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Stubborn Perseverance: The Upside of Letting It Go

How long do you stay fixated on your goals?

Key points

  • We are conditioned to believe perseverance is connected to strength.
  • Letting go is progress toward a new direction and a new, healthier engagement.
  • Moving to realistic goals and not holding on to the fantasy or dream of unrealistic goals builds optimism.

How long do you stay fixated on your goals? Do you persevere when you have nothing to gain, wasting time and energy? While you are fixated on these goals, do better alternatives pass you by?

Most of us are taught early in life that giving up is weak. We are conditioned to believe perseverance is somehow connected to strength. Giving up has the connotation of not giving our all.

However, in some situations we might do our best by seeing the futility of committing to something for too long. Hanging on to unachievable goals at all costs has negative impacts on both your emotional and physical health.

Healthy Disengagement

The feelings experienced when perseverance has a downside include boredom, a lack of commitment, disinterest, and an overall realization that you are wasting your time. If you are experiencing these feelings, it is time to find a pathway to a healthy disengagement. What does that look like?

A starting point would be to reduce your effort toward the goal. Cut back from your total commitment with the realization that you are disengaging for your health. Next, stop trying to achieve the goal. Realize you are no longer committed to it, stop thinking about it, and let it go. Remember: You are letting go to move forward and this goal has restricted your ability to move, taken up too much of your time and energy, and may have been unrealistic to begin with. Letting go is progress toward a new direction and a new and healthier engagement.

Healthy Engagement

What does a new, healthy engagement look like? Having disengaged from your unhealthy goals, you now possess the freedom to consider some new, healthy goals. Start working on these new goals and begin putting in the effort and commitment you will need to achieve them.

You are now well on your way to replacing the unhealthy goals that previously consumed you. You have traded in your frustration for a preferred pathway of development. You have become unstuck by realizing the upside to letting go. You have come to realize that your perseverance in the old goals was unrewarding and dangerous to your well-being and identity.

Unachievable Goals

When we do not achieve our goals, we are not failures. Not achieving a goal has the potential to increase our knowledge of ourselves. Success does not usually teach us very much; we are not as reflective when we succeed. However, when we are faced with not achieving our goals, we go into the depths of our awareness to find out why.

To be stuck in the unachievable does have repercussions: We feel more stress. Intrusive thoughts and depression may become issues. Sleep may become irregular or deprived. Headaches, weight gain, and high blood pressure may become symptomatic.

Positive Perseverance

Perseverance does not need to be stubborn. Positive perseverance is about one’s ability to let go of our unachievable goals and transition to the more achievable ones.

Trusting in one’s capability to move on to more realistic goals and not hold on to the fantasy or dream of unrealistic goals builds optimism. Moving from what's unachievable toward something more achievable will also boost one’s self-esteem.

Higher self-esteem opens the door to positivity, which may be a precursor to looking at alternatives that have been ignored while being stuck on the unachievable. These alternatives may bring even more positivity; they may be more rewarding, more fulfilling, more meaningful and, subsequently, create more perseverance. When it comes to the perseverance of our goals, we need to weigh the consequences of continuing to pursue dissatisfying goals along with discovering all the new and varied challenging possibilities available.

Change Agents

Michael Apter has suggested that there are essentially three change agents: frustration, satiation, and contingency. When we are frustrated, we look for something to alleviate or take the frustration away. When satiated, we are fed up or done with what is going on and looking for a way out of the situation. When a contingent event occurs, we are sometimes compelled to change—like when an elephant in the yard interrupts your gardening efforts.

Listening to and adhering to our change agents will allow us to make a smoother transition away from feelings of dissatisfaction—especially when we are stubbornly persevering in goals that are affecting our life in unhealthy ways.


Apter, M. (2018). Zigzag: Reversal and Paradox in Human Personality. Troubador Publishing Limited.

Spicer, A. (2018). When to Stick with Something-and When to Quit. Harvard Business Review, October 01, 2018.

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