That's something any toddler intuitively knows. For instance, when my daughter Katie was 3, she said she'd just met "that fat lady next door." I told her that was wonderful, except that it was better to refer to "the fat lady" as Mrs. Ellis.

"What if I forget?" Katie asked.

"Well, honey, then I'll remind you."

Katie thought for a minute and asked, "What if I refuse?"

That, frankly, was a stumper. I had no real way to force my daughter—or anyone else—to continue doing something she simply refused to do.

So, how do you quit doing something when depression, inflammation, and financial disaster loom? If worst comes to worst, just stop. The formalities will take care of themselves. I'm not advocating this, but if you stop showing up at work, they'll fire you. If you refuse to act married, your spouse will eventually drift away or file for divorce. It's far better karma to be up-front and honorable about quitting. I'm just pointing out that you always have the power to quit something at a physical level. In other words: Corpse pose is always an option.

This applies to everything, including (stay with me here) the process of quitting itself. If you're trying in vain to quit something you do compulsively, like overspending or smoking or macramé, try quitting the effort to quit. As therapists like to say, "What we resist, persists," and this is especially true of bad habits. Imagine trying not to eat one sinfully delicious chocolate truffle. Got it? Okay, now imagine trying to eat 10,000 truffles at one sitting. For most of us, the thought of not-quitting in this enormous way—indulging ourselves beyond desire—actually dampens the appetite. It's a counterintuitive method, but if the "I will abstain from..." resolutions you make each year are utter, depressing failures, you might quit quitting and see what happens. When my clients stop unsuccessful efforts to quit, they often experience such a sense of relief and empowerment that quitting becomes easier—it's paradoxical but true. (Try it before you dismiss it.)

I didn't know what made Besty hit the floor of the yoga studio. I assumed she'd simply misplaced her center of gravity, due to having lost so much weight in one day. But I was wrong. She'd had enough—and her giving in to the force of gravity had a liberating effect on me. I found myself shuffling toward the door, and as I did, my depression lightened. I'd stumbled across a transformative resolution I'd keep all that year: to quit when I was behind, without shame or self-recrimination. It was a watershed moment in my life and in my friendship with Besty. She was fitter and more determined than I was, and even when it came to quitting, my friend had done the job first, and best.


More Martha Beck Advice


Next Story