We humans are good at quitting. Sometimes we start quitting before we even start trying. We begin to talk about work-life balance before we even attempt career trajectory. We bring up our ankle injury before a race. We preface our first university semester with a remark about our self-diagnosed ADD or how oppressive it would be if we solely studied and avoided the "college life" (i.e. - partying). Before beginning a new eating lifestyle, we emphasize the importance of regular indulgences, desserts, snacks and treats. Our age, genetic limitations or health history are the header on an announcement that we have begun an exercise program. We cite discrimination prior to embarking on the fifty interviews it may well take to get that new job. We throw in the towel at understanding people who might disagree with us BEFORE they even open their mouths (I.e. - anyone who doesn't say exactly what I say is unscientific, a snowflake, a bigot, an idiot, evil, etc.). We have such an emotional commitment to these oppression narratives that we feel indignation at the mere suggestion that they are lies, excuses or exaggerations. So, instead, let's take those narratives for granted. Let's say, "yes, this is real; the cards are stacked against me; but my obsession with that limiting factor is counterproductive." Acknowledge our disempowerment, our barriers to success, our universal constraints. Then, let's move on. Let's cultivate a thought process which emphasizes opportunity-seizing, resourcefulness, positivity, empowerment, and efficacy. Let us become better at not-quitting, at overcoming, at grit, at perseverance.
The Quitter's Spell
Every effort to focus on "can't" is an ingredient in the Quitter's Spell. The repetition of "I can't" is the strongest drug on the planet. It's tempting. It's addictive. And it's available everywhere for everyone at every moment in endless supply. We use this tincture in the Quitter's Potion; and we proceed to cast the Quitter's Spell. In a trance, our minds can only see failure. Like a shamanistic ritual, we enter a vision-state. We are out of our bodies, reacting to a past we never had, a present which isn't ours and a future which may never come. In spurts of sobriety, we catch glimpses of our real lives. But it does little more than reinforce the need for more of that Quitter's Spell. We yearn for the feeling, the sensation, the escape to an alternative universe where we can forever be the helpless victim, the disenfranchised enabler, or the righteous persecutor.
There is a way out. It's easier than we may think. But it is going to be one day at a time; and there will be withdrawals. We must give up the addictive high that comes from drowning in a sea of our sorrows. We must acknowledge our powerful desire to take on the role of victim. All the while we can develop our success narrative.
First, let us take a moment to examine how we cast this enchanting Spell:
1.) Ingredient #1 of Quitter's Spell is a heightened obsession over external circumstances: genetics; identity; age; health history; the Fates; the Universe. We get affected by external circumstances. We do. But when our dialogue is fixated on those things, only disempowerment will be found. We like to feel the rush of a pity party. We have legitimate gripes. But then there's this thing called pragmatism and practicality: how's playing the victim actually providing benefit? You see, looking for lack of opportunity is a skill. Looking for opportunity is a skill. Which one are we honing? This first stage spikes 8-12 weeks before we quit, which in some cases precedes our "attempt" at success.
2.) Ingredient #2 of Quitter's Spell is refusal to accept any reality check. Friends and family offer advice. Mentors offers direction. We say, "nobody seems to understand that my plight is hopeless and there's nothing I can do but await the magical change in the winds of Fortune." No matter how bad we actually have it, someone else has done more with less. There were slaves who freed themselves and others. There were real martyrs. There were revolutionaries. There were foreigners with nothing, the wrong skin, the wrong language, the wrong background, the wrong culture, the wrong parts between their legs, who overcame oppression and succeeded by every standard we can imagine. There are paraplegics, quadriplegics and amputees who make dreams happen. As we enter the Quitter's Trance, we can't even hear that reality. Instead, we are going to move from victim to persecutor:
"What could YOU know? You aren't a [fill in the blank with some identifier that the other person doesn't have]! Shame on YOU! People like YOU are part of the problem!"
First off: great work - other people always appreciate the attempt to negate all of their life experiences, their humanity, and their thinking based on the simple fact that they don't share the exact same background as us. Second: we are right - they can't know exactly what it's like to travel another person's journey, in the same way that we can't understand the challenges they've faced and currently face. However, third: this is a red herring logical fallacy; there is nothing about who we are or who they are that proves impossibility. We are taking probability and assigning to it possibility. Nobody said it was going to be easy. But difficult is not impossible. This second stage of spellcasting occurs 4-8 weeks before quitting; and, again, this may actually precede our attempt at the endeavor we're about to quit. At this point, recognizing the error in our thinking can turn it all around; because more often than not some opportunities are coming to light.
