July 23rd, 2008

What Everybody Ought to Know About Quitting

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The best quitters are the ones who decide in advance when they’re going to quit.

-Seth Godin, The Dip

Remember the old advice, “Winners never quit, quitters never win”? It’s wrong. In fact, winners quit often- as entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin explains, “to stick with something in an absence of further progress is a waste.” In his short book The Dip, Godin provides a simple framework for looking at anything you do in life, and deciding when to quit. He uses three patterns to describe situations you could be facing in your life (e.g., your career, an exercise routine, relationships):

Three Patterns You Could Be Facing in Your Life

The Dip: The most difficult part of the journey- “the long slog between starting and mastery.”

Example: A new business that hasn’t quite taken off yet

The Cul-de-Sac: The plateau. You put in a lot of time and energy, but you still don’t end up anywhere.

Example: Dead-end job

The Cliff: The peak and drastic descend. Your future efforts, even when greater than past efforts, won’t be enough.

Example: Smoking

The Dip is a temporary setback, while The Cul-De-Sac and The Cliff ultimately lead to failure
The Dip is a temporary setback, while The Cul-De-Sac and The Cliff ultimately lead to failure

Strategic Quitting

If you are in a cul-de-sac or cliff situation (above), these both lead to failure so you should quit. You have finite time and energy, and should use it towards parts of your life that you can be excellent at. If you are in a dip situation, you need to decide under what circumstances you will quit. Strategic quitting is when you decide to “outline your quitting strategic before the discomfort sets in.”

Using Strategic Quitting When Setting Goals

I decided to implement strategic quitting when I set new goals for myself. For each new goal I set, I now keep track of “Circumstances in which I will Quit.” This way, I will ensure that I am quitting something for the right reasons, not because of stress of the moment. It also helps me decide if a new endeavor is even worth committing to if I cannot commit to the “Circumstances in which I will quit.”

Here are a few examples of how to you can use this method in your goal setting (assuming you are in a dip pattern):

Example 1) Starting a new business

I will continue working my hardest on this my new business unless I am still unprofitable after X time.

Example 2) Maintaining your exercise routine

I will exercise X times per week for the next X months, unless I get injured.

Example 3) Doing your best at your job/career

I will continue doing my best at my current career, unless it has a significant negative impact on my health and/or professional/personal goals.

Example 4) Making an investment

If this investment loses me more than X%, I will sell it (could do this systematically if it’s a stock using a Stop Order).

The Benefit of Using Strategic Quitting When Setting Goals

The main benefit of using strategic quitting when setting goals is that you will begin giving your all in whatever endeavor you get involved in, versus coping:

Coping is what people do when they try to muddle through… The problem with coping is that it never leads to exceptional performance… All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you’re better off quitting. Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else… Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.

-Seth Godin, The Dip

Strategic quitting allows you to focus your energy on doing your best, versus that gray area where you aren’t doing your best but you aren’t quitting.

Three questions to ask yourself before quitting: Am I panicking, who am I trying to influence, and what sort of measurable progress am I making? These will help you determine if you are quitting for the right reasons, or simply quitting because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.

Here’s some more advice from Mr. Godin on when to quit:

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4 Responses to “What Everybody Ought to Know About Quitting”

Robert A. Henru

July 23rd, 2008 - 9:18 pm

Thanks for sharing this, it’s really good advises there!
Especially about coping and quitting.

Derek Ralston

July 23rd, 2008 - 10:04 pm

@Robert: Thanks for visiting, glad I was able to share it with you (=

Hunter Nuttall

July 29th, 2008 - 11:07 pm

Interesting concept! I’ve always thought it seemed wrong to say you should _never_ quit, so I’m glad Seth Godin has said something about that. Great video too–I had never seen him before.

Derek Ralston

July 29th, 2008 - 11:12 pm

@Hunter: Thanks for stopping by! Yep leave it to Seth Godin to provide a fresh perspective on quitting.

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