This is an excerpt from my ebook, Your Guide to Calling It Quits (because there are better things to do with your life). To read more, get your free copy here.
So far in this miniseries, we’ve discussed why you should quit things and how to decide which things to quit. Now we get down to the nitty gritty details—how the frack you’re actually supposed to quit something.
Unfortunately, there’s no 12-step program for quitting of the sort we’re talking about. Maybe one day I’ll develop one and sell it for a reasonable price, along with custom coaching sessions. (Interest…? Anyone…?) 🙂
Depending on what you’ve chosen to get rid of, what your life currently looks like, and your own strengths and weaknesses, it’s really up to you to decide the best way to accomplish your quit. It’s a process of experimentation.
Each Quit Has Its Own Unique Challenges and Issues
But as you learn to take control of your life and happiness, the overall process of quitting will become easier and more instinctual. You’ll get used to the initial discomfort of changing something, and you’ll start to learn the tactics that work best to keep yourself on target.
Maybe you operate best on a reward system—for every $50 you put towards your savings goal, you give yourself an inexpensive treat, like a cupcake from your favorite bakery. (Mmmm, cupcakes…)
Or maybe you’re the sort that likes lists and progress charts and inspirational Post-It notes on your bathroom mirror. Then Post-It it up, baby!
When I quit eating like crap, I made specific guidelines for myself: smaller portions, more fresh veggies, fewer carbs (my personal kryptonite). But when I quit being a TV addict, it was more a matter of going cold turkey and then keeping an eye on myself each day to make sure I didn’t backslide.
Each quit is different, and each person quits differently. You’ll learn what works best for you and figure out what each specific challenge needs.
That said, it would be pretty unfair of me to say “Go ahead, start your quitting!” without giving you any idea of what to expect. So, here are some basic things to keep in mind as you go about your quits:
Tips & Tactics
1. Have Something You’re Quitting For
This is by far the most important thing—Quitting 101. You need a positive, motivating reason for your quit—and you’ve gotta really mean it.
Just focusing on how much you hate the thing you’re quitting creates a bad mojo that contradicts the whole purpose of quitting in the first place. It’s to make things better, remember? So, what are you making things better for?
Why do you want to quit spending so much money? To save up for a dream vacation? To build your kids’ college fund? To pay down your debt so you can quit your office job and become a skydiving performance artist like you’ve always dreamt of being? Keep the positive visuals at the ready. Call them up whenever you’re facing that fantastic sale that’s just too good to pass up, even though you don’t really need any of the things being sold.
Why do you want to quit being a couch potato? To fit into those old jeans again? To have more time to focus on that grand novel you’ve always wanted to write? To spend more time with your family?
Remember that you’re striving for something, not fighting against something. Striving makes you feel energized, optimistic, and fulfilled. Fighting makes you feel tired, resentful, and grumpy. Guess which mindset is more effective?
Keep it positive. This is a good thing you’re doing. You’re clearing room for all sorts of fantastic stuff to come tumbling into your life. Hooray! (Or “Huzzah!”, if you prefer.)
2. Take It Slow
Trying to change everything all at once pretty much guarantees failure. We have finite reserves of self-discipline and energy, and multitasking your quits only makes each one harder. Imagine quitting caffeine, sleeping in, and negative thinking all at once—you’re not setting yourself up for much success with that combo. Try a quit or two at a time, and wait until you feel you’ve really mastered one before moving onto the next one.
3. Understand (and Accept) the Trade-Offs
If you want to quit your job to start a business of your own, are you prepared for the hard work and financial uncertainty that come with that decision? If you’re planning to give up meat, are you prepared for the ribbing (I swear I did not mean that as a pun) you’ll get from your carnivorous friends, the difficulty you’ll face at family BBQs, the extra thought you’ll have to put into making sure you get the nutrition you need?
Be honest with yourself about what it will take to make your quit happen. If you’re not clear on what you’re up against, or you don’t fully believe the tradeoffs are worth it, you may not be ready—or the quit may not be for you.
4. Develop a Game Plan
If you’re quitting unhealthy snacking, and you know your office always has a box of delicious, calorie-packed donuts in the break room, arm yourself by stocking your desk full of healthy but yummy alternatives like nuts and fruit. If you want to stop racking up so much debt, take your credit cards out of your wallet, or cut them up altogether.
Set yourself up for success. By preparing yourself mentally for the challenges you’ll be facing, developing a concrete strategy for dealing with them, and resolving to implement that strategy every time a challenge comes at you, you’ll make it much easier for yourself to stay on track. Think ahead. Be prepared.
