To quit or not to quit: The truth about goal-setting

When I first started college, I declared mathematics as my major because I thought that was the right decision at that time – I didn’t know what I wanted to do and math was one of my strongest skills. After pursuing the course for almost four semesters, I soon found out that I did not enjoy math after all, and that was reflected on my grades.

By the time I realized that I was in the wrong major, I had already done two years’ worth of schooling. That was when I thought to myself – should I continue pursuing mathematics since I was already half way through my major? Or should I switch my major and use my time doing something I truly enjoy?

What about those two years, where countless hours were already spent studying and completing math courses? If I change my major, there was a chance that I might graduate later than my peers.

I was torn between the two years that I had spent in school (sunk cost) and the things that I could be doing should I decide to change majors (opportunity costs).

It was a tough decision to make, but I ended up changing majors and graduated within two years.

The main reason that I was able to graduate within two years even after changing my major was because I had set my mind to achieve that goal. Goals are important because they give you a sense of direction in life. Setting a goal is the easy part.

Following up with that goal, however, is another thing altogether.

For example, if you are working on a fitness goal, it is easy to give excuses to skip your workout session. Below is a 3-step routine that I have found helpful in following through goals:

Step 1: Prepare your workout gear the night before. On the day of your workout, break down the steps of your morning routine by getting out of bed, washing your face and putting on your exercise clothes.

Step 2: Monitor your performance. For instance, you can observe your fitness level by looking out for improvements such as running at a longer distance within a short space of time. As you get closer to your goal, employ different tactics to mix up your workout routine so that it does not become mundane.

Step 3: Celebrate your achievement with rewards that are aligned with your goals. For example, instead of cheating on your next meal, you can buy new clothes that you can now fit into as a form of reward.

This principle of goal-setting also applies to business and management. A classic example is providing training in sales to café employees:

  1. Start with smaller and more attainable goals such as teaching employees on the right way to greet customers.
  2. Acknowledge employees’ success and set the next round of goals by introducing new tactics of selling to keep employees interested in the training.
  3. Celebrate employees’ success with congruent rewards such as “free drinks” for employees who perform well.

When you feel like slipping after setting a goal for yourself, remind yourself of why you set the goal in the first place. If you really want to give up, then the goal that you have set for yourself may not be a good fit for you or may not be worthwhile after all. In life, we need to know when it is time to quit. In my case, the emotional cost of pursuing something that I love offsets the sunk cost of spending those two years in the wrong major.

Quitting does not mean failure. It may be a sign for you to revisit your goals so you do not regret your action 10 years later knowing how far you have come.