When Does It Make Sense To Give Up?

Hindsight is 20/20.  We have all had the experience of looking back over our lives, and remembering how we gave up on some important goal or project.  Eventually we said to  ourselves:  “I wish that I hadn’t given up so easily.”  This can be a bitter reflection.  Of course, though, back at the time that we gave up on those goals, for one reason or another, it probably seemed like it was the sensible thing to do – to give up.  This article addresses that exact question:  When does it make sense to give up?

Sometimes it makes sense to give up

First off, lets agree that there are times when it certainly does make sense to give up.  For example, if you are working towards a goal, but the intermediate results begin to point towards an outcome that would be significantly more expensive in terms of time, money and resources than you had originally budgeted, then it might make sense to just cut your losses and give up.

Commercial research projects (like pharmaceutical drug discovery) often suffer the fate of being canceled midway through.  This happens after the big bosses spend a lot of time in deliberating the value of the project.  If they decide that the job is not worth continuing on with, then it gets canceled.  To continue working on it would be throwing good money after bad.

An important distinction

But there is an important distinction to make in the case of business projects.  In the case of a business project, “giving up” on one project really means “re-allocating resources” to work on a new project.  In any case, the underlying goal of protecting and growing the company’s value is never given up on.

So what about me?  Should I give up?

So what about the day-to-day struggles that we face as individuals?  For example, think of the most basic “project” that we all aspire to succeed with:  To become self-supporting.  Fortunately, most people are able to achieve a measure of success with this important life-project.   But some people seem to just “bail out” or give up.  So why do some folks give up looking for a job or preparing for a career?

Note: We’re not talking about the disabled or mentally handicapped population here.   And we’re not talking about folks who are disabled by depression or other mental illness.  This is a question for the generally able-bodied.  Why do able-bodied people sometimes just give up?    Often these folks give up trying even though success is clearly attainable.  Sometimes they can even see it themselves and admit to it:  “Yeah … I know that I am giving up too easily … but …”

The “Stay Positive and Keep Trying” Rule

Of course some level of struggle is necessary in order to achieve worthwhile goals. The idea that we ought to “stay positive” and “keep trying” is certainly true.  So why do so many people fail to apply it?

In the minds of some giver-uppers, there seems to be a thought process that goes like this: “Sure, I know that I ought to stay positive and keep trying … but … since my circumstances and environment are already so crappy, I kind of think that I should be off-the-hook on the ‘stay positive rule’.”

Now, right away, everybody automatically answers:  “You should never give up – you should always keep on trying!”  That’s easy to say.  But didn’t we just establish that there are indeed cases in which it does make sense to “cancel the project” – aka: “give up?”

How can we rationally decide whether or not it makes sense to give up on the life-project of becoming self-supporting?

Lets look at the extremes

First, lets imagine a person who has everything going for him – lots of money, great health, great contacts, great education and (perhaps most importantly) great momentum in the pursuit of the path that they have chosen. For this kind of person, it clearly makes sense that they should be willing to keep on chugging when they encounter an obstacle.

Now think of the opposite case: Imagine a person who has everything NOT going for him – no money, no contacts (or worse yet, bad contacts), poor education, and (perhaps most importantly) a high level of negative momentum. In this case “negative momentum” means a lot of discouragement. For this kind of person, it kind of makes sense that it would be a rational choice for them to give up – or, at least, we wouldn’t really blame them if they gave up. Lets assume, following “commonly accepted” views on “when it makes sense to give up” that, for this person, yes, it does make sense that they would be expected to give up.

So we have two people. Person #1 “should” continue to persevere in the face of obstacles. Person #2, it is assumed, is reasonably expected to give up.

So here is the question: What is the cutoff-point as the world of Person #1 deteriorates towards the world of Person #2?

Reasonable and Customary

If we are going to answer this question using the “commonly accepted” views on “when it makes sense to give up”, then the answer must, necessarily, be dependent upon our culture.  Isn’t our social or cultural training the origin for what we think of as “commonly accepted” views?

But, from the perspective of an individual, does that make any sense? That would mean that, if I grow up in environment A, then I should reasonably be expected to give-up when my circumstances reach a certain point.  Alternatively, if I grow up in environment B, then I should be expected to give up when my circumstances reach a totally different point.

