In Mastering the Art of Quitting, bestselling author Peg Streep and psychotherapist Alan Bernstein demonstrate that persistence alone isn’t always the answer. We also need to be able to quit to get the most out of life.
While the culture says that quitting is the easy way out, genuine disengagement isn’t
Goal disengagement takes place on what might be thought of as four levels simultaneously: cognitive, affective, motivational, and behavioral. In plain language, those are the levels of thought, feeling, motivation, and action.
The part of disengagement that requires us to clear the mind (the working memory, to be more precise) of intrusive thoughts is called cognitive disengagement.
To let go on a cognitive level, we need to manage those intrusive, white-bear thoughts. These thoughts maybe a preoccupation with how we might have succeeded if we’d only persisted or vaious other second guesses or variations on the theme. Daniel Wegner explains that since the mind searches for whatever thought, action, or emotion the person is trying to control, the ‘ironic monitoring’ process can actually create the mental contents for which it is searching. That’s why the unwanted thought rebounds into the mind. So ‘if we wish to supress a thought, it’s necessary to become absorbed in another thought. The distractor we seek should be intrinsicaly interesting and engaging to us, and even if it is unpleasant, it should not be boring or confusing.’
The bigger point is that suppressing our emotions doesn’t work.
Impulses and restraint might, in fact, be ‘causally interwined.’ It may be that when restraint is weakened through depletion, emotions and desires are felt more strongly. Ironically then, trying to exert self-control–a strategy for managing and regulating emotions–may, in the moment, simply heighten them.
Motivational disengagement might as well be called ‘gettting back on the horse’ or ‘putting your ducks in a row,’ as you are motivated to let go of one goal and begin thinking about pursuing another.
This step requires that you actively reject goals that are either unattainable or don’t serve your inner needs–that is, consciously rejecting extrinsic goals–and focusing on those that are attainable or tied to inner imperatives.
Behavioral disengagement works in the sphere of real-world choices, in which the person acts to quit the old goal and exhibits new behaviors oriented toward the achievement of the new goal.
Among other things, behavioral disengagement requires flexibility and renewed focus. Because life has a way of throwing some of us curveballs that have nothing to do with drive or talent, sometimes even the most intrinsically motivated and satisfying goals must be given up for reasons that are beyond the individual’s control. At moments like these, knowing how to quit artfully is a valuable skill.
Complement Mastering the Art of Quitting with When to Quit and When to Stick. Seth Godin considers winners those who quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt. Winners, he says, seek The Dip. On the contrary, losers either fail to stick out The Dip or they never even find the rigth dip to conquer.