For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fairly impulsive person, and it has not always served me well. [I used to joke that I need to get “Poor Impulse Control” tattooed on my forehead as a warning to others.]
When I got home after quitting my first job, my step-dad looked at me and asked, “Who pissed you off?” And while at the time I puffed up and justified it by saying that I had already given my notice as I had another job lined up and they wanted me to start as soon as possible, which was true… he was right. I don’t remember what it was that set me off, but someone gave me an excuse and I took it, and never looked back.
Over the years, I have learned to never make any irrevocable decisions while tired, hungry, or otherwise not in a solid state of mind. I also decided that I would never quit a job again until I had at least slept on it. If I woke up in the morning and still wanted to quit, I could. But I would never quit anything on the spot without mulling it over.
This has served me fairly well in some respects. It allowed me to stick it out at a job that I absolutely hated, but paid fairly well and at the time was good for my resume. At the end of every shift I wanted to quit. But I kept waking up in the morning and going back in. I lasted more than two years, and when I finally got a significantly better job offer, I finally quit.
I do the same thing with my fitness goals, though I never really realized it until I was reading Dan John’s book Never Let Go and he talked about the same thing. He was trying to lose some weight, and it was becoming a grind. He would always just tell himself that he would quit tomorrow. And then wake up in the morning, have his protein shake, and keep going.
It turns out that there is actually research1 supporting this – that having the option to quit can actually make people work harder. They basically found that providing people an option to quit at any time got them to be more persistent in the work and complete more of the tasks which were set for them (solving puzzles in this case).
Whenever I feel like quitting, it is usually at the end of the day, at the end of a long week. This is probably because I have used up as much willpower as I can possibly can during the day by deciding to not slap stupid people – willpower is basically a finite resource, which we will cover tomorrow. I always tell myself that I can wake up in the morning and make myself a giant plate of pancakes with nutella and bacon and ice cream. But that tonight I will eat the meal I’ve got waiting for me in the fridge. Maybe with a single small piece of chocolate or a cookie after dinner if it’s been a really rough one. But usually I just tell myself I’ll have it for breakfast in the morning.
And in the morning I make a protein shake and start the day.
Sometimes I get into the gym and even my warm up reps feel heavy. Here is where one has to be careful. Sometimes it is just me being a bit of a wimp. Sometimes it is fatigue, stress or lack of recovery, or something else. Either way, I do my warmup and tell myself I only have to do one rep at whatever weight is on the plan for the day. Then when I finish that, I do just one more. Until I’m done. I only do one at a time, and I always tell myself I can quit after the next one. I usually don’t stop until the set is done. And if I do, I don’t beat myself up about it as it is always better to cut down the volume rather than push through to injury. Sometimes you need to listen to your body.
Sometimes I sit on the bike and within 5 minutes I want to quit. I always tell myself that I can pack it in at the next 5 minute mark. Then at the 5 minute mark I do just 5 minutes more. I tell myself that I can even just spin along lightly, listen to tunes, and read my book. I usually don’t. I usually make it through whatever I’ve got scheduled for that day.
Sometimes you need to just pack it in before you burn yourself out or cause yourself an injury that could take weeks or months or years to heal properly. But sometimes you need to do just one more.
So don’t quit now. Quit tomorrow.
- Schrift, Rom Y., and Jeffrey R. Parker. 2014. “Staying the Course The Option of Doing Nothing and Its Impact on Postchoice Persistence.” Psychological Science 25 (3): 772–80. doi:10.1177/0956797613516801. ↩