If what you want wasn’t difficult to achieve or obtain, it most likely wouldn’t be worth wanting in the first place. If it wasn’t going to take more effort over more time than you believed necessary, and if it didn’t require you to become something more than you are now, there would be no sense of accomplishment for having achieved it. Here is how to not to give up on yourself when things are not what you want them to be.
How You Frame Failure
There is this old saw about Edison saying something about not failing to make an electric light bulb but discovering 10,000 ways not to create one. Eventually, he succeeded. Edison’s view suggests a very particular framing of his experience. What someone else might have framed as a failure, he framed as progress. His team was eliminating things that didn’t work with the firm belief that they would eventually find a way.
You must provide the right frame when you fail. The negative frame that would cause you to give up would be to use failure as your identity: “I am a failure.” Holding the belief that the events one might describe as “having failed” is the identity “failure” will surely prevent you from exerting yourself in obtaining what you want. The positive frame that is available to you is “failing is feedback” (i.e., Edison). You have discovered what doesn’t work. Now you have to do the work of making adjustments to your strategies—and most likely, your beliefs.
The right frame will give you a better, more empowered view — the exact frame you need to not give up on yourself—or what you want.
Avoiding Logical Fallacies
Your mind is a tricky thing. It’s kind of like your over-protective Mom (something mine was not); it tries to protect your ego. In doing so, it uses logical fallacies.
- Fundamental Attribution Error: One of the ways your mind protects your ego is by attributing the cause of your failures to things external to you; mostly things over which you have no control. It wasn’t that your beliefs and your strategies were wrong and needed adjustment; it was the economy, the government, other people, or fate. It surely wasn’t something like your lack of effort or equally lacking persistence over time.
- Confirmation Bias: Your mind will work very hard to find evidence to confirm what you already believe. When you identify an external factor as the root cause of your failure, absolving yourself of responsibility, you will see all kinds of evidence to support your case, avoiding and evidence to the contrary, no matter how convincing.
- Narrative Bias: When you choose a negative frame, you tell a story that eliminates anything inconvenient to the lesson you believe the story provides you. Your mind leaves out the parts of the story where you miscalculated the effort or time it would take to produce the result you want. It leaves out the part of the story where you gave up too soon, preferring a story that said you did your best, failed, and gave up. The narrative proofs it wasn’t your fault.
- Negativity Bias: The negative intensity of experiences has a more significant effect on one’s psychological state than positive experiences. Failing doesn’t feel particularly feel good, nor is it supposed to. But the intensity is found in the frame you use, what you believe failure means. Is it your identity, or is it feedback? Does it make you give up on yourself, or does it inform your next attempt?
If you want to quit, your mind will do everything in its power to support you in that decision, preferring you don’t feel any pain and protecting your ego. Your awareness that the voice in your head is not your own should prevent you from taking its advice when it suggests you quit.
Now that you know this is your mind’s attempt to protect you from feeling bad, you can choose to live without the untrue rationalizations and get after it.
Patient Persistence in All Things
Anything worth having is going to require effort and time — more effort than you believed necessary at the beginning. And more time than you think reasonable. The people who obtain the things they want put forth more effort than those who don’t produce that same result. Those who succeed keep at it after most people quit.
We live in a culture where we are sold the belief that we should have what we want now. We should not have to wait, nor should we have to work hard. In America, this is our birthright (I have done no research, but I have difficulty believing that any other country could have invented the drive-through window and fast food). Now people are working on drones to deliver what we want to our front doors every faster.
Anything worth acquiring isn’t something you can purchase through a drive-through window. Nor is it something you can expect to create in a short time. What you want is worth waiting for.
What You Are Becoming
Let me never be caught suggesting to you that the journey matters more than the destination. One should not quit on one’s goals, especially those that matter most. The destination is important. But when you reflect on some achievement, you recognize the value of the journey.
Why did you have to grow? You had to grow because you were not capable of overcoming some obstacle the first time you encountered it. You had to change. You may have had to change your very identity and become the version of you that comes after this one.
You have to grow big enough to reach your goal. Pursuing it is how you grow. But if you would grow, you cannot give up on yourself.
Dissatisfaction as Fuel
No one ever accomplished anything by being satisfied. They accomplished something because good enough was no longer good enough. You can be pleased and dissatisfied at the same time (a mindset I would recommend, as you are unlikely to run out of runway).
The fact that you are not satisfied is fuel. Use that fuel to continue to pursue what you want. Use it to power through the times when you want to quit, give in, and give up on yourself.
There are a lot of things worth quitting. You are not one of them.