Why ‘Never Give Up’ Is Not Good Advice

If you read self-help or motivational literature even occasionally, you’re likely to have come across the advice to “never give up”. It’s a very popular piece of encouragement. Unfortunately, like much mainstream self-improvement advice, it’s also not very good.

The usual idea behind the encouragement to never give up is indeed noble. It’s the idea that your dreams are important, and if you persist in trying to make them come true, you eventually will, and that is all that matters.

But noble doesn’t mean accurate. This idea disregards some crucial aspects of reality, human life and human psychology, which makes the resulting advice really impractical and even hurtful.

3 Problems with Never Giving Up

I believe there are 3 main issues with never giving up.

1) It ignores the harsh but undeniable reality that you may simply be unable to achieve certain goals, no matter how much you try. Some things truly are outside your reach. The fact a few people have done them doesn’t necessarily mean you can do them as well.

Take the example of fame. According to a major survey done in the US in 2005, 31% of American teenagers believe they are going to be famous someday. But by its very nature, fame is something extremely few people can achieve: one in thousands or less. So clearly a lot of these teenagers will never become famous. This goal is unreachable for most of them.

2) It disregards that fact that the resources invested in reaching some lofty goal may be better used some other way. Even if a goal can be achieved eventually if you never give up, the amount of time, energy, money and other resources you pour in it might be huge.

And since these resources are limited, it’s prudent after some trial and error to sensibly consider if it’s worth further investing your resources in trying to reach that goal, especially if reaching it will not make you that much happier, or you might better invest them in pursuing some other goal. These kinds of practical computations are very important.

3) Your motivation system if setup to prevent you from pursuing unattainable goals, and that should tell you something. Have you noticed how when you fail at something big time, you feel down and lack motivation to try again? Contrary to conventional wisdom, that is actually not a bad thing.

You see, feeling down is, among other things, a way for your mind to try to make you disengage, reassess the situation, and possibly let go of an unrealistic goal. The problem is that we often ignore our feelings, and we keep striving for something we can’t get or we can only get with too much sacrifice. Then when we fail again we feel even worse, and worse, until it develops into a full blown depression.

It is true that we often become disheartened and give up too fast, and that’s when we wanna fight against the discouragement, but many other times it’s trying to tell us something true and crucial, and we should really listen.

When To and When Not To Give Up

So it is wise sometimes to give up. I don’t wanna create the impression though that every time you fail at something, it means you can’t do it and you should just quit. Certainly there is the common problem at the other extreme, which is that of the many people giving up too fast, because they make too big of a deal of any failure.

The message here is that you wanna have a sensible, pragmatic relation to your goals. Set big goals, seek to achieve them, and assess any failure rationally. Sometimes failure in reaching a goal is a sign you need to keep trying, and maybe adjust your strategy a little. Thus, it’s not wise to give up on a goal if:

  • You have only made a couple of tries to achieve that said goal;
  • There are lots of feasible routes you can still try to reach it;
  • Each new attempt doesn’t cost you much compared to the potential payoff, or
  • You’ve made visible progress towards your goal and you’re still moving forward.

Other times though, failure is a clear sign that your objective is farfetched or not worth it, so you might as well drop it. In the face of repeated, costly failure, when you’ve exhausted nearly every route and made almost no headway, it’s time to cut your losses and give up.

And giving up on a goal doesn’t mean giving up on life. Even if you fail at something, you are still a person filled with potential, and there are many other things you can achieve in life.

Even your initial goal, if you rework it a bit, you can usually turn it into one that’s more suitable for you, and you’ll achieve that one. You may not achieve the objective of becoming a millionaire, but you can still make a good income, doing something you enjoy.

On the social side, you may not end up with hundreds of friends who adore you, but you can still have a solid group of cool friends. You may not get some former-supermodel-movie-star to be your partner, but you can still have a meaningful relationship with a great person.

As a social confidence coach, I assure you these are realistic social goals, even if you’re very shy or socially awkward right now. You just have to find the right approach to improve your social confidence, social skills and social life, and use it some time with some consistency.

Speaking of which, check out this free social confidence presentation, and join my free social skills newsletter as well. I share lots of proven social advice in them to help you improve in these areas.

As you let go of unrealistic goals and you focus your ambition on bold but realistic ones, as you learn to recognize when to give up and when to keep going, you put your life on a path that’s certain to produce a lot of joy and fulfillment.

You hold the reigns of your life. Just bear in mind that not all roads are equally accessible to everybody.

Comments

  1. Great article. I too am annoyed by all the “never give up” advice.

    A better advice would be to “Just start” with a lot of things; make the threshold for starting as low as possible. AND lower the threshold for giving up too, for cutting your losses, when you started something it turns out you had neither talent nor liking for.

    I like your tangible break-down on when to and when not to give up.

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