Refusing the Urge to Quit

The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can¬†possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running, you will learn how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading: there have been billions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully, with anything– There’s no problem you can have that someone hasn’t already had and solved and written about it in a book.

- Will Smith

Will Smith said that little passage above as part of an acceptance speech at the 2005 Kid’s Choice Awards. ¬†Some people were no doubt listening to him, but most of the crowd seemed to just be excited that he was there– they even cheered mid-way through the speech for no apparent reason other than that they wished he would stop talking and just smile and be famous.

It was their loss. ¬†That paragraph up there is probably all you need to know when it comes to success. ¬†I’m just now learning the value in what he said– especially in that first part.


Most people do something until they don’t feel like it anymore unless they are being forced to continue. ¬†I’ll use myself as an example. ¬†I’m an author; I write fiction, usually only a few hundred words at a time ¬†The hard thing about writing fiction is that the motivation to write comes and goes seemingly with the wind. ¬†Sometimes you get into a groove, your fingers are flying and the words come effortlessly to you.

At times like those I might put down a thousand words in an hour (Many fiction writers only aim for ~500 words a day, so this is pretty decent.) ¬†But there are other times where I just want to be doing something else. ¬†I don’t have any motivation and it takes me five hours to put 300 words down. ¬†Worse, I won’t even be satisfied with those 300 words.

I hear you, I hear you. ¬†”Well, that’s great. ¬†When does the urge to quit come in?”

The urge to quit comes in every day. ¬†If my target is 500 words I usually get the urge to quit at around 300. ¬†Likewise if my target is 1500 words, the urge to quit comes in around 700 or 1000 words, and it comes frequently. ¬†That urge, at least in my case, is born out of the fear that what I’m writing is crap and that no one will read it.

But let’s drop my example for a moment. ¬†Doesn’t everyone get that same urge to quit with things in their own life? ¬†Will Smith does. ¬†He gets it while he runs– and you will too if you ever take up running, which I guess is why he used it as an example. ¬†Running is something nearly everyone can do. ¬†But even if you don’t run, you probably get it while you’re doing homework for school, or lifting a heavy object, or writing a report for your job. ¬†It presents itself in almost all avenues of life.

It’s hard to say ‘No.’

Here’s the thing about that urge to quit: It doesn’t quit. ¬†When you say ‘No,’ so does it. ¬†And it says it louder and more forcefully than you did, so you have to tell it ‘No,’ again. It will push back harder and harder and in only a few short minutes the urge to quit will be absolutely overwhelming. ¬†You will give anything to quit. ¬†You’ll hate the fact that you’re still doing whatever it is you want to quit. ¬†It’ll make you want to tear your hair out.

But the reality about the urge to quit is that it’s usually tied to fear, and that’s what makes it so hard to resist. ¬† It’s also why it’s so important to say no. ¬†People procrastinate because of fear and yet procrastination, ironically, usually ends up bringing about whatever they’re scared of.

If you’re scared someone is going to do poorly on an essay that’s due next week, they’re probably going to procrastinate until Sunday night and then write the entire thing up in a panic. ¬†Since it was rushed and likely unedited, they end up scoring rather poorly thus their initial fear becomes justified. ¬†However, had they said no to that urge to procrastinate they probably could have had it done on Tuesday. ¬†And then they would have had all week to re-write, edit and clean up the essay, resulting in a better mark and squashing that same fear.

It’s habit.

Both giving into quitting and resisting it are cycles that grow exponentially. ¬†The more you do either one, the easier it becomes. ¬†We naturally lean towards procrastinating because it is initially much easier than continuing in spite of our urge to quit. ¬†But the more you give into it, the easier it becomes and pretty soon you’re putting off many important things simply because of habit– because it’s easy.

When you resist that urge habitually, eventually that becomes easy and continuing despite resistance becomes your habit. ¬†That habit will take you places most people won’t go due to fear. ¬†You’ll be able to work harder, more efficiently and more effectively than your peers, and much more importantly you will be able to continue pursuing your goals in spite of any fears you may have.

I have been training myself recently to say no to that urge. ¬†I used to give into it the moment it crept up. ¬†”700 words is good enough,” I would say. ¬†Now I try to force myself to continue no matter where I am in regards to my goal. ¬†It’s probably one of the most difficult personal battles I’ve ever had to fight, and I’m still trying to overcome it. ¬†But it gets easier every day, and I get closer and closer to what I want.

We have to fight through those urges to quit. ¬†There’s payoff at the end of the pain.

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