Focus

I listen to a few podcasts every week. These are weekly shows I'm subscribed to and listen to every episode. My most favourite one is Freakonomics Radio. I love that show because every week Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt take ordinary ideas we are so used to that we don’t even pay attention to them, and turn them on their heads. Just like Mythbusters blow things up “for science”, the Freakonomics’ authors turn conventional wisdom inside out, all in the name of economics. I love their show, and I think you too should subscribe and listen to every episode they produce. But if you have time for one episode only, you should listen to the one called “The Upside of Quitting”. In fact, it is so great that even if you have no time at all, you will still have no excuse for not checking it out. In that episode they put forward an unconventional idea that sometimes quitting may be good for you.

‘Really?’ you might ask, ‘After all that Winners never quit and quitters never win?’1

Indeed, the modern culture paints an image of successful people as someone who always persist in their endeavours no matter what. While I’m not saying that it is entirely wrong, (in fact, that course of action may even be correct most of the time), but still sometimes it is wrong. The problem with persisting no matter what is that after some time you may forget why you’ve been doing what you do. You lose focus. In that case you need to stop and ask yourself why are you doing that. And if you can’t answer, then the best thing you can do is to quit. The most valuable resource we have in our lives is time. No matter how rich we are, we can’t buy more than 24 hours a day, and we can’t buy additional years of life, at least not yet. And the things we do consume our time, they eat away the time of our lives. So, why would we spend our lives doing things unless they give us something, unless they bring us closer to our goals?

We all have goals in life. The goals like “exercise more”, or “become financially independent”, or “spend more time with our families”. In order to reach our goals we need to be focused on them, dedicate our time to them. And because our time is limited, that means we have to stop doing anything that sabotages our goals.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it should be all work and no play. We all need time to rest. Taking time off and having hobbies is ok. But if you’re playing, you need to clearly realise that you’re indeed playing. If you’re watching TV then, unless you work in a TV industry, you are most likely not doing it for your career. Likewise with hobbies: they are something we like to be engaged in, but they don’t bring us closer to our goals. If we don’t understand that, then those activities end up consuming too much of our time, and instead of bringing us closer to our goals, they take us further away.

I’ve quit a lot of things in my life. But I didn’t realise why I wanted to quit them until recently, it just felt like the right thing to do. However, nowadays I apply a ruthless framework to everything I do: I ask myself if I know why I do what I do, and if it brings me closer to at least one of my goals (and I have many). And if I can’t answer that question, I quit.

A few years ago I quit Aikido after dedicating more than 10 years to it. And for the last couple of years of those 10 I couldn’t explain why I was still training. I didn’t enjoy it any more, it wasn’t that good exercise and I felt like I stopped learning anything from it. Then I realised that I just kept doing that because it became a habit. Just a habit with no real reason behind it. And the moment I understood that, I quit. Instead of Aikido I joined a gym and yoga sessions. Gym provides more intense workouts within shorter sessions, and yoga for me has all the advantages of nurturing mind-body awareness without the Aikido’s downsides. I’d like to emphasize that it is my personal experience, it made sense to me, but for someone else an opposite direction might make more sense.

So, if you’re doing something and you don’t know why, why don’t you stop and ask this question, And if you can’t find an answer, then maybe it is time to quit.

  1. Vince Lombardi. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved September 25, 2015, from BrainyQuote.com

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