Time to hang up your skates
Updated: Jan 3
This blog post was co-published in Thrive Magazine.
Ever wondered why some goals or dreams become seemingly unattainable, or why we disengage from even our most powerful, life-defining aspirations? Sometimes, giving up is actually the best decision to make.
One of my most cherished aspirations as a child was to become a champion figure skater. As a nine-year-old, I began to regularly frequent the old Saint Moritz ice rink on the Esplanade in St Kilda (Australia). In awe, I watched the other girls, with their club jackets adorned with badges and custom-made, spotless white skates, spinning around with mastery and grace. Enviously I stared, as I clung to the barrier, hobbling in my worn-out black hire boots that barely gripped the ice.
I will never forget the day my mother agreed to allow me to join the skating club and take figure-skating lessons. My exhilaration literally kept me awake all night, as I visualized myself on the ice skilfully pivoting and gliding along the glistening ice. For several years, figure-skating consumed me with a voracious force; I was completely enamoured. I eagerly travelled to the rink each morning for lessons with my coach before school and would travel there again, after school, to practice. I had the makings of a future champion: resilience, strength, precision, grace and most of all, dogged determination. I was so fixated, I thought nothing was ever going to stand between me and my figure-skating dream. But by the age of twelve, out of the blue, unexpected news hit me like a tidal wave: the rink was to be bulldozed down to make way for a high-rise, sea-side hotel. Saint Moritz Ice Skating Rink was closing its doors forever.
Of course, living in Australia, winter sports have never exactly been our country’s forte. The only other ice-rink was many miles away. Worst of all, it was in an undesirable part of town, too dangerous in the dead of night for a twelve-year-old. To top that off, the coaches at the new rink were highly professional skaters with steep fees to match, which bore a serious strain on my mother’s single parent, blue-collar income. My new coach cautioned that my hand-me-down boots I was using would not cut it if I was serious about the sport. I would have to invest in the best and order custom-made boots, modelled precisely for my feet. And quality, I might stress, does not come cheap! The odds were truly stacking up against me. I continued my long trek to the new rink, taking two trains, a bus and a very long walk in between. But, it wasn’t long before it all became too much to contend with. At the time, my decision to hang up my boots for good actually came as a huge relief. Yet that decision still haunts me today – almost three decades later! Was I too hasty in making that decision? Should I have stuck it through? Did I give up too easily?
So, to make sense of it I recently did some research to understand why people abandon their dreams.
Persistence, optimism and positive self-belief have been proven to be key ingredients in successful goal attainment. These qualities are also known to have a positive impact on your general sense of wellbeing. However, these qualities alone do not guarantee that you will realize your dreams, or attain your goals. In fact, there are a myriad of reasons or barriers that you might face along the way to stop you in your tracks. So how much more time, effort, resources and energy do you pour into your dream? Is it feasible to continue, and at what point do you decide it’s time to abandon your pursuit?
The technical term for abandoning one’s dreams or pursuits is known as ‘goal disengagement’, which involves the cessation of effort towards and commitment to your goal. The process of goal disengagement may commence when your perceived input outweighs the output or return on your investment. You strive, relentlessly, and yet you feel little or no progress has been made to breaking through, or getting closer to your desire. Lack of progress can be discouraging, if not soul-destroying. Yet research suggests that goal disengagement is not such a bad course of action for individuals who are confronted by seemingly unattainable goals.
Another significant factor leading to goal disengagement may be significant obstacles that deter or prevent you from achieving or making progress towards the attainment of your goal. Obstacles could come in a variety of forms, such as a lack of resources (time or money), physical ability or limitations, health, injuries or geographic constraints.
However, contrary to what you might think, researchers suggest that goal disengagement may in fact bring positive benefits. Studies have shown that goal disengagement may have positive physical as well as psychological benefits for individuals who abandon goals which appear in some way unattainable. The strain and stress of working relentlessly against the odds, with no progress in sight, can take its toll on individuals facing an unattainable goal. Feeling relieved or freed up from the burden of your fruitless efforts can be liberating, particularly when giving up one goal might make way for a new goal – and possibly a more meaningful or fulfilling one!