Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Dip: When you should quit

When you're experiencing a Dip, you should do whatever it takes to get through it.

The worst thing you can do is quit in the middle of a Dip, during the period when you're experience the most pain and the least reward, quitting when you have the least perspective on the situation. And remember: if you quit in the middle of a Dip, then you're:
  • wasting all the time and effort you put into getting this far
  • giving up on becoming one of the few, valuable people who ever master a skill.
On the other hand, Seth Godin states, "If you're not able to get through the Dip in an exceptional way, you must quit. And quit right now."

So let's review. You should quit if you're:
  • working on a Dip that doesn't have a good enough reward at the end of it
  • on a dead end path (one where the rewards aren't worth or aren't getting any better)
  • engaged in a self-destructive activity (which Seth calls a 'Cliff')
"Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can't deal with the stress of the moment," says Seth. Instead he proposes that the better plan is to quit before you start.

Quitting before you start

Before you start a new project (or try entering a new career or work on a new goal) ask yourself, "When will I quit? Under what circumstance will I stop doing this thing?"

Be specific:
  • What will make you quit?
  • What would have to happen in your world?
  • How would you have to feel?
  • How long would you have to stick it out without making any progress?
The point is stop yourself from quitting when it's painful or when the pressure comes on. Asking yourself questions like these can give your some perspective when the Dip (inevitably) happens. It's a way of comparing the pressures that are tempting you to quit with the signals you've decided should make you quit.

An example Seth uses in the book is of a marathon runner working out exactly what would make them quit in the middle of an event. Blisters or cramps may feel bad, but they're not enough to justify pulling out of a race with two kilometres to go.

... But this is all pretty idealistic. Despite all this, we're all still going to face the Dip with the things we're doing and we're probably not going to have these pretty , well-organised "Quitting Criteria" to refer to. So Seth provides two questions to ask before deciding to quit while we're in the Dip:

1. Am I panicking?
If you're in the middle of something, and the pressure has really come on you, and you're at your lowest ebb ... then that is (very probably) a bad time to quit. Your panic is going to make you quit right in the middle of a Dip.

Panic should be a signal to stick with something. Don't quit.

2. What sort of progress am I making?
You're either moving forward, falling behind or standing still.

If you're going to succeed, then you've got to be making some sort of forward progress, no matter how small.

If you're not making forward progress, and you're not quitting (in order focus on something where you CAN make progress) then you're wasting your time, your energy, and your life.

The progress you're making doesn't have to be huge; in fact it can be quite subtle - and it's up to you to define what 'progress' means to you.(*) But if you're not making progress, then it's time to start assessing whether you're in a Dip or a Cul-de-Sac.

(*) It could be something more pleasurable, or that you're getting better results from, or earning more from. It's up to you to define the y-axis of this graph.

The biggest problem with quitting is that is requires you to admit you're not going to be great at something. As Godin says, adjusting our self image is something we tend to be bad at. That makes it easy to come up with reasons not to do it. As a result, we don't quit and don't have to face the truth that we're just average at something

But quitting does not equal failing. To quit is to say "I value this thing over the thing I'm doing now." Failure, on the other hand, happens when you exhaust all your options to try and succeed, or you run out of time to succeed, or you give up.

One more post to come - and we're going to loop all the way back to Jenni's story [LINK], to talk about the difference between quitting writing a book and quitting being a writer.

In the meantime, have you ever stuck with something and not quit even though you know you should have?

--- --- ---

As always, The Dip is available at Wellington Library.

Seth's blog dedicated to the Dip is here.


debbie said...

Hmm, I'm not sure that I can think of too many examples of sticking with things I should have quit. I'm mostly glad I stuck with things I have for the some length of time before quitting so that I gained a basic level of skill or understanding. My smorgasboard approach to sampling numerous hobbies and university subjects has given me a broad overview of many things rather than real depth of knowledge of one and I think I'm OK with that. I feel like I've only recently reached a point in my life when my goals have become narrower and focused. Now I want to concentrate on striving to master one or two areas but I don't regret my years of dabbling.

I have stuck it out in relationships pointlessly when I knew I wasn't getting anything out of it and wasn't ever likely to. Does that count?

hix said...

Does that count? Man, I don't know. That's a huge question.

I've been in that situation, too. Many many times. There's the optimism that maybe things will change, versus the pragmatism that if things are going to change then you're both going to have to want that AND work hard at altering the way you relate to each other.

James once said (about relationships), "If it feels like you're pushing shit uphill, it's because you're standing on an incline." Often it feels like there's a lot of truth to that.

So, OK: yes. Crappy relationships are a Dip. That's my answer.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

This is pretty interesting!