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October 18, 2018

7 Ways to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

Faye Bradshaw


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©Getty Images/Dragon Images

We're taught from a young age that "we can do anything that we put our minds to." But what about when your mind is working against you? How do you keep going then?

We all have days when we want to run away and relax on a tropical beach. But, unless you're actually going to drop everything and become a travel writer, it's probably not a realistic escape plan. A better one is to look at how you motivate yourself.

Sometimes it's really easy to persevere. However, motivation can all too easily slip away. Especially if we fail at something.

Failing is not a bad thing in itself, if you learn from your mistakes. But there's a difference between trying and learning, and just throwing in the towel as soon as things get tough or scary.

The Science of Perseverance

Don't blame yourself for sometimes feeling like you want to run and hide – there's actually a science to it all.

You can be flying through a task, only to get bogged down in the detail. You may find it more difficult and more time-consuming than you anticipated. Or, you might be good at coming up with new ideas but lose interest in the execution. After the first wave of enthusiasm, doubts creep in, and you think, "Am I really up to the task?" or "Am I just lazy?"

Research shows that there's more to it than this.

In the Journal of Consumer Psychology, scientists from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba propose that our motivation changes as we move toward a goal. We're inspired by hope and positive outcomes at the beginning. But, as we continue, we start to focus on responsibilities and the fear of negative outcomes. And it's often this fear that halts our progress.

It can become a demoralizing spiral. You leave a trail of unfinished or poorly handled tasks in your wake. And every morning you lie in bed, hitting snooze on your alarm, filled with the doom-laden sense that you'll never finish or succeed.

We may never know quite how much we could achieve if we tried.

Tips to Boost Your Motivation

Motivation is often the result of an action, rather than the cause of it.

We tend to think that we have to wait for inspiration or energy to hit us, and we get deflated when it doesn't come. Or, we might think that we're doing something motivating or proactive when, in fact, we're not. For example, watching a TED Talk may be inspiring, but it's not the same as taking action.

And action is what we need. Even the smallest efforts to get going create momentum. It might be hard at the beginning, but you know what they say about getting balls rolling, and hard work paying off.

If you ever feel like you've hit your wall, take a look at the following tips. They'll motivate you far quicker than a poster of a kitten and a cheesy quote.

1. Make a List of Goals

Write down your goals and visualize how you'll feel when you hit each one.

Confucius said, "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones," so start small and focus on high-priority tasks.

But beware of multitasking. Research shows that it takes a lot of mental energy to refocus after you've been distracted. Another study suggests that it takes around 23 minutes to regain your concentration when you switch between tasks. The key, then, is to focus on one important goal at a time.

2. Work Out Every Day

The endorphins produced by exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, and improve your sleep. What's more, according to a 2015 study, aerobic exercise improves your cognitive functions in a number of ways, including the ability to learn and retain new information. And research published in 2014 shows that exercise also boosts creative thinking.

All of this combined makes you feel good. And it's far easier to stick to your goals when you feel refreshed, and your body is performing at its peak.

3. Make a Schedule and Stick to It

Staying motivated doesn't just happen. We have to set our intentions and choose behaviors that will keep us on the right track. They provide a vital structure that will keep us going, regardless of how we're thinking or feeling on any given day – almost automating the difficult thing we have to do.

Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do," so set dedicated times to work on your goals. Put them in your calendar, and don't book anything else in for those times.

4. Find Your "Whys"

Why do you want to give up? Is it fear of failure, or of what others will say or think? Boredom? Anger? Depression? Exhaustion?

During the Korean War, medical officers coined the term "give-up-itis" for the total apathy and loss of hope that followed a severe trauma. A person with this condition could literally will themselves to die, with no apparent physical cause. It's an extreme example, of course, but it shows the powerful role of our minds in staying well, and how important it is to have something to strive for.

Find the value in what you're doing, to identify why you want to keep going. Is it helping you to reach a larger goal, or benefiting others in some way? You'll feel more invested and enthusiastic when you can see the benefits and the meaning of a task.

5. Find Some Mentors

It's great to want to carve your own path. But successful, motivated people know that everyone needs a hand along the way. So, find a mentor, or more than one, and regularly take time to talk about your goals and receive encouragement from someone who's been in the same boat, and who knows how to steer it.

Open up to colleagues, your boss, friends, and family, too. Mentors don't have to be experts to give you support and offer you a sounding board. Knowing other people have "got your back" will boost your confidence, give you a fresh perspective, and help you to maintain a sense of direction.

6. Stop Comparing Yourself With Other People

Albert Einstein said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." If you don't believe in your potential, then no one else will, regardless of how good you are. Draw inspiration from those around you, but don't beat yourself up if you're not on the same level in certain areas. And don't be lured by the "greener grass" over the fence. Remember, nobody's life is perfect!

This can be hard in our social-media-dominated world. Often, we only see the happy highlights from those around us – fancy holidays, "dream" jobs, perfect relationships. But what you see online is only half the story. Everyone is facing their own struggles, and everyone has bad days, just like you.

7. Take Care of Yourself and Think Positively

Our brains release dopamine in anticipation of a reward, and this makes us feel good. So, keep track of your efforts and reward yourself along the way. Fill up on mood-boosting foods. Do things you enjoy, listen to inspiring music, and remind yourself of how far you've come.

