The Science of Giving Up

Why is it so easy to give up?  This past weekend, I was feeling VERY strongly about taking care of myself, trying something new, and doing a series of 30 day challenges to improve my life.  My first 30 day challenge has been practicing yoga.  I am not flexible, my body hurts from a desk job and lugging around toddlers, and I could really use the quiet mindfulness that yoga is supposed to provide.  Last night, I wasn’t really “in the mood”, but I’m holding myself accountable to really giving this a shot, so I pushed through.  It’s hard for me, but my husband did it with me and our dogs were all over us and it was fun and we laughed and we felt better after.  So why did my brain go to such a dark place later while I was in bed?  My inner voice was saying things like, “Ugh, I just don’t feel like doing it,” and, “I already don’t feel like doing yoga again tomorrow.”  That’s crazy!  I stopped myself and thought, it’s a whole day away!  You don’t know how you’re going to feel tomorrow!  Maybe you won’t be so tired and cranky and you’ll WANT to do some stretching.  And really, if tonight was so hard, you can just pick an easier yoga video that will be more relaxing!
First, I don’t know if it’s the yoga, but I’m really glad I stopped the negative thoughts and gave myself a good talking-to, which I’m not normally great at doing.  And second, I really want to understand why it’s so easy for me and others to just quit.  We start diets and exercise routines and online classes and blogs – and then just give up on them.  Why?

So I spent some time researching today and found a few interesting things I wanted to share with you.  Apparently, there are two kinds of “quitters” – those who give up right away, and those who take longer to give up, but still quit eventually.  I believe that I fall into both categories, depending on the subject and what’s going on in my life at the moment.  With the yoga, I was definitely ready to quit last night, and it was only DAY FOUR!  And yet, there have been other times where I’ve stuck to an exercise routine for many months, I completed 4 years of college, I’ve had a veggie garden to maintain for 3 years now, etc.  Perhaps I’m more passionate about certain things and my life at the time is more conducive to completing my goals.

Scientists and psychologists talk about “ego depletion”, which basically means that people have a limited amount of self-control and willpower and it is reduced every time we exert that self control or willpower.  A perceived lack of time also has a big impact on our staying power.  Self improvement projects seem to get hit the hardest, but there is hope.  An improvement in day-to-day focus and an emphasis on the incentive for that project can really help.

Regarding focus, people who can sustain focus in day-to-day life are more likely to maintain perseverance and passion in their long-term goals.  I notice that the more balls I am juggling, the less focus I have, so it helps me when I simplify my life and responsibilities as much as possible.  Mindfulness training exercises, such as meditation, can really help, so I guess it’s really fortuitous that I chose yoga as my first 30 day challenge.

Also, your incentive matters.  People with real “grit” tend to have a purpose beyond “self”.  Grittiness is a personality trait involving sustained interest and effort toward long-term goals.  Grit is also a good predictor of success in career and education, independent of other traits, including intelligence.  Grit is really just interest, practice, purpose and hope.  That sounds simple, but I think an awareness is needed in order to succeed – so often, our lives are so filled with to-do-lists and just basic functioning that we are not aware of how every day matters and how many opportunities we have each day to focus on a long-term goal.

Ultimately, self-reflection is imperative.  I’m sure there are hundreds of reasons why, but I’ve noticed in my life that people seem to be a lot less self-reflective than they used to be, including myself.  Self-reflection is really hard – you have to find the quiet time to think, you have to be honest with yourself, and you have to dig deeper into your long-held beliefs and habits.  Not only is that hard, but it is also very scary.  I’m glad I took a moment last night to stop my negative thoughts, reflect on them, try to understand why I had them, and then create a game-plan for myself.  And that plan is to continue my yoga challenge because if I take care of myself, I will be a better mother, wife, family member and friend.  I love the people in my life so much, so if I can really visualize how this self-care will make me a better person for them, I think I can stick with it.  Although, being a better person for myself isn’t exactly a lame incentive either.  Namaste bitches!

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