The reason that we don’t like this idea of a culturally dependent point-of-giving-up, is that it seems to be saying that the success or failure of a person’s life is dependent upon something outside of the person themselves – really just a set of beliefs (the birth-culture) which have been foisted on the individual by virture of his having been born and raised in a certain place at a certain time.

What is it that really bothers us?

Note that there is an important distinction to be made here.  The thing that bothers us about this line of reasoning is not the fact that a person’s success and survival is dependent upon factors outside of themselves, per se.  For example, we would not blame an individual (in the sense of a moral failure) for starving to death if they happened to have been born during a period of severe famine.

What really bothers us is the idea that, given the same external circumstances, two different individuals will assess the worthwhileness of struggeling to survive and overcome those circumstances through two different lenses – i.e., the lenses of the birth-culture training that each individual has received growing up.  That early training in “how to deal with adversity” sets the bar that tells us as adults when it makes sense to give up – and when it makes sense to keep on trying.

Levels of brain-washing

So it looks like there really is no such thing as a universal answer to the question:  “When does it make sense to give up?”  We have, however, all been brainwashed by our personal communities to believe that there is a certain point – and that is where we generally do give up!  Clearly, there are other folks (raised in different communities) who have different time-to-give-up standards.

There is also a strong sense in which each  community expends time and energy to maintain the minds of it’s members at the standard brainwash levels. This happens very naturally, for example, as we copy the life-styles and choices of those around us.     Of course, media sources are another powerful avenue through which the community establishes and maintains the how-hard-we-should-keep-trying standards.  Normally we think of media-based manipulation of a community standard as being a bad thing – but, the point is, whether good or bad, the messages that we receive do indeed contribute to the standards that we adopt.

Is it time to migrate to a new world-view? 

Lets narrow our focus for a minute.  Pretend for a moment that you are a person who is discouraged, unemployed and unhappy.  In this imaginary scenario, you also have the sense that you have given up too easily in your efforts to find a job.  After reading this article, you are beginning to wish that you were in a different community, one that would train you to set the bar on when-does-it-make-sense-to-give-up at a higher level.  So how do you go about changing your “community”?

A lot of it comes back to some old sayings like “Watch the company you keep.”  We all like to think that we make our life decisions on our own – after carefully weighing the pros and cons.  But that is a bit of an illusion.  Our friends really do influence us – whether  for good or for bad.

So maybe you can’t change the physical environment that you are living in.  But how about your mental environment?  How would you like to change your mental environment to add in some upbeat, successful friends who could use their own life experience to encourage you?

The community of the mind

It might surprise you to hear this, but they (this group of wholesome, encouraging friends that you want to meet) are currently looking for you.  In fact, they have been looking for you throughout your entire life.  Long before you were born, these friends were investing their own time in an attempt to communicate with you.  They wrote books which they were hoping that discouraged people (just like you) would read and absorb.  Their writings contain the essence of the strength and energy that they want to share.

Here are some of the friends who want to be a part of your own, personal “community of the mind”:  Benjamin Franklin, Helen Keller, Dr Seuss, Voltaire, Edison, Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie and Samuel Johnson.   There are many others.  They took the first step by putting their thoughts into writing.  Why not take a look at what they had to say?  Dwell on their thoughts about the importance of keeping-on-keeping-on.  You can read some easy excerpts at our Medicine page.  Use these ancient success formulas to crowd out the dummies from your mind.

Sincerity, insincerity and absolute truth

One concern that people sometimes have is that it would be like denying-the-reality-of-the-way-things-really-are-in-the-world to attempt to change one’s own brain-washing by purposefully exposing oneself to a new mind support system – like our Medicine page.  But that is a false problem!  It presumes that one’s own social and cultural training just happened to have been the right one – the one that correctly prepared the new “life trainees” to soberly assess reality and adjust one’s willingness to keep-on-keeping-on to just the right level.

Do not fear that you may be fooling yourself by attempting to change your own give-up level.   Ask yourself this question:  How much pain and fear should a person reasonably be willing to tolerate in order to become self supporting?  Are you currently willing to tolerate that level of pain and fear?  This kind of question asks you to step away from the standards that you have been taught to believe in.  Ask yourself if your current pain-tolerance standard makes sense to you.  Now take a look at the give-up levels that other  social training systems provide.  Ask yourself which one is the right one for you.  Which is the one that would best get you to where you want to be?  The chances are that your answer will be, as strongly as possible:  I am not going to give up!