3.) Ingredient #3 of the Quitter's Spell and the end-of-the-line is actively and overtly throwing away good/new opportunities. The magical winds of Fortune turn around and external circumstances are now working in our favor. However, even as new opportunities crop up, the entranced will scoff. We have moved from persecutor to enabler. It's not enough to state our errant belief and refuse perspective; we are going to push all the chips in and work hard at reinforcing that belief. We say, "it's too little too late; this just won't help; I am doomed to fail no matter what." A salesperson will get a new account or hot lead. A trainer will realize she hasn't been following up or managing contacts or spending any time on outreach. A client will recognize he's been shooting himself in the foot every millisecond outside of session time. But it just won't matter. At this point, the sunk cost fallacy enters scene. We have devoted so much time, energy and resource to prove our victimhood, we would invalidate and devalue our self-sabotaging efforts by not quitting. We are invested and fully vested in the Quitter's Spell. We have obligated ourselves to quit to keep the ego intact.
And that's the coup de gras in the Quitter's Spell. We may announce our quit today or up to 28 days from today. But it won't be a minute longer. We're due. We sense the need to hurry up before another positive opportunity presents itself. We have to prove we are at the mercy of the planetary alignment, the zodiac, the hatred of strangers, big pharma, the left wingers, the right wingers, the man, the feminists, the elites, Karma, the fill-in-the-blank-with-red-herring-here. We say, "see, I knew I couldn't do it." It's an ironic moment, since we have just controlled an outcome to prove that we can't control outcomes.
The heart of the quitter is in us all. It's unsophisticated and always shouting the same message: you are powerless because of your external circumstances; no one can talk you out of it; nothing will work. I've been there. We all have. If you can just acknowledge that fact alone, your chances of success invert.
More proactively, seek perspective. Don't avoid it. Don't turn away from underdog stories. Don't pull the old "yeah, yeah, I've heard this before." Good. Hear it again. Bathe yourself in constant reminders of the very real and seemingly insurmountable difficulties other people face every day. I notice that people will cite statistics for indignation. But what happened to inspiration? Yeah, it sucks that 1 billion children live in poverty around the world. Yep, the multinational conglomerates are evil, yada yada. But how about the fact that if I make only 25 thousand dollars a year I'm in the top 10 percent wealthiest people in human history worldwide AND if I just spare 8 bucks a week I can make a profound difference in one of those impoverished kids' lives.
Personally, I collect incredible stories of elderly athletes, injured people who rise up, marginalized members of society who overcome our expectations. I do this for my own reality check to stave off the Quitter's Spell. I am consumed with these stories because they confound every excuse, legitimate or illegitimate. My favorite retort to clients who are beginning to throw the Grand Masquerade of Pity is, "at least you weren't born in a ditch in Calcutta." Sure. It seems heartless. But guess what: there are people actually born in ditches in Calcutta; and they aren't throwing pity parties. They're too busy actually making ends meet with hard labor. If they even had the opportunity to become literate, they don't have the leisure time to be disheartened by reading a news story at odds with their sensibilities. There are people getting raped right this instant merely because they are vulnerable in route to find potable water. In the time it took you to read the preceding paragraphs, two to three children died as a consequence of no access to clean water or bathrooms. But I get it: it's hard to face the day with so many unique and overwhelming challenges in your life. Like, how can you soldier on when Starbucks was out of your favorite coconut creamer? How do you press forward when your company just got restructured? When you got in your vehicle this morning, hydrated, nourished, and knowing full-well that you could sleep last night without assuredly dying from stray bullets or mortar fire, how o how did you summon the will - nay - the courage to turn the key in your car's ignition?
Check Your But
Confronted with reality and perspective, we like to fight it and fixate on buts. We like to go to war about how bad we have it; or we like to say, "true, but..." For the bellicose reader, there's nothing I can say today. However, for everyone else, I want to extend a challenge to you to check your buts. Every time you are cultivating your perspective, check your buts. You'll say, "great for so-and-so, but I could never do that." Stop. Check your but. You'll hear about the people in Calcutta and say, "I know, but I can't live that simply." Stop. Check your but. Perspective isn't going to come from your but. So quit pretending to pull it out of your but. Reality isn't found in your but. Nobody cares about your but. You can quit quitting if you just give up your buts. When you do, you'll no longer cast the spell of a quitter.