How to Keep the Quit Demon at Bay

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A Marine executes a floor press.
U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Stacie Crowther, a musician and instrumental division head with Marine Detachment Naval School of Music, executes a floor press during a High-Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) Warrior Challenge competition at Camp Elmore, Norfolk, Virginia, Oct. 15, 2021. (Lance Cpl. Jack Chen/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

We all have a little voice inside our head that recommends we take the easier path. Science says it is part of our natural, built-in will to survive by avoiding pain, discomfort, stress and failure. Those who succeed on the highest levels say that the quit demon does not exist in their heads. Those who fight the quit demon daily and have occasional victories and losses will tell you that it is a constant battle.

There are countless ways this voice communicates with us every day.

Be safe. Stop running. Don't work so hard. Don't hurt yourself. Stay in bed. It's too cold to leave the house. Skip leg day. Don’t get in that pool at 5:30 a.m. I think you are catching a cold; stay home.

Not listening to it or, even better, turning it off is much easier said than done. There is one thing that makes the difference and is the common denominator to success versus quitting, and that is movement. You must move toward finishing a goal every day.

To learn to hate the feeling of quitting, perhaps you must experience the feeling of quitting first. Hating that feeling and knowing you will feel better after an accomplishment is truly mastering the quit demon. We all have daily run-ins with the quit demon.

It starts with an alarm clock and fights you going to work, exercising or completing other tasks that you have to do every day. The quit demon beat me in high school when I quit playing baseball my junior year. I can come up with many excuses why baseball was not for me anymore, but not finishing the season I had started was a feeling I knew I did not ever want to feel again.

Some people can get stuck in this rut of losing to the quit demon and never build the confidence over time that helps you silence that voice. But feeling the sting of losing to the quit demon either can keep you down or start you on a path never to listen to that voice again. The choice is yours.

Sometimes it takes a motivational quote or an inspiring person to help you. For instance, a great quote by former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz says:

Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

My addition to that quote is this:

Persistence is the will to keep going, no matter what. Discipline makes sure you do it and builds good habits. Mental toughness increases your ability tenfold.

The quit demon absolutely can be beaten with only motivation and the inspiration of others. But there always will be a time when it is just you and that voice. This typically occurs when you are at your most tired, your most exhausted and you cannot move or stay awake another minute.

This is that moment. This is the moment when you realize just how bad you want something. This is when you find the fuel when the tank is empty and keep moving. By staying dedicated to your dream and keeping the discipline alive every day, you will build that needed mental toughness to reach the next level.

When I made it through SEAL Training Hell Week, one thing I learned by turning off the quit demon is that the human body is 10 times stronger than the mind will allow it to be. Remembering the feeling of quitting, becoming highly competitive and not focusing merely on surviving the day can give you that boost you need to keep moving forward.

This persistence will grow into a habit and build discipline. With discipline comes mental toughness. You cannot silence the quit demon ever, but you always can use it as a quick view of your alternate universe to feel the sting of quitting and say to yourself and others nearby, "Keep moving. Can't quit now."

Honestly, if you can train to compete, not just to survive, you are training yourself never to hear that voice again. Competing with the goal of winning rather than to achieve minimum standards comes from an entirely different internal place, one where you can learn to keep the quit demon at bay.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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