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20 Responses to When Does It Make Sense To Give Up?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Intereting ideas about the whole brainwashing thing. Yes, we can all see how it has affected others. And it makes sense that we each should assume that we have been affected as well. It would probably help me to get along in life more to dwell on that idea …

  2. Anonymous says:

    Inviting others to change by reminding them of their true identity is God’s trademark.

  3. MVNJ says:

    Good article. You gave me some hope. Thanks.

  4. allentown5 says:

    If you make decisions based on what other people think or feel that you should do then you are setting yourself up to make a bad decision PERIOD ( by the way thorough article )

    • adpal says:

      A Community Decision Versus an Individual Decision

      You are raising a good point. I agree that it is dangerous to base decisions on what others think or feel that I should do. At the same time, though, isn’t it true that our network of friends do, indeed, tend to influence our thinking and decision making process? Similarly, the music that we listen to, and the movies that we watch – do they influence our decision making processes? So, my point is that, in a way, we cannot really avoid being influenced by those around us – and, that being the case, it makes sense that we should make the effort to only surround ourselves with upbeat, encouraging friends.

    • Anonymous says:

      Here is an excerpt from the article. What do u think about this (as it relates to yr observation that we need to avoid allowing others to influence our decision making) …

      “A lot of it comes back to some old sayings like ‘Watch the company you keep.’  We all like to think that we make our life decisions on our own – after carefully weighing the pros and cons.  But that is a bit of an illusion.  Our friends really do influence us – whether  for good or for bad.”

  5. MVNJ says:

    That was pretty good. the idea that sometimes giving something up is actually a positive thing. It is not even a question of “when” it is a question of whether you want to grow or not. Like for people who use illegal drugs. I dont think that I gave up very much – bcz most of my life was spent in emotional turmoil. The idea of completely giving up on things is an absolute – that is something that I do not feel in my life. I dont feel that I ever gave up on the project of becoming self-supporting. If you consider planning to be important, then following through on a daily basis with the steps needed to complete the plan is obvious.

    You can plan on loosing weithg all you want. Setting a goal is not really a goal that you are working on unless you work on it. Then it is just a plan.

    I plan to try to quit smoking some day, but I refuse to call it a goal because I do absolutely nothing about it – I just keep smoking. Why set the goal to begin with if you are not willing to adapt as you go along? I think that if someone sets down and creates a goal but doesnt do anything about it then it is not a goal – it is just a plan.

    I dont think it makes sense to give up at all. That would be like saying that they lack adaptability.

    There is definitely the idea that somethings in my personal life, I have given up on completely and totally – but they were just material things like hobbies. I gave up on the becoming-a-rock-star plan.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Early To Bed, Early To Rise – Is there truth In this old saying?

    The late, late, late show – Is there a correlation between watching tv and poor career options? Some (certainly nnot all but some) unemployed folks report that they watch more tv. Interesting shows are on late. When someone stays up late watching tv then r they in good shape to look for work the next day? Or to answer a call when a morning job comes up the next day?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Blame the politicians that you voted in office. Especially those who favored the off shoring of jobs. I don’t care what some people say. Money solves 99% of your problems. No jobs = no money and no money = no honey. Most of those problems that led to suicide can be solve with money. . . 1% that money can’t solve is a cheating nymph girl friend or spouse. Well may be make that 5-10%.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How can a person b disabledif they have enough strength and enthusiasm to have sex? Don’t they also have enough strength and enthusiasm to get a job?

  9. Darryl says:

    Just skimmed the article, but noticed you neglected to mention THE book, The Bible:

    “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

    I think lack of hope is an illness. No matter how low one is there is always hope, and sometimes it manifests itself with the “hope” that things can’t get any worse than they are? This can lead to the idea that a change in course (like the drug co.) is needed, “my way isn’t working, lets try ….” In my case, it was lets try God’s way, and it worked, things stopped getting worse, and gradually began to improve.

  10. tbear says:

    this article has such great stuff in it I been following what my GHGA guide helps me to stay on track so I don’t give up. its to easy to give up I challenge you to keep going

  11. YEZ says:

    What Is Courage? To take action – as opposed to inaction. To overcome fear.

    Over-Exertion Following A Period Of LSE. A well known phenomenon. Beware of the overstress – can be bad foe health and can cause a person to throw up their hands and give up *everything* – hence a relapse to LSE. Define RSE and shoot for it. That is the sweet spot. Warn ppl who start a job or project about this.

