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What to Do When You Want to Give Up

Five tips to help you keep going.

Key points

  • Observable evidence of progress and change increases hope and encourages people to keep striving toward a goal.
  • Substantial change takes time, as evidenced by many people who attempt to lose weight, boost their careers, and the like.
  • To maintain momentum when working toward a goal, it helps to start by logging any small improvments that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The hardest thing to do is to keep striving when you see no signs of change. This is because our human brains like tangible, quantifiable, observable evidence that our efforts are getting us closer to what we want and who we want to become (dopamine response).

Observable evidence of progress and change increases hope and encourages us to keep “fighting the good fight," even when we are exhausted from our daily investments. So how do you keep taking the steps toward better days when it seems like the process is not processing?

This is a common complaint among many clients in therapy. The urgency for immediate relief or therapeutic change can make the process of bringing about change insufferable. However, just like with all growth and change, nothing substantially noticeable happens overnight—career success, loving relationships, weight loss, you name it, they all take time. As the saying goes, “Success is the sum of small efforts repeatedly daily."

Yes, I know this fact can be daunting, especially for someone who is having a hard time persuading themselves to keep going or even to begin, so consider these tips below to help keep you encouraged, even when all attempts and efforts feel useless:

1. Keep a detailed daily log.

Write down any and all observable change, even if you feel like it’s not worthy to write down. Daily logs are helpful because they help us account for the tiny changes—that usually do not persistent in our memories. As a result, we may be remiss in accounting for all the change that actually is happening. Small changes, when accumulated, eventually render the big change that we long for.

2. Have a life outside of your goal.

If you stare at the minute-hand of a clock, the passing of an hour will seem like a lifetime. When we occupy ourselves with other tasks besides “watching the minute hand on a clock advance” or “watching paint dry," our desires seem to happen faster. When working on a goal, it is important to diversify how you spend your time. Doing so can reduce the frustration of your goal not happening fast enough.

3. Engage in grounding exercises.

Grounding exercises are commonly encouraged coping mechanisms suggested by therapists. Grounding exercises help redirect the brain from unwanted thoughts and feelings, such as “things will never get better." There are many types of grounding exercises. Conducting a simple Google search will populate a wealth of grounding exercise suggestions, so be sure to check it out.

4. Question your expectations.

Ask yourself: Given the goal, are my expectations for how and when I meet my goal realistic? Unrealistic expectations fuel disappointment and can be difficult to recover from when unmet. Although dreaming big is encouraged (if that's your thing), it is important to develop feasible expectations so that they are more likely to be met.

5. Don’t compare your progress or change journey with anyone else’s.

The journey of progress and change is very personal. This means it will be different for different people. As the saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy." Make a point to celebrate what is happening in your journey rather than looking at someone else’s path and dwelling on what happened for them and not for you. Remember that life is not a race. You don’t need to come in “first place." Rather, life is a journey, which is simply defined as an act of traveling from one place to another, so as long as you keep moving—you’re doing just fine.

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