Rehab is For Quitters–When Quitting is Actually Healthier for You

January 2, 2011 by Ken Nowack

“There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction”

Winston Churchill

Happy 2011!

Did you make a New Years resolution?  If you are like most people you did–and probably will relapse back to your old habits within 90 days.

Old habits are indeed very tough to break and relapse seems greatest when we are under stress. Starting new behaviors is challenging and than sustaining them over time is even more difficult.

Quitting is indeed something that some of us are pretty consistent in doing well.  I know when I was young, one of the values my parents try to instill in me was never to quit a goal I had set.  In fact, quitting was seen as “failure” and a personality weakness.  I think the only job I ever quit voluntarily was being an umpire for little league (I guess 10 year old parents yelling at me constantly really did get under my skin!).

According to research, sometimes quitting may actually be better for your health. Psychologist’s Gregory Miller and Carsten Wroshch have found that people who are able to feel comfortable quitting when faced with unattainable goals may actually have better mental and physical health than those who persevere and push themselves to succeed1.

This study was based on their previous research which found that those persistent individuals in the face of uncontrollable goals actually experienced higher levels of an inflammatory protein called C-reactive protein (an indicator of stress) as well as increased cortisol. They also reported lower psychological well-being. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal but inflammation appears to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other stress related conditions.

Contrary to what we might have been taught, it appears that it might be in our best interests to “cut our losses” in the face of unattainable goals and life challenges and actually disengage from the goal to ensure optimum well-being and potentially long-term health. This appears to be true whether we are in unsatisfying long-term relationships, working for leaders who are toxic or targeting a goal that is beyond our skill and ability “set points.”

So, any good things for those who persist? In other research Carsten and colleagues found that in the face of life challenge and disengaging from unattainable goals, those who redefined and set new goals were more likely to be able to buffer the negative emotions associated with failure.

Maybe new  entrepreneurial goals and  “rebound” relationships might actually serve to help us find closure to our past failures and re-engage us for future journeys2

Starting and stopping new behaviors is always challenging and I guess if nothing ever changed we wouldn’t have butterflies…..Be well…
[tags] leadership, envisia, envisia learning, quitting, habits, c-reactive protein, inflammation, goal setting, engagement, coping, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack [/tags]

  1. Miller, G. & Wrosch, C. (2007). You’ve Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em: Goal Disengagement and Systemic Inflammation in Adolescence. Psychological Science, 18 []
  2. Wrosch, C., Miller, G. E., Scheier, M. F., & Brun de Pontet, S. (2007). Giving up on unattainable goals: Benefits for health? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 251-265 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Wellness

If You Enjoyed This Post...

You'll love getting updates when we post new articles on leadership development, 360 degree feedback and behavior change. Enter your email below to get a free copy of our book and get notified of new posts:

Follow Envisia Learning:

RSS Twitter linkedin Facebook

Are You Implementing a Leadership Development Program?

Call us to discuss how we can help you get more out of your leadership development program:

(800) 335-0779, x1