The Power of Dropping Out: When quitting is the best thing you can do

Dropping out.

We hear a lot about it, especially for geniuses and star entrepreneurs who have “made it” such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and other famous college dropouts.

In a world full of advice on how to reach success, we hear a lot:

“Winners don’t quit, and quitters don’t win.”

“He who quits one day will quit for his whole life.” As French Marine Commando Instructor and Green Beret Marius said.

What if, quitting was sometimes the best option?

How would we know when it is the right decision to quit?

In my article on Control vs. Mastery, I explained a few keys that point out to knowing the best moment to let go of a project. In this article, I would like to dive deeper.

In my Yoga practice, with the DeRose Method, there are these moments in which we train permanence. For instance, practicing chatuspádásana, the plank pose. There are these winning moments, where I notice that my mind is so strong, I don’t care how long the instructor keeps us planking, I just feel good from the inside-out, no matter what.

And there are these other moments, which feel like they will last forever. I connect to my body, which is begging me to quit. I push through for a little, but one of the safety rules in the DeRose Method is:

“Striving without forcing.”

The purpose is to practice Ahimsa, non-violence, including in relationship to the body. The purpose is to listen to it, as much as train it.

There have been several instances where quitting the plank was my best decision. I felt so much gratitude and self-love for quitting, for giving myself a break (Yes, Resting is Part of the Training). These were moments when I fell in love with myself, and didn’t care what the instructor might think, or doing poorly in comparison to the other classmates. I felt my whole body relax, and I could really let go completely.

Not only did I feel great in the moment, but I actually felt good after the class, for giving myself this gift, that I alone was in power to give myself. I didn’t have the shadow of a regret for quitting.

These moments are hard to find, for there is always a part of me that wants to push me further, beyond my limits. I have grown this part over the years, my inner coach, and it has grown me in return.

Why don’t we quit more often?

In her Psychology Today article, Peg Streep emphasizes on four biases that prevent us from seeing that it might be better for us to quit:

  1. The sunk cost fallacy (You are focused on the time and energy you have already invested.)
  2. You are focusing only on the positive cues
  3. You are clouded by your emotions (the more you see that it is not going to work out, the more you cling to your project)
  4. FOMO and the fear of making a mistake (and I would say to step out of your comfort zone)

How far do we need to go before we allow ourselves to quit?

There is one trick that our mind can play on us, which can be sabotaging us into quitting projects and endeavours that could be beneficial for us on the long term. To know if that is happening, we need to lean into our Resistance to follow-through.

Learning from our Resistance to following-through

Kate Swoboda, in her article, explained four steps to explore the resistance we might face in following through on a project, a relationship, or an endeavour:

1. Discover what your resistance it about

What is your resistance about? Why is it there?

2. Do something about your resistance to following through.

What could you do to make it better?

3. Evaluate what you’re doing from the wider vantage point of your life—both the temporary and the longer-term circumstances that you’re in.

“Am I stressed out and resistant and overloaded right now because of temporary circumstances that have the possibility of shifting?”

To know when to quit something , you have to ask yourself if the additional pressures are temporary and if you’d feel differently about them, about your life, three months from now.

If you want to know when to quit something (or if you even should), it’s good to examine the flip-side of how staying in might ultimately serve your life. 

Would you regret not following through, later, because it’s part of a larger life dream?

Do you have a pattern of not finishing things you start , and would there be value in seeing this through?

If you knew that everything with this endeavour would be hard, but would ultimately work out and turn out okay, would you stay the course?

If your answer is: “Yes, of course!” then guess what? You’ve actually arrived at the moment of transformation: staying the course and NOT quitting is going to teach you everything you need to know about where and why you give up on yourself, across the entirety of your life.

4. Do not sabotage your options, while you’re in the process of making the decision whether or not to quit.

Sabotaging your options is, for most people, the first part of how they quit things.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the degree program, don’t start skipping assignments or classes while you officially decide.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the marriage, don’t pick more fights while you officially decide.

Allowing ourselves to Quit

On the long run, we don’t need to be at 100% all the time. In sports training, if you train twice a week, and you have one really good session, and an average one, that is good enough. If you have one poor session a month, where you quit (that is, 12 per year), that is still 52 winning sessions per year, 40 average sessions, and 12 quitting ones. This is enough to build a winner’s mind.

I don’t believe in the philosophy of Never.

Allowing yourself to quit, sometimes, will build your discernment.

It will build your self-compassion.

It will build your compassion for others, because you know how hard it is, and you know from the inside-out that you can’t always win and be at 100%.

Quitting is not only a good option for sports. It can be in any project.

Letting go is indeed a skill that people who have grit need to develop, as explained in this HBR article.

When you are struggling too much, and start to see that there might be another way, maybe quitting is a good option.

Yes, there is the danger of being allured by “grass being greener on the other side of the fence.”

I like Sam Ovens’s perspective, the creator of

“Grass is greener where you water it.”

That helps us to stay on track and to keep going, instead of falling for the shiny object syndrome.

I would like to go further:

What if you really chose the wrong pasture to cultivate?

What if you are on top of a poor soil, with mosquitoes, tornadoes, snakes, scorpions, and horrible neighbours?

What if by moving to a better place, you could cultivate the land better, live in better symbiosis, and cultivate more nourishing relationships with you neighbours?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What made me choose this place?
  • What is my purpose?
  • How does staying here help me in fulfilling this purpose?
  • What other options do I have?
  • How would these other options help me fulfill your purpose even better?
  • What is the cost of moving?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice to come closer to my purpose?
  • What will happen if I stay here?
  • What is the cost I am paying for staying here?

Quitting elegantly

Once you have decided to quit, there are elegant ways to quit.

For instance, once you decide to quit on a project, here are a few things to ask yourself:

  • What are the open loops, and unfinished business I need to take care of to close this chapter?
  • What are the agreements I need to complete, renegotiate or terminate?
  • What are the things I would do if I had more time on this project?

You can always extend your time before quitting in order to do some of these things and finish properly.

Circling back to Yoga, I notice the difference between when I push myself too far beyond my limits, for instance doing sírshásana (headstand). Once I bring my legs down to the ground, I flex my knees and have no more mastery because my lower body feels too exhausted from holding the pause.

On the other hand, when I come back down a little before I feel too exhausted, I can keep my legs straight, and come down in a more composed and elegant way, which makes me feel more well-rounded.

“A good landing is one you can walk away from.

A great landing is one where you can use the airplane again.”

Chuck Yeager
  • What is one project/phase of your life you would like to bring to completion?
  • How will you know when it is complete?
  • What would you like to happen before it is complete?
  • What are the things you need to do to complete it?

Peg Streep offers four steps to move forward, once you have decided to quit:

1. Get in touch with your emotions.

2. Motivate yourself:

“Remember that quitting isn’t an end in and of itself; it’s a pathway to a new destination.”

3. Plan and use “if/then” thinking.

4. Prepare for the stress of transition.

She concludes:

Despite the cultural mantra, quitting an endeavor or relationship that is no longer making you happy, is failing and cannot be fixed, or which no longer meets your needs is a healthy response as long as it’s the first step toward a new goal and destination.

%d bloggers like this: