One constant in life is things are bound to change. And since change is inevitable, learning to be flexible is an essential part of life. Deciding to change our plans when needed can allow us to keep moving forward based on the actual situation we find ourselves in, and not just what we thought it would be. At the same time, throwing in the towel prematurely can keep us from reaching our desired destinations, and can be the source of later regret.

So how do we know when to change course, and when to hold on?

Proper Perspective

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this. But one thing is sure: having the proper perspective when making a decision is foundational. Being able to see what’s taking place in the broader context is important, and allows us to make decisions on more that just what we see or feel today.

Which means, when things change and we’re tempted to shift directions, it’s crucial that we make this decision in light of the bigger picture. And there’s one time when seeing the bigger picture is not only difficult, but sometimes impossible: when we’re in the heat of the moment.

The Heat of the Moment

When we’re in the heat of the moment — when emotions are flaring, and stress is rising, and things don’t seem to going right — it can be tempting to throw in the towel and make significant changes to our direction. But doing so prematurely, without the right perspective of the situation and of the broader context, can do more harm than good.

We may end up wasting a lot of time and energy. And although there may be legitimate times for scrapping something we’ve already sunk time and resources into, this is not something that should be done lightly or without consideration of the costs. Otherwise, we may constantly be shifting directions, but have no progress to show for it down the road.

We may also miss out on the benefits that were right around the corner. When things are difficult, it can be easy to forget about why we began down a certain path in the first place. And sometimes, the benefits we were looking for were closer than we realized, but we gave up too soon to actually experience them.

My Terrible Run

For a few months, I’ve been planning on running in an upcoming road race, and I’ve been running regularly with that goal in mind. But last week, after a terrible run, I started to consider backing out of the race. I had had a bad day — I was tired, I didn’t feel that good, it was really humid, etc. — and I began to question whether I wanted to follow through with the plan. Why would I put my body through this? Was it worth continuing if I ended up not meeting my time goal for the race? Maybe it’d be better to just back out, and come up with some excuse for not following through on what I had planned on doing.

But as time went on, and I had time to reflect on the experience, I realized that dropping the plan and backing out would have been going overboard. Yes, I didn’t have a good day, and yes, my body was tired. But at the same time, I’ve been training for this for a few months, and even if I don’t hit my original time goal in this race, that doesn’t eliminate the value of continuing to train and following through with the plan. I realized that if I just threw in the towel now, I’d regret it later.

Sleep on it

Perhaps there are areas at work or at home or in our relationships or personal development that we’ve been working toward. And there are some days we just want to throw in the towel and abandon the original plan. And although there are times where changing directions is the right course, sometimes the best decision it to hold on just a while longer.

When we’re in the middle of a rough patch — when the emotions are flaring or our body is exhausted — it may difficult to see or think clearly. But a little time or space can give us a better grasp on the bigger context of the situation, making it easier to make a deliberate, thoughtful response.

When we’re contemplating throwing in the towel, it’s often wise to just sleep on it — to postpone making any final decisions until we’ve had a chance to pause and take a step back. This gives us a chance to make sure we’ve got a better view of the broader situation. And sometimes just waiting a single day can make all the difference in what we decide to do.

Changing plans will happen from time to time. But hopefully these changes come as a result of a sober, realistic view of the situation, and not just the result of the emotions we feel in the heat of the moment.

Question: When have you been tempted to throw in the towel prematurely? What have you done to regain perspective?