Quitter’s Day: How to redefine your mindset when facing a dilemma over giving up on goals

January 12 is when most people throw in the towel on New Year’s resolutions. Here’s how to know when you shouldn't - and, indeed, should - give up

Hanging on to New Year's resolutions is not always in your best interest, according to experts. Illustration: Talib Jariwala
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The second Friday in January has the unwelcome distinction of being dubbed Quitter’s Day.

Falling on the 12th this year, it is the day deemed most likely for people to give up their New Year’s resolutions and abandon their goals and good intentions right before the weekend.

Quitter’s Day got its name in 2019 based on data from fitness app Strava, which used information from 800 million user-logged activities to find that about 80 per cent of people who made New Year’s resolutions quit them by the second week of January.

As the optimism and euphoria of new year celebrations fade and life gets back to normal after the winter break, sticking to resolutions becomes harder as motivation wanes.

“Despite the initial enthusiasm, many find their resolutions unravelling,” says Devika Mankani, holistic psychologist at The Hundred Wellness Centre in Dubai. “The reason? Often, our goals are more ambitious than practical. The initial motivation dims as everyday realities and challenges set in, making it hard to maintain the momentum required for these new commitments.”

While quitting can sometimes have negative connotations, there is also a positive side to developing a relationship with cutting your losses, one that allows you to learn valuable life lessons.

Why do we make resolutions?

The beginning of the year often sees a surge in New Year's resolutions, with individuals setting ambitious goals for self-improvement,” says Maham Rasheed, clinical psychologist at Nabta Health Clinic, Dubai. “Resolutions provide a structured framework for setting and achieving personal and professional goals. But crafting resolutions isn't just about setting goals – it's hitting the ‘reset’ button for a revamped you.”

Setting resolutions at the start of a year can be powerful if done right
Noona Nafousi, life coach and chief executive of Neo Noor

Resolutions are tied into what psychologists call the “fresh start effect”. It is the idea that people feel more motivated and excited at the beginning of something new, such as the year or even a job or new school term.

“Setting resolutions at the start of a year can be powerful if done right,” says Noona Nafousi, chief executive of life coaching company Neo Noor. “Unlike vague goals or aims, resolutions come with a sense of commitment and a clear timeline, which can be motivating.”

Identifying and overcoming the quitting mindset

Falling afoul of the fresh start effect can lead people to not restart their goals and resolutions until they identify a new starting point – such as the following Monday or the beginning of the next month.

“The main benefit from setting goals in the form of New Year's resolutions is the feeling of a fresh start,” says Rachel Godfrey, co-founder of Chase Life Consulting. “We feel like we can close the chapter of last year and enter into a new one with a blank slate filled with pure possibility. But the truth is, every moment is a brand-new moment that we can treat in this manner.

Inadequate planning can contribute to early disillusionment and subsequent abandonment of resolutions
Maham Rasheed, clinical psychologist, Nabta Health Clinic

“As humans we tend to chunk time into blocks and then label those blocks as good or bad, such as: ‘It's been a bad day, week or year’, and ‘I can't wait to get this week out of the way and start afresh on Monday’. However, why wait until Monday? Why not make the change now?”

To successfully stick, goals and resolutions should be relevant and achievable. Clear and well-defined goals, such as wanting to run 5km, are easier to stick to rather than vague targets such as wanting to take up jogging.

“Unrealistic expectations can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, while inadequate planning and societal influences contribute to early disillusionment and subsequent abandonment of resolutions,” says Rasheed.

Mankani adds: “To successfully navigate past Quitters Day, it’s crucial to set achievable, well-defined goals. Breaking these down into smaller steps makes them more manageable and less overwhelming. Regularly tracking progress helps maintain motivation, and being flexible allows for necessary adjustments. Having a support system can also be a key factor in staying on track.”

Redefining quitting

Quitting has both positive and negative connotations. Quitting bad behaviours and unhealthy vices such as smoking are seen as good things. Quitting jobs, studies or things others many view as opportunities are often frowned upon.

In the social-media-driven era of side hustles and the “rise and grind” mentality, being a quitter often equates to being a loser, dropout or flake.

Quitting can be a proactive move to avoid burnout and open up opportunities
Devika Mankani, holistic psychologist, The Hundred Wellness Centre

However, says Mankani: “Quitting isn't inherently negative. In fact, it can be a strategic and positive choice. It's important to regularly reassess our goals to ensure they align with our current priorities and values. Quitting can be a proactive move to avoid burnout and open up opportunities.

“Before deciding to quit, consider if the goal is still relevant to you, and weigh the sacrifices against the potential benefits.”

Developing a positive relationship to quitting can help identify areas in your life that are no longer serving you well.

“Society has ingrained in us the belief that giving up is a reflection of our lack of perseverance,” says Nafousi. “This narrow-minded view has been perpetuated by cultural norms that glorify relentless pursuit and overcoming obstacles at all costs.

“To make matters worse, hustle culture has amplified this mindset, fuelling the rise and grind mantra on social media. With everyone showing only highlights of their reality online, it looks like everyone is waking up at 5am and living their best life in the best shape they can be. However, this toxic portrayal often overlooks the importance of self-care and the consequences of pushing ourselves too far.”

Knowing when to quit

It can be difficult to know when to throw in the towel, especially when factoring in the “sunk cost” effect, whereby you measure the time, effort or money that has been put into a goal or project which cannot be recovered.

There is enormous value in learning life's lessons quickly
Rachel Godfrey, co-founder, Chase Life Consulting

“A healthy relationship with quitting involves a balance between persistence and adaptability,” says Rasheed. “It includes self-reflection, such as regularly assessing goals and values to ensure their alignment with personal aspirations; flexibility to adjust goals accordingly; self-compassion, acknowledging that it’s acceptable to let go of pursuits that no longer contribute positively to one's life; and celebrating endings by understanding that some closures are necessary for new beginnings.”

Being aware of where you want your resolutions to eventually take you, is another way of developing your relationship with healthy quitting.

“There is enormous value in learning life's lessons quickly,” says Godfrey. “Perhaps you thought that turning your passion for photography into a career would mean you would never have to work a regular day in your life again. But with experience, you discover it has added too much pressure and sucked all the joy out of it.

“Ask yourself: ‘Am I wanting to quit simply because the journey is difficult, inconvenient, or frustrating? Or am I wanting to quit because this path genuinely feels out of alignment with my values?’

“If you're unable to cut your losses because you're afraid of feeling like a failure or looking like a failure, you're not learning the life lesson.”

Updated: January 12, 2024, 3:57 AM