Have you ever started a project only to find it feels pointless or a waste of time? Have you ever quit something just because it became too hard?
I have a confession to make. I almost quit this 90-Day Gratitude Challenge on day 80, but I had a good reason.
Why I almost quit the 90-Day Gratitude Challenge
On Day 72 my wife woke me in the middle of the night with some very troubling news. I couldn’t comprehend what she siad because I had taken some melatonin to help me sleep—a major issue for me I discussed on day 45. My brain was foggy and her words didn’t compute.
When I awoke the next morning I remembered something significant happened, so I asked her about it. I discovered it was worse than I feared. I froze.
While I can’t share specifics, suffice it to say it’s news that would make any parent panic. It’s like the call we received in 2019 when a stranger told us our daughter crashed our car and was in an ambulance. But this was worse.
I had already written and recorded a couple of episodes for the challenge, so I took a break from writing while we worked on the problem. But when it came time to start writing again the words stopped flowing. I went into my archives to find things I had written before that I could repurpose. That worked for a few days.
And then day 80 confronted me. I had nothing written or recorded. I spiraled into a new level of depression and felt stuck. In fact, I didn’t feel grateful and felt hypocritical telling others to be grateful, even though I knew that was part of my escape path.
Memories and physical responses
In reading the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf, I learned memories attach to feelings and physical responses. I’ve had several events in my life where bad news has left me feeling aimless, foggy, and depressed. I’ve even had stomach issues and wrist pain during those seasons. I’m not surprised those symptoms surfaced again.
On day 80 I missed my self-given publishing deadline. I tried to get up in the middle of the night to write something, but I was in too much of a stupor. So I slept in an extra 5 hours!
At that point, I thought I should just quit, but I remember my friend Roger told me, “I don’t care how you feel.” So I decided to follow the advice of a colleague who says, “Published is better than perfect” and just get something written.
It was a complete act of faith. I didn’t feel grateful. But I knew in my mind that I believed what I was writing.
Many marathon runners quit
I’ve never run a marathon, but I have done an Olympic distance triathlon. In marathons and triathlons, there is typically a make-or-break moment where athletes quit or find a deeper level of resolve. A friend of mine called it, “Hamburger Hill.”
My Hamburger Hill came on day 80. And though I almost quit, I’m grateful to say I’m still pressing forward. Let me tell you some of what helped me.
3 Ways to Keep Being Grateful When You’d Rather Quit
Here are 3 things I’ve learned that might help you.
#1: Sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do.
Depending on what you’re doing, stopping might be the very best thing for you. Evaluate why you’re doing it and what the effect has been on your health, relationships, finances, and life. How important is it for you to finish this particular project? For me, finishing is very important since I have a history of not finishing big projects that I start.
In his book Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud says,
“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”—Dr. Henry Cloud
I’ve gained many tremendous benefits through this journey, but there’s a hidden cost to my relationships at home. While I’ll never stop seeking to become more grateful in my life, I will evaluate the projects I invest in to be sure I’m not neglecting more important priorities.
#2: Pay attention to your body and emotions, but understand what they are telling you.
Dr. Caroline Leaf documents many studies that show how negative memories get attached to what was happening for us physically (were we sick?) or emotionally (were we already depressed?). As a result, there is a biological change associated with each memory—our cells literally adapt to encode the memory. Therefore, our memories have a biological source that we can address.
For instance, if you don’t manage stress well, your glucose levels will increase, creating foggy brain symptoms. Stressful memories can do the same. If you find ways to counteract the elevated glucose levels through diet, you can diminish these symptoms allowing you to think more clearly about the stressful triggers.
#3: Quit setting goals: develop habits and standards instead
As I approach the end of this 90-Day Gratitude Challenge people are starting to say things like, “I can’t wait until you’re done with this challenge.” Or, “What are you going to do when you’re done?”
I’m actually glad I almost quit at day 80. Here’s why: it’s making me realize I don’t want to ever stop growing in gratefulness. I started with a 90-day goal knowing that it takes that long to create permanent new neural pathways in my brain. But I’m realizing now those pathways are in constant danger of becoming overrun and I can’t afford to stop.
Ed Mylett is a highly successful speaker, coach, and investor. He makes an important distinction between goals and standards. When you accomplish a goal you have nothing pushing you forward so the tendency is to stop. In contrast, standards define who you are and how you want to be known. From this vision of yourself, you determine what habits, attributes, and choices you want to make. Goals can help you in pursuing this standard, but now they serve a meaningful purpose instead of being the end in themselves.
Winston Churchhill told his country to “Never give up. Never. Never. Never.”
The author of Ecclesiastes complains that it seems pointless to keep trying when we see the wicked prospering and the righteous suffering. Why not just quit trying (see Ecclesiastes 7, for example)?
The Teacher concludes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:13-14 ESV).
I’m not going to quit being thankful, because I know God has a bigger purpose. There are greater rewards to be gained that I can’t see. I want to hear him say, “Well done” as those are the only truly lasting words.
What keeps you from quitting?
Please share how you keep going when you get tempted to quit.
Create a list of reasons why you will not quit seeking to grow in gratitude. Keep it somewhere easy to find.
Lord, I thank you that you never give up on me. Jesus, thank you that you didn’t quit when your disciples abandoned you and the weight of our sins fell on your shoulders. Spirit, I thank you that you’ve never left me or abandoned me, even when I’ve turned my back on you or chose to not listen to your voice. Forgive me. Heal me. Teach me. Use me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.