.

Also, while it’s not recent, I’ve had to apply perspective this to certain relationships, too. It was painful in the moment, but after the fact, I was so glad to have made the decision and changed things.

What about you? Do you have some areas of your life where you worry you might be on the wrong path? Or if you’ve had times when you made the hard decision to change directions, I’d love to hear about them!

In the meantime, I hope it helps to consider that giving up on a certain approach is a real option, and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. On the contrary, it means you’re being honest with yourself about what’s working or not, and about where you want to invest your energy.

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