How to Help a "Quitter"

Learning to help others succeed increases your own ability and chances of soaring to success.
Learning to help others succeed increases your own ability and chances of soaring to success. | Source

Someone recently asked me how to help and encourage a friend or family member who is constantly quitting activities (ie. exercising, classes, hobbies, etc.). Provided that the friend or family member sincerely wants help, there are a few simple ways to encourage them.

In my experience, there are three main reasons people quit. Each one relates to the feeling of failure, but not necessarily an actual failure. These reasons are 1) The Mystery Factor, 2) Inappropriate Expectations, and 3) Missed Target.


The Mystery Factor

This encompasses a failure to understand something, such as text content or instructions. When a person comes across something they don't understand, like new word, they assume that having the general idea is enough. So, they skip over it and forge ahead.

The problem is this: the human mind is a wonderful problem-solving machine. It hangs onto the unknown in an attempt to understand and fix the mystery of what they don't know. That leaves the person hung up on that point which inhibits meaningful forward progress. The longer they are hung up on this mystery, the more a feeling of "failure" sets in. The person becomes confused, frustrated and even "bored" with their task. The end result is that the person finds a way to justify quitting that has nothing to do with the actual cause - the unknown.

A person can encourage their friend or family member to fix this problem by helping them trace events backward to the misunderstanding or mystery that originally got them hung up. Once that is located, help them obtain the missing bit of information. It could be as simple as going through a textbook to find out which word or concept they didn't understand and looking it up. Or, getting clearer instructions from their teacher/boss/instructor about a task that needs doing. It is often extremely useful in helping a person better understand by showing them with an instructional video, live demonstration, hands-on model or diagram. Once the mystery is resolved, a person generally gains renewed interest in their activity and even feels a sense of excitement from their success at overcoming such an important obstacle.


Inappropriate Expectations

Most people are too hard on themselves. They expect too much of themselves too soon. Others have ridiculous expectations placed on them by someone else (ie. parent, spouse, etc.) Either way, I've found the best way to deal with this problem is to sit down in private with the person and do what I call a "stealth reality check". You don't want to confront your friend or family member aggressively, but you do want them to take a close look at their goals and motivations. You can help and encourage them by asking questions like:


  • What is your goal? Why are you doing this activity in the first place? Are you doing this to impress someone or are you here to have fun and learn? If it's to impress; are you sure it's worth your time and effort? If it's to learn and have fun, what can we do to help you achieve that goal?


  • What would help you feel more confident and competent at this task? [At this point, let them list a few things and then ask:] Which one of those things can we do first? How can we achieve that?


  • If a friend with the same level of skill and experience you currently have were doing this activity, what would your level of expectation be for them? Do you feel that it is a fair expectation to put on them? In comparison, are you being fair in your expectations for yourself? How can we adjust your expectations for yourself to be more fair? What would your friend to encourage them?


  • What would you tell me if our situation was reversed? [Listen to their advice, get clarification if needed, offer excuses/fears/protests and other reasons to quit. Then, let them talk out solutions.] Good! Are you willing to follow your own advice? (Note: This one is great because you let the person solve the problem for themselves by digging to the root of the situation and brain-storm ideas to fix it without focusing on themselves.)


Missed Target

These types of "failures" are often caused by interruption from someone else. This falls into 2 categories: The first is where the person is involved in some way with someone who literally interrupts them by stepping in front of them at the wrong moment or cutting them off when talking. This includes someone physically removing items (ie. tools, phone, camera, paperwork, sports equipment, etc.) from the person's hands to "help". I've often been shoved away from my computer by someone who took over the task in an effort to "help" me. These kinds of actions inhibit a person's ability to finish what they started which in the human mind equals failure ... which leads to feeling bad ... which leads to not wanting to participate.

The second is seen in relationships or work situations that involve "teams" where the individual must rely on someone else to do part of the task. In school, I had to partner with someone for a project. I did my part (and most of hers). Because she wouldn't do her share, we failed. It was my only D in school and I ended up being grounded a whole month even though the failure wasn't y fault or anything I had control over).

We all know someone who is great at this kind of interruption. Somehow, they never managed to complete their task and always have an excuse as to why they didn't, couldn't or "shouldn't". Worse, they often fool us into believing that the failure is our fault for not doing more, not reminding them more often, not stepping in to do their task as well as our own, or for simply coming up with the idea in the first place, even if the idea was well planned and would have succeeded if they'd done their part.

When confronted with this type of "failure", there is very little a person can do to fix it. Mostly because you can't fix someone else's lack of integrity, concern, ability or whatever else causes people like that to screw others over - intentionally or not. In this type of situation, I often encourage the person to quit; quit teaming up with the interrupters and find better partners for success. Then, I help them succeed.


This article is based on a chapter from my book, Notes to My Younger Self: A Guide to Personal Happiness.

Thoughtful, candid, and sometimes humorous, "Notes to My Younger Self" is a collection of observations and practical advice to guide the reader to a state of personal acceptance and happiness. This book offers thought-provoking perspectives on self-love, fear, anger, values, honour, and other important issues we must each face in our life's journey. With more than 30 colour photos, "Notes to My Younger Self" is an inspiration to look at and to read.

© 2013 Rosa Marchisella

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