Permission to give up: How to leverage quitting

If you grant yourself permission to quit, it’s easier to start. Plain and simple.

When I started this blog with WordPress.com, I gave myself permission to write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, only for as long as I wanted. After a couple days, I was enjoying it so much I decided to push for a week of daily posting before quitting. That turned into a month. Then into a year.

Now, over a year later, I’m still posting every day. If I hadn’t given myself permission up front to give up, I probably wouldn’t have started. I would have felt too much pressure. I would have put it off. Instead, making it easy to quit made it easy to start.

The same strategy works for other things too. Whenever you allow yourself an out, you instantly shift the situation from force to choice, and choice is motivating.

When you have to do something (like jogging), you’ll automatically want to avoid it, even if it’s something you might otherwise enjoy. But when you’re able to choose to do it, even if it’s something you’d otherwise not enjoy (like cleaning), you’re much more likely to do it.

We like control. That can get us in trouble, but we might as well leverage it when we can.

That’s why I like to give myself permission to give up.

Now I know that sounds pretty lame – I’ve heard a couple arguments against it too. The biggest one, though, is that if you don’t commit, then you’ll quit too easily. I have a couple responses to that.

First,┬áthe purpose of allowing yourself to quit is to help you start. Nothing else matters if you never start. So sure, you might quit too easily with this approach. But you’re forgetting that without it, you never would have started in the first place. I’d rather quit something good than never start it at all.

Second, you can use the same approach to keep yourself from quitting once you start. I like to give myself a trial period. I have to make it through the trial, but once it’s finished, I can reevaluate what I want to do. I can either quit or I can make another trial period. And if it’s attractive enough to make another trial period, then I can continue to delay quitting.

Like when I started the blog. After I finished the first week, I made the new deal to continue for a month straight. After that month, I made another deal to go for three months total. And so it continued.

The important part, though, is that after each trial period, I really did give myself permission to quit. No reservations. No regrets. No shame. And that’s actually what motivated me to continue.

I know myself. I know I don’t like to do things I’m forced to do. I know I have the strongest desire to quit when I can’t. So by granting myself permission to give up, I’m actually able to continue better. For me, it’s more sustainable.

You might give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always quit.

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