5. Come Up with Positive Replacements
It’s easier to quit something—especially something that’s been an ingrained habit for a while—it you have a positive substitute to take its place. If you want to quit stress eating, line up alternate coping methods you can turn to when you start to feel stressed (massage, meditation, exercise, etc.). Having something to take the place of the thing you’re removing from your life—especially a replacement that makes you feel good—is a great way to ensure your quit sticks and you get the most happiness for your efforts.
6. Set Definite Limits and Guidelines
Are you quitting TV altogether, or allowing yourself a few favorite shows? How many hours a day is o.k.? Nebulous quits are hard to pursue. Setting specific rules for yourself (when applicable) makes it much easier to keep yourself on track and also to recognize when you’re starting to slip.
7. Don’t Allow Yourself Exceptions
Any smoker who’s tried quitting knows how tempting it is to think, “I’ll just have this one cigarette. It’s been a ridiculously long day. It’s only one. It won’t hurt.” But one excuse can lead to another, and suddenly a month’s worth of progress is set back to zero by one “harmless” little exception. Make it easier by being strict with yourself. Every time you make the right choice, it gets easier to make another right choice.
8. Enlist Support
Tell your spouse, your friends, your family—anyone you feel would understand and can hold you accountable—what you’re quitting and why. (Definitely tell them if the decision directly affects them, like if you’re the family cook and you’ve decided to give up meat.)
I can’t say enough for accountability; part of the reason I started a blog was so other people would know what I was up to and I’d feel more compelled to stick with it. And the like-minded people I’ve met as a result have made my quits stronger and my life better in more ways than I can say. They encourage me. They make me feel like I’m not alone. When I do slip up, they help cheerlead me back on track again.
If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable sharing your quit with, shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to be on your support team!
9. Envision the Results
Picture yourself having already quit. How will things be better? How will you feel? How freakin’ awesome will it be? Hold onto that image as you pursue your quit. It’s the reason it’s all worth it—even if you feel discouraged today, even if you’ve had a long week, even if you’ve been really good so far and think you deserve a break.
You can also try the reverse tack and picture what life was like before you decided to quit—then picture yourself going back to that. You decided to give this up for a reason. Recalling how unhappy it made you can also help motivate you to keep going.
10. Go Gradually
Sometimes you need to ease into change. It’s a lot easier to quit smoking if at first you only give up smoking in your car on the way to work…then on your coffee break…then you try to go the whole morning without a cigarette…compared to trying to give it all up in one fell swoop.
There’s nothing wrong with taking baby steps, especially if it means you’re more likely to succeed. Build up your discipline victory by victory, then up the stakes when you think you’re ready for it.
11. Take It Day by Day (or Minute by Minute, If Necessary)
Let’s say you’re trying to quit being so negative all the time. If you think about having to be Susie Sunshine 24/7—in spite of all the traffic jams, annoying coworkers, and last-minute deadlines you know you’ll face in an average day—you will psyche yourself out.
Any change can seem impossible (or at least hella intimidating) when you picture sustaining it indefinitely. Instead, take it one traffic jam or deadline crisis at a time. Change is built in increments, and it takes time. Do what you can, as you’re required to do it, and the momentum will start to build. Don’t waste your energy on future worry or stress. Just deal with what’s in front of you.
Remember what I said about people having finite reserves of self-discipline and energy? The upside to that is that those reserves are renewed each day. So just focus on getting through today. Then get through tomorrow. That’s all you can do, anyway.
12. Go Easy on Yourself
Whether you’re quitting something big or small, there’s a fairly decent chance (being human and all) that you’ll mess up at some point. You’ll have a moment of weakness, you’ll make one of those exceptions you weren’t supposed to make, and you’ll feel pretty darn awful about it.
But here’s the important bit: Failing once (or even a dozen times) doesn’t have to be a step backwards or a sign that it’s over. Get back up, dust yourself off, and keep pressing on. It happens. You’re not a horrible person, and you’re not hopeless because you screwed up. What matters isn’t that you made a mistake; it’s what you do afterwards.
13. Ignore the Haters
The world, unfortunately, likes people who go with the flow and don’t try to be all striving and noble. This is mainly because people who do that make the rest of the non-striving people look bad. But whatever anyone else thinks of you is irrelevant. They’re not living your life; you are.
It takes real insight, dedication, and guts to be a quitter—to take responsibility for your own life and happiness and dare to make things better. Don’t let anyone’s jealousy or small-mindedness belittle that goal. You’re rocking your life. They only wish they were.
So, whaddya say? Who’s ready to start doing some quitting?
Image: Josh Puetz / Flickr