This Is When It's Actually A Good Idea To Quit A Goal

Signs it might be time to throw in the towel.

Young brunette woman creating her Feng Shui wish map using scissors. Dreams and wishes

When it comes to achieving goals, the standard advice is that we must do whatever it takes and never give up no matter what challenges arise. In some cases, that may be sound guidance. After all, achieving one’s goals requires navigating occasional roadblocks and consistently showing up to put in the required effort.

In other cases, however, continuing to work towards goals, despite signs that things aren't working out, isn't the best option for one’s well-being. Whether that's a job burning you out, a relationship that's no longer serving you, or something else, sometimes quitting the goal can be the best and most courageous thing you can do. In these scenarios, Dr. Tiffany N. Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct professor says releasing a goal helps decrease feelings of anxiety or disappointment and helps you be more present.

Keep reading to learn the signs that it may be time to give up on a goal, the benefits that can come from this decision, and tips on how to do it if you're having a hard time letting go.

Signs That It May Be Time To Quit

According to Dr. Brown, the biggest sign that it’s time to quit a goal is if you're experiencing increased anxiety and worry around achieving the goal. For example, Jennifer Ross, the co-founder of Swoon, a purveyor of sugar-free drinks, tells TZR that when the pandemic began in March of 2020, her company was about to launch a new product specifically for the food service industry.

While all goals worth achieving will surely come with their own set of stress-inducing challenges, for Ross and her team, continuing to push forward while the food industry struggled with no end in sight was too risky of a business move. This ultimately led to walking away from the goal and shifting their focus to launching other products. Still, it wasn’t an easy decision. "We had so many feelings leading up to it — fear of losing all the time we put in, anxiety over the sunk cost, and even some anger that we wouldn't get to see the project through," Ross says. In this scenario, the benefits of quitting outweighed the cost of continuing.

Dr. Brown says another telltale sign it’s time to throw in the towel is that you're no longer excited about the goal or enjoying working towards it, as was the case for Dr. Simran Sethi, MD, founder of medical spa RenewMD Beauty & Wellness and Skin by Dr. Simran Sethi, a skin care line for women of color. After years of rigorous internal medicine training and having her third child, Dr. Sethi decided to take a well-deserved break from her residency program. “I knew it was time to quit the goal when working towards it was no longer enjoyable,” Dr. Sethi says. “Getting through medical school and early motherhood was difficult but it was always fun and no matter how exhausted I felt, I always looked forward to learning more as a student and a new mom.”

If the goal no longer feels aligned with your values and desires, then scraping it all together might be the best thing to do. However, Dr. Brown notes that, like in Dr. Sethi's example, sometimes quitting the goal altogether isn't necessary. Taking a break or reevaluating may be just what you need. If the goal still feels aligned with your values and desires, you can pick it back up when you're ready, or you may decide that it's no longer what you want and shift directions.

In Dr. Sethi's case, for instance, she believed listening to her internal voice and taking the break would allow her to return to the medical field as a stronger doctor, and that's what happened. "This reset gave me an opportunity to just be home, be with my kids, enjoy my family, and enjoy me," Dr. Sethi says. "It was truly the first time in my life that I did something like this, and I am so happy I did."

The Benefits Of Quitting A Goal

Relief and decreased anxiety are often some of the biggest benefits of releasing a goal. "I felt a tremendous sense of calm and clarity upon quitting," Dr. Sethi says of taking a break from her residency program. "I realized that anxiety and fear take up way too much 'space' in your brain than you should allow."

Another unexpected — albeit great — benefit of quitting (or taking a break from) a goal is that it may steer you in a different direction. For example, Dr. Sethi helped her husband open his first surgical practice during her time off, which sparked her interest in business and inspired her to get her MBA. "Today, the combined knowledge of medicine and business has allowed me to build a successful medical aesthetics practice and a skin care brand — two fields I truly love and feel immense excitement about every day," she says.

This was also the case for Ross. "It took some time, but ultimately, quitting this goal absolutely made space for something better," Ross says of letting go of the Swoon product they were about to launch at the start of the pandemic. "We pivoted in a completely new direction for Swoon and ended up launching our lemonades and iced teas in August 2020, which ended up being our most successful category to date."

Tips On How To Quit A Goal

First, why is it so difficult to quit? Dr. Brown explains it's because we get attached to the goal, and don't want to be perceived as having failed, and the idea of letting it go may make us feel like we've lost control. "Goals and achievements sometimes become associated with who someone is or their identity," she explains. "They may feel embarrassed about not achieving the goal, so the constant attempts to achieve it may be a way to avoid feelings of shame, failure, disappointment, or other painful feelings."

For this reason, Dr. Brown adds, there is some internal work involved with letting go. "This can be grieving the loss of the goal, coping with disappointment, or facing embarrassment," she says. "These feelings can be talked about in therapy, with trusted friends or family, or in journaling."

Although it may be tempting to try to map out what you’ll do next when making the decision to quit, from personal experience, Dr. Sethi advises against this because it won't be obvious at the moment since your mind is all consumed by anxiety. "Stop planning and just have faith in the fact that once you quit something that is no longer bringing you joy and growth, a better opportunity will present itself," she says. "You are definitely going to become a better and stronger version of yourself, and just knowing that should empower you to do what is right for you."

Ross echoes this advice of leaning into self-trust. "My advice to anyone having a hard time quitting a goal is to trust yourself, your gut, and your abilities," Ross says. "Have faith that when you trust yourself, things work out the way they were meant to."