“The real workout starts when you want to stop.”
That’s what Meghan Takacs, a personal trainer for Aaptiv, says in my ear several times a week while I’m working out in the morning.
When I started running earlier this year, the idea of sticking with it for more than 2 or 3 minutes at a time seemed impossible. But quickly, my level of fitness improved so that 2 or 3 minutes seemed easy. Four or 5 minutes seemed challenging but totally doable.
When I past 5 minutes, something else started to kick in: my brain. My brain told me that I was bored. My brain told me I was tired. My brain told me my heart rate was too high, my ankles were too sore, or my hips were too tight.
I would quit — not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.
“The real workout starts when you want to stop.”
As every runner will tell you, it’s not becoming more fit that’s hard. What’s hard is training your brain to shut up and let you run.
Over the last 9 months, I’ve surpassed running for 10 minutes straight, then 20 minutes straight, and — just this week — I hit 30 minutes straight. When the workout was finished, I still had more run left in me.
As I’ve progressed, I’ve learned that the 10 minute mark is my do or die moment. I’m good to go for the first 4 minutes. At that point, I start thinking, “I don’t have to make it the whole way. It’ll be okay if I take a break.” The mental chatter gets louder and louder until it peaks around 10 minutes.
I just have to keep it together until then, one foot in front of the other. Once I’m past 10 minutes, the chatter quickly dies down, my muscles relax, and I start enjoying the run.
“The work starts when you want to stop.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about commitment and small business lately. My workout this morning reminded me of a common question I receive when I talk about “sticking with 1 thing” in your business:
How do I know when it’s actually time to quit?
The final time Meg said, “The workout starts when you want to stop,” this morning, I thought: I’m good for now — but what if I really should stop another time? How do I know?
Injury or illness could mean I need to stop pushing, stop telling my brain to take a chill pill, and stop putting one foot in front of the other in the future. So how do I know when to stop?
With our bodies, as with our businesses, short of a compound fracture or an empty bank account, there is no definitive time to stop. There are only degrees of risk you are able to tolerate and varying signals you are listening to.Ultimately, it’s an educated guess as to when it’s the right time to stop.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit, about how he decided to stick with building his new software company — even when it seemed obvious that it was a failure. Hiten Shah told him that it was time to shut it down or decide to give it the time and attention it needed to succeed.
Nathan faced a crisis: stick with it or quit.
Ultimately, Nathan stuck with it and ConvertKit has grown into a darling of the bootstrapped SaaS industry. However, the method he used for getting to that point could help you decide if it is, indeed, time to quit.
He told me he asked himself 2 questions about his fledgling company:
Do I still want to be the CEO of a SaaS company as much as when I started down this path?
Have I given this company every possible chance to succeed?
Who you want to be matters as much (or more) as what you want to achieve.
Nathan’s first question might not, on the surface, seem relevant to your situation but the purpose of this question is to remind you that your actions transform you. Ideally, your actions transform you into the person you want to be.
Too often, business owners start down a path because of what they want to achieve (earning $100,000 per year, selling out their program, writing a book) and don’t consider how those actions will fundamentally change their identity. The problem with this is that you might realize, on the path to those goals, that you don’t want to become what those goals require of you.
I run because I want to be a powerful performer with endurance for miles — not simply to lose weight or win races. Those might be wonderful side effects — but my purpose is to become the person I want to be. I am in business to become an advocate for the New Economy and the independent workers who are creating it — not simply to make money or even build a great product. Again, wonderful side effects but not my core purpose.
If you’re considering quitting a project, giving up on a goal, or changing course in your business, consider whether you want to become the person that project, goal, or business requires you to become.
If you don’t want to be that person, quit now.
If you do, ask yourself what else you need to do to fully become that person?For instance, I realized that running wasn’t enough to become the powerful performer I wanted to be. I needed to add strength training, yoga, and climbing into my workout routines. Each of those actions make it easier to put one foot in front of the other when I am running.
You can quit when you’re truly out of options.
Assuming you do want to become the person you need to be to achieve your goals, the next step is to consider what other options are on the table.
At this point in our lives, we have a usual bag of tricks. We know what’s worked in the past and our first instinct is to go back to that over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But our usual bag of tricks will not solve every problem. It is not full of every option at our disposal.
With running, my usual bag of tricks only included stopping to walk for awhile. Eventually, I learned that interval training helped keep me interested in the workout. Finally, I added rhythmic breathing, targeted muscle relaxation, arm positioning, foot strike positioning, and more to my bag of tricks. Now when I’m sore, tired, or bored, I know exactly what to do to keep going.
Before you quit a project, goal, or direction for your business, you owe it to yourself and your mission to search out new options. Try something different (again and again and again). Talk to people with a completely different perspective, experience, background, and bag of tricks from yours.
The options you’re accustomed to using aren’t the only options available. New options might be uncomfortable but they just might get the job done.
Quitting is smart.
I’m the first to admit that knowing when to quit is one of the secrets of my own success. More often than not, I’ve realized that I don’t want what I thought I wanted — that achieving the goal means becoming someone I don’t want to become.
Quitting is a smart, acceptable course of action — but not until you’ve gotten very clear about why you’re quitting and what that means for your next steps. It takes work to figure that out and, when you do, you have more clarity about where you’re headed than you ever have before. Each time you quit is a chance to do the work of figuring out what’s next.
After all, the real work starts when you want to quit — even if you decide that’s the best thing to do.