Life is not a fast race, but a marathon, and to go far maintaining the best shape we have to learn to keep the balance, knowing when it’s time to hurry up, slow down or even stop to regain strength. And in any case, maintaining the delicate balance is difficult, it’s easier to get carried away by emotions and fall in the extremes, especially in a society where everything is hyperbolized.
Fight, but keep the perspective
The society sends us a very clear message: persevere and you will be successful. Abandonment is synonymous of failure, lack of firmness, temperance and laziness, but the truth is that sometimes to give up indicates intelligence, common sense and even a simple spirit of survival.
In this sense, a very interesting study conducted at the University of Concordia of which few speak, immersed as we are in the “dictatorship of the positive psychology”, indicates that giving up the unattainable or too ambitious goals is much more beneficial than what we might think, especially for our health.
According to these psychologists, pursuing these objectives at all costs may be counterproductive. To reach these conclusions were involved 204 persons, who were asked to remember their most important goals of the last five years and what results they obtained. In addition, it was assessed their psychological and health condition, starting from the presence of stress and level of cortisol in blood, up to the appearance of health problems.
At the same time, were followed for an entire semester 81 students, to analyze how they dealt with their educational objectives and how these could affect their health and psychological well-being.
This way they appreciated that the ability to resize the goals was an important indicator of physical health and emotional well-being. Those persons aware that their goals were not realistic and adapted them to the new circumstances, were less stressed and suffered less from health problems. In fact, their cortisol levels in blood were lower. On the contrary, those who insisted in achieving their goals, despite repeated failures, showed higher levels of stress, guilt, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, were more likely to suffer from viral diseases and gastrointestinal disorders, headache and rash.
Where is the limit? The Stockdale Paradox
It is true that in life many of the most valuable things require effort, patience and sacrifice. Giving up too early will lead to a life marked by the abandonment of dreams and projects, and this will produce dissatisfaction and fuel the feeling of failure. However, even the excessive optimism can play tricks, as evidenced by the Stockdale Paradox, a term coined by Jim Collins and inspired by the personal experience of the Admiral James Stockdale, the American prisoner of majority status during the Vietnam War.
Stockdale remained as prisoner in the “Hanoi Hilton” and was tortured repeatedly during 8 years. Later he told that the most optimistic prisoners, those who continued believing that they would be released next Christmas, were more likely to die. The problem is that when their hopes didn’t came true they tended to get depressed, so ended up throwing in the towel much earlier than those who were more objective, but still not abandoned hope and optimism.
This indicates that, although optimism is important, there are moments when it may turn against us, generating some very negative feelings. For this reason, just as important as persevere in our objectives, is to be able to detect the signs that indicate that it came the time to modify or even change completely direction.
3 signs that indicate that it is time to change
1. You don’t reach the expected results. If you are giving the best of you, if you’re trying hard since long time and have not achieved the results that encourage you to go ahead and indicate that your goal is achievable and that you’re moving in the right direction, it’s time to stop and review your goals.
2. You’re exhausted, physically and/or emotionally. There are moments when, even though you’re getting results, these will cost a huge sacrifice, both in terms of health, emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships. In this case you should ask yourself if this goal is well worth such a sacrifice, maybe you can consider some more modest goals that require less effort.
3. Circumstances have changed profoundly. Sometimes we can be so obsessed with our goals to not realize that the conditions have changed and have become hostile. Perhaps you can’t count with the same support from the others, the world around you has changed, and this project turned obsolete, or maybe you no longer have the same capabilities, disposition or skills you had before. In this case, the smartest thing to do is to review your goals.
Wrosch, C. et. Al. (2007) Giving up on unattainable goals: benefits for health? Pers Soc Psychol Bull; 33(2): 251-265.