Giving up isn’t an act of weakness, but rather an act of courage – it takes a lot of courage to give up on all those things that steal your joy and focus on something that will make you happy again.
When Giving Up Is Better Than Holding On
In the western world, we’re conditioned to pursue four key ideals: bigger, better, faster, more! This mantra is implicit in the way we’re educated and in the professional world, and it’s threaded through our culture in ways that are not always obvious to the naked eye.
These are the ideals that make us feel worthless when we fail, that tempt us to cover our mistakes (even from ourselves!), to value quantity over quality, and to neglect our feelings until it’s too late. And they contribute to a vocabulary in which the word ‘quitter’ carries more currency than the phrase ‘letting go’.
It’s not that there are no benefits to an attitude of dogged perseverance. Strong will, attached to ambition or to generous heartedness, often results in positive change, growth, and progress. The problem is that unblinking determination comes at the cost of the ability doubt, to retreat, to be present.
It’s not just the spiritually-inclined who consider these aspects of thought and being to be essential to the human experience: they’ve been proven by science to be beneficial for our health, our emotions, and yes – even for professional success.
One example of this is our over-dependence on rewards.
An expected pay-out of any kind can eclipse the profound nature of the job at hand. Our eyes are on the prize, so not only do we miss out on or rush the full experience of what we’re doing – we likely do a worse job of it. In the 1940s, psychologist Harry Harlow found that when he gave monkeys a puzzle to solve, they actually made fewer mistakes and solved more puzzles when they didn’t expect a reward. It stands to reason when you think about it: the monkey mind was on the task at hand, enjoying the game, and taking its time, when not dreaming of bananas!
This example suggests that when you find yourself struggling to fulfill an ambition – failure to get that promotion at work, for example – you might benefit from giving up. Do your job well, focus on being your best self, and who knows what other opportunities might arise instead.
More serious than monkey-puzzles and even job promotions, fixating too strongly on a difficult task can have negative health repercussions, too. One study showed that learning to disengage can save you from headaches, eczema, constipation, and of course – poor sleep.
Chasing unrealistic targets might also be connected to inflammation in the body, which can lead to diabetes and heart trouble. Of course, you don’t believe they’re unrealistic targets while you’re chasing them – but it’s a good lesson to slow down once in a while and reevaluate if and how you should proceed.
A freer and more open approach to your goals and ambitions will keep you emotionally agile and increase your chances of fulfillment.
Susan David takes the opinion that adaptability and self-honesty are essential to growth. Even if quitting isn’t the right option, realigning your goals and recalibrating your ambition can be a smart bit of emotional maintenance. And we’ve all seen friends and colleagues who have become unhappy or even angry because they are unable to consider any alternative to the success of their initial mission. This lack of flexibility can also harm the community around you: if your ethics are more malleable than your ambitions, it’s possible that you will compromise your deeply-held beliefs before you consider failure to be an option.
And that’s a shame because accepting mistakes and learning from life’s false starts and temporary diversions enrich our overall experience.
For more tips on the why, how, and when of embracing failure and giving up on harmful drives, take a look at this helpful new visual guide from NetCredit.
9 Reasons Giving Up Is Better Than Holding On – According to Science
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