Surround yourself with positive people who will help you to get in the zone. Should you fail, always look for learning opportunities instead of dwelling on the negatives.

One big "but" – some situations really are bad for you, and in these cases it's absolutely right to stop or give up. If carrying on is making you ill or truly miserable, then it's likely not the right path. Changing direction when this happens can be a powerful way to rediscover your "mojo."

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Key Findings on Never Giving Up

We all have days when we lose motivation, but don't be too hard on yourself when they happen.

It can be difficult sometimes to judge whether we need to push a bit harder, or are just banging our head against a wall.

Check your purpose, your chances of success, whether you really have to do it all yourself, and what you're going to get out of it. Find the balance between being kind to yourself and being your own boot camp leader!

You don't have to wait for motivation to hit you. But you do have to work to stay on track – take action, organize your goals, and be diligent with your routine. And be flexible: we often give up on goals because we're unwilling to compromise our original expectations. Always think about your "whys" and what you're learning. And when something's not right, feel free to change direction.


Have a look at the following Mind Tools resources to learn more!

Understanding Motivation

Tips for Sparking Self-Motivation

The Sorites Principle: How to Harness the Power of Perseverance (Book Insight)

Get Motivated! (Skillbook)

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16 comments on “7 Ways to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up”

  1. It's so interesting that it may take your brain 23 minutes to concentrate on a new task. As I am getting older, I have been trying to think of ways to stay motivated in my career and at home. It sounds like it will be helpful to concentrate on one goal at a time so that I can do my best work.

    1. I agree with you that by concentrating on one big goal at a time, you can focus on it and give it your best effort and attention. Rather than diluting your attention, you can pour it all into that one big goal!

  2. This advice was so clear. It’s resonated (thank goodness). I am struggling to know what to do next, as a result everything feels like it is slipping away. Work boredom, lack of exercise, resulting in loss of confidence and motivation to know what to do next. I must start small, and do something, take some action, nothing is permanent, everything changes.

    1. I'm glad to hear you found the blog helpful. Never underestimate the power of small wins. Setting small daily goals and accomplishing them. Eventually, they give us the courage to set bigger goals that require more planning, effort and discipline. By going for "small wins" you're exercising the "mental muscles" that will enable you to accomplish bigger things. Just keep going!

  3. After I read this blog I think of these tips as a powerful weapon, I am a young adult and its difficult to stay on the right path as I am moving forward and my level of motivation change through the days, specially the bad ones.

  4. These are really helpful solutions because it's hard to keep being motivated because of the work, college, and the changes we have to keep up with. This is really helpful insight. Thanks alot .

    1. We're glad you found it helpful. Also, have a look at the articles mentioned in the blog - you might find them interesting and helpful too.

  5. I keep going even when I feel like giving up. I keep going because I know I can do the things I enjoy.. getting fresh air, doing my hair and makeup, brushing my teeth, eating and taking care of myself. Doing yoga too. All these things help me to keep going and gives me energy. I know sometimes I get bored and don’t know what to do but thats okay and it’s okay to rest and take breaks. I don’t want to give up on myself or my life because I know that I am not going to be a quitter. I want to be someone who preservers and maybe good will come from me staying and maybe if I keep going someday it will all pay off.

    I could also find new answers and solutions to my problems too you never know. I know there’s a lot of uncertainty but I think I keep going because I know that there is hope..

    There’s hope that things could go well and that I could move on and live life to the fullest.

    There’s hope that I could learn something new or experience joy or have an adventure

    There’s hope that something I find cool or creative or fun could come my way. I believe that when you hold on and keep preserving that good things will come to you..

    They might not and that’s okay too.

    1. Thanks Typhani, that's a lovely post. I'm sure it will inspire others to keep going when they want to give up too.

      Mind Tools Coach

  6. I looked for information because I am having a hard time...getting up..eating right...doing the smallest jobs around the house. I thought about all you said and it all made sense. My biggest decline is that my husband died 7 months ago and at the end of your article was my problem, the benefit of completing a goal. I glam have having a hard time seeing how anything is going to matter for more than a few minutes when I am all alone. It is hard to complete a task when I cannot see the benefit. I am lost.

    1. Hi Brenda,

      Condolences to you and your family; I'm sorry to read about your loss. I am glad this blog post was able to help you in some way. I've located another RESOURCE here that may be able to help you. Please read it when you have time.

      Are you able to connect with any local medical or social service agencies that support residents with grief management? Taking things one step at a time can lower anxiety as well. Please let us know if you have questions. Take it easy.

      Mind Tools Coach

  7. Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging
    for? You make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is fantastic, let alone the content!

  8. Very useful and practical advice indeed. Personally, I think multitasking in a bid to support my short term needs/responsibilities is my main limiting factor. I just find myself shifting from pursuing the bigger goal in favour of many smaller tasks to meet my personal responsibilities which has kept me moving in circles. I hope I can put into practice the knowledge shared herin. Thank you for taking time to compile this great article.

    1. Thanks for your comments Muisisi, we're pleased you've found it useful.

      If you keep going with the practice I'm sure you'll make great progress.

      Mind Tools Coach

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