Giving Up Early and Often

Reading about Happiness and Luck has got me thinking about the decisions I make and how they contribute to my own happiness and feeling that I am moving ahead. One theme that emerges again and again is about being your self (Be Gretchen!) and paying attention to your intuition. Being lucky also involved persistence in the face of adversity.

What I find curious is how to apply all these principles to specific life situations, particularly where the appear to clash. Lets say for example you have been feeling sluggish finding it difficult to get up in the morning and get the idea to go to a naturopath. On the first visit while the medical history is being taken, you get an uncomfortable feeling, like maybe the problem isn’t really medical and you don’t need to be there. (Intuition) But you decide to persist and walk away with a bottle of herbs and list of tablets to buy. For the next two weeks you dutifully take the herbs (you hate liquid herbs) and you stress about swallowing the vitamins (you hate swallowing tablets). So now you can’t get up in the  morning AND you have what you begin to regard as a nightmare of supplements and dietary restrictions to deal with. You feel all this activity is taking away the energy to address the real problem but you persist because persistence is good and giving up is bad. Pretty soon you are telling all your friends how you hate having to take your medicine and fantasising about giving up. What would have happened if you had said, “You know what, I have just realised that this isn’t really a health problem. Thanks for your time, but I don’t think supplements are the answer this time.”

This is a made up scenario, but its pretty much the story of my life. I get an idea about something that might be helpful, then try it out, or commit to it. It might be a health professional, a class, a hobby, a relationship. Oftentimes I will do this because of a hunch or because I think it should help. I think logically it seems like a good idea. Quite often I will get hints early on in the process that I am on the wrong track, or this isn’t going to achieve what I had hoped. But I will tend to ignore those early signs in the interests of giving it a fair try. As a consequence I get deeper and deeper into something that isn’t contributing to my goals. I get dissatisfied and frustrated and grumpy and start complaining to everyone about the bind I am in.

A few weeks ago I realised that I was overloaded with scenarios where I was persisting despite being unhappy or dissatisfied. This time, instead of accepting the inevitability of persistence I began to be aware of the incredible drain on my time and energy. When I am on the right track, the energy of the activity draws me forward. When I am on the wrong track, I use an enormous amount of time and attention trying to adapt my needs and adjust to the bad fit. This got to ridiculous proportions a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to drop out of a course that wasn’t right for me while applying for a job that wasn’t right for me.  All my energies were focussed on processing these situations that were not even suitable. Yet somehow because I had the idea that these situations “should help” I found it very difficult to listen to my gut feeling and just say no and walk away.

I used to fear that following my intuition was some kind of self indulgent luxury, or a form of magical thinking to avoid the harsh realities of life. Now I am beginning to think that some of what we experience as the harsh realities of life are sometimes made worse because of not following our intuition. I was very struck by the examples in The Luck Factor where women who regarded themselves as unlucky in love and had been in some difficult relationships said instinctively knew that had made bad choices, but ignored that instinct. Staying with a lousy hairdresser despite your intuition to go elsewhere is no big deal, but staying in an abusive relationship despite the warning signs has heavy consequences. Being able to discern that little voice of warning to get out rather than persist is an important life skill.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to be very discerning about how to apply persistence. I am saddened to think how much time I have wasted sticking with situations that were going nowhere because I thought I should give them a fair chance, or was afraid of change. What I am most shocked by is the high cost of that behaviour in terms of the energy wasted in adapting, resisting, or complaining about the situation. Perhaps worst of all, is the pernicious feeling of being trapped and choiceless when I try to keep on with something I don’t want to do. I am going to experiment with being more light and flexible with the things I try out and put aside, so that I don’t get too bogged down in commitments that don’t quite fit. I suspect that I will be a lighter, happier person as a result.

PS I hope no naturopaths were injured in the making of this post. The example was intended to be about choosing the wrong solution for a particular person or situation.

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