  12. PAL says:

    So what has my “community of the mind” looked like over the years? I’d have to admit that there has been a lot of negativity. And swimming away from the light (so to speak.) And that stuff does not go away once you stop actively thinking it. It kind of lingers on like ripples in waves … I just thought that it would be worthwhile to actually compile a list of all of the COTM forces that have affected me, and how strongly I have invited each one in – and for how long. That would be a great question to add to the BAI. But it could take a long time to come up with the full list. One quick way to think of it would be like reviewing your browser history on the internet …

    • PAL says:

      Its like Steve always says: “the battlefield of the mind.”

    • PAL says:

      That is an intriguing idea about the “browser history” – it sort of tells you where you attention has been focused. Now imagine a different kind of browser history. But it doesnt show you where your computer was pointed, rather, it shows where your inner-most attention/thought-stream was focused. Now that would be very revealing. And what would it show? Thoughts of courage and constructiveness? Or thoughts of cowardice and waste? Of course those are some pretty extreme polls – but at least you can get the idea that there is a spectrum of points where we can focus (in terms of a virtuous or un-virtuous life.)

  13. PAL says:

    Balanced paragraph format to equalize right borders.

  14. PAL says:

    Psychological Ethnocentricity, Pain and Surrender

    Re: “One concern that people sometimes have is that it would be like denying-the-reality-of-the-way-things-really-are-in-the-world to attempt to change one’s own brain-washing by purposefully exposing oneself to a new mind support system – like our Medicine page. But that is a false problem! It presumes that one’s own social and cultural training just happened to have been the right one – the one that correctly prepared the new “life trainees” to soberly assess reality and adjust one’s willingness to keep-on-keeping-on to just the right level.”

    And what an outrageous presumption that would be!!! It reminds me of ethno-centricity at the level of psychological and cultural beliefs.

    This is actually kind of a heavy idea. Could possibly be expanded into a nice article.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The Missing Tool Distortion

    What is the name of this phenomenon? I am using the term: “The Missing Tool Distortion” as a placeholder, but I would much rather use the actual technical term if there is already one out there.

    Description: When a tool can be used to efficiently perform a certain desired task, then we tend to come to rely upon the tool. (For example, using a word processor application to write an article). Now, if for some reason, the tool is no longer available, then we tend to perceive that the task is insurmountably difficult. (For example, when the computer or printer breaks down.) But, of course that “perception of insurmountable difficulty” is absurd because, for thousands of years people have been performing the desired task (using the example of writing an article by hand) *without* the use of the tool.

    So my question is: What is the name of the psychological phenomenon by which our perception of what constitutes “insurmountable difficult” becomes irrationally elevated due to having been acclimated to the use of a highly efficient tool which is no longer available?

    If there is no name “out there” already, then I propose that this be called the “Missing Tool Distortion” (MTD). I am looking for this name as a way of illustrating the idea that cultural training teaches us where (on the scale of difficulty) it makes sense to “set the bar” when it comes to the question of “When does it make sense to give up?”

    To illustrate the specific problem, suppose that you had never used a word processor to write a homework paper. Then, when a homework assignment comes up, you would naturally say to yourself: “I will allocate X amount of time and energy to complete this homework.” Alternatively, suppose that you have used word processors for many years, but, for whatever un-fixable reason, you suddenly no longer had access to a word processor. So, when it comes to the question of doing the homework assignment, then you might reasonably say to yourself: “I will allocate X + Y amount of time and energy to do this homework.” (The “Y” would just account for the loss in efficiency due to having to do write the article by hand.) At least that is what a *reasonable* person would do. But a person who was prone to the Missing Tool Distortion would, instead just say “I give up.”

    I am looking for this term for a speech that I am planning to give based on this article.

    The MTP could be extended to include cases in which the available tool-set is marginally less efficient than the tool-set that is available to the general public. Then we could further narrow the “general public” to “that demographic to which I belong or to which, by all rights, I ought to belong.” (Although, at this point things are getting awfully close to the definition of jealousy.)

  16. Anonymous says:

    Diagram – paradox of restricted opportunity – to illustrate when it makes sense to give up. The opportunity landscape vs the impediment landscape. Also, the question of probabilities. ROI. People gamble for a ROI < < 1. But people will not learn useful skills and network, even though the ROI is >> 1.

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