Career > Achieving Goals > Is Quitting Healthy? How to Know When to Give Up on Your Goals

Is Quitting Healthy? How to Know When to Give Up on Your Goals

Yes, quitting can be healthy – and giving up on your goals is sometimes the best, smartest thing you could do. If your goals are so unrealistic and unachievable that they cause insomnia, stomachaches, and headaches are other physical and emotional symptoms of stress, then you need to consider quitting.

“We’re socialized that we must always succeed, but we don’t always recognize that we’re limited by resources such as time, circumstance, and ability,” says Dana S. Dunn, Professor of Social Psychology at the Moravian College in Pennsylvania and author of Research Methods for Social Psychology. “Motivation isn’t the problem. Our own infrastructure can hold us back. We don’t always have the right education, technical expertise, or resources.”

If your goals aren’t possible and are making your life hell (not to mention what they’re doing to your loved ones!), then you need to consider giving ’em up.

Is life getting you down — are you spinning your wheels at work or home? Read This Is Not the Life I Ordered: 50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above Water When Life Keeps Dragging You Down — it’s one of my favorite books on figuring out what you really want out of life.

And, here are a few tips for quitting “goals” that are really burdens or albatrosses around your neck…

When Should You Give Up on Your Goals?

Quitting goals — and setting new ones — can be liberating and healthy. But we get stuck, whether we’re in a job we hate, a marriage that’s been dead for decades, or “tied” to a friend we just don’t respect or even like.

Some us just don’t know when to fold ’em.

“I have a horror of quitting, and I’ve stuck with things long after they’ve ceased to be useful or healthy,” says Rosie. “I’ve wasted evenings watching terrible films because ‘I’m not the kind of person who walks out.’ I’ve finished books that I hated from the first chapter, just so I could say that I’d given them the benefit of the doubt.”

Think that’s bad? Wait, it gets worse.

“I’ve stuck with relationships that weren’t making either person happy, not to mention soul-destroying jobs,” she says. “I refused to move out of a house that was costing me a fortune because I didn’t want to look like someone who’d made the wrong decision.”

Rosie’s not alone. We often have a hard time giving up or reevaluating our goals because quitting isn’t widely admired. But, can it actually be good for you?

Persistence is admirable – especially when you think of people who build multi million dollar businesses from their garages, learn to walk again after paralyzing strokes, or somehow beat all odds to succeed. Yet, research shows that dogged determination can lead to depression, helplessness, and a weakened immune system.

Why giving up on your goals has such a bad rap

Giving up is often associated with failure and weakness. We hear the clichés “Nobody likes a quitter”, “Winners never quit” and “Quitting is not the answer,” time and time again – even if quitting is the only answer.

Quitting isn’t just healthy – it can be joyful, refreshing, and liberating.

W.C. Fields touched on the value of giving up on your goals in his quip, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Recognizing our limitations — and setting goals that are SMART — is key to getting what we want out of life.

We think superhuman achievements are possible for everyone

The stigma attached to quitting stems from more than a few clichés. For instance, we see people accomplish superhuman tasks – such as finishing a marathon after doctors say they’ll never walk again – and we think those achievements are possible for everyone.

Sociology prof Dana Dunn says that remarkable accomplishments do happen, but they’re not the norm.

“We tend to overgeneralize from a handful of instances in which people do amazing things,” says Dunn. “The danger of looking at people who succeeded against all odds is that we don’t know how they got there. We don’t necessarily know the steps they took, their background, or the support they had.”

The notions of persistence and accomplishment are embedded in our communities, workplaces, and families…and they can drag us under.

Are you struggling the notion of quitting because you’re still in love with your vision? Read How to Turn Your Dreams Into Specific, Achievable Goals.

If you’re ready to pursue different career goals, read How to Quit Your Job When You’re Scared.

Have you ever quit or given up on a goal? Was it the right thing to do?

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5 thoughts on “Is Quitting Healthy? How to Know When to Give Up on Your Goals”

  1. I’m still learning from reading your articles, but I’m trying to reach my goals. I certainly love reading everything that is written on Quips and Tips, and found this one about quitting particularly interesting. Keep the tips coming. I loved it!

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments…and back away from the Big Mac and fries!! :-)

    I’m glad you only have a few pounds to lose, Sydney. You’re a lucky woman.

    The last thing I quit was a dog. We got Jazz from the SPCA (pet shelter) last October — she was a 75 pound black lab/German Shepherd cross. She was far too big for our house and decks (we don’t even have a proper yard, for crying out loud), and when she spotted squirrels and skunks and birds on our walks, she’d simply run after them. I couldn’t hold her back…we got sprayed by skunks twice. I was so scared about her galloping around freely – she could’ve gotten hit by a car, or knocked someone over, or never come back! It was awful. She needed four hours of exercise a day, which I just couldn’t give her. And, she couldn’t rest during the day — all she wanted to do was play, play, play with me.

    So we very sadly took her back. Bruce was more of the mind that we keep her, because we can’t just quit and we committed to her and we can’t just give up. But, he wasn’t the one who had to be home with her all day long, who had to walk her 3 times a day, and who she kept running away from. So it had to be my decision…and I gave her up.

    We cried all that day. I cried for 3 weeks after. It was horrible.

    After 4 days in the shelter, she found a home with a guy who also works from home, who has a big property. I pray she’s happy with him. The SPCA people said she’s a good match for him.

    That’s my painful story of quitting — and it was spurred by reading Sydney’s article called Quitting Doesn’t Always Equal Failure, even though I wrote this article about quitting being healthy sometimes. Funny how things happen.

    As ever,

  3. I love this article! I’m like Sydney because I grew up thinking that quitting is failing. But I’ve realized that “quitting” isn’t failing, it’s just reevaluating and setting new better and different goals.

    Sometimes quitting or letting go of what’s not healthy for you is the best way to achieve your goals.

  4. Great article, Laurie.

    In fact, just before I got the RSS feed about this article I was reading an email about Meeting #2 of a weight loss challenge that I “joined” just last week. I was already feeling a bit like a fish-out-of-water at the initial meeting last week because out of about 30 women, I was the only one that had less than 10 lbs to lose. Today when I saw the LONG list of activities and to-do items for the next 12 weeks I felt totally overwhelmed. With all the other stress in my life right now, this project is just too much effort for the limited scope of my weight loss goals.

    I too am one who’s been taught that giving up equals failure, but the timing of seeing this article was confirmation enough for me that not only is “quitting” OK, but in some cases it really is the right thing to do.

    Thanks. Now I think I’ll go get a Big Mac and super-sized fries! (Just kidding)