I was reading one of my favourite authors, Seth Godin (The Dip, if you’re interested ) and there it was, a brand new lesson that I had unconsciously applied diving. In fact, it was one I literally lived by – Plan your dive and dive your plan and part of that plan are predetermined quitting points. In fact, those pre-planned quitting points are responsible for me NOT succumbing to intense fear and carrying on with the one dive that stood between me and 221meters – a dive that took three years to actually complete.

A dive has three quitting points embedded into its plan and they revolve around two aspects, the air and time. It spend time underwater a diver needs air and a diver can only carry so much air with him, which means time is limited. Even where a diver can leave cylinders along the way, time is limited by the number of cylinders that are available (it is not infinite as most divers are on a budget). A single deep dive requires at least 5 cylinders on the diver and another 12 along the route to provide sufficient air for 6 hours.

The first quitting point is simple, the divers bottom time. This is the time that has been planned to reach your target depth. On my world record my bottom time was 12 minutes. If I didn’t reach 221 by then I would have to turn around. Yes, have to because if I stayed longer I would need longer to get out the water thanks to decompression and that would mean more gas than I planned for…so  taking more time can literally mean you run out of air on the way up or bend and bending underwater (especially) deep normally means death.

The second quitting point overrides your bottom time. If you reach this even if you haven’t spent your entire allocated bottom time you have to turn. This is your Critical Pressure. This is a reading on the pressure gauges that each cylinder carries that shows how much air you have left to breathe. Deep diving requires that you work out exactly how much air you need to get back out (or in my case, to my first staged cylinder) and then only breathe to that point! If you breathe past that point you stand the very real chance of running out of gas before you reach your next source.

The third quitting point is your depth. You dive to your planned depth and no deeper simply because of decompression. If you don’t follow diving decompression is the time you need to take when you ascend from depth to allow the gasses your body has absorbed to be released slowly. If you go to fast the gas comes out in bubbles and you bend. Staying longer than you planned has the same affect, increasing your decompression time needed so if you don’t adjust your plan underwater (something that is only possible if you dive with computers and as most extreme dives are beyond the depth of most computers, not possible), you will do too little decompression and, yes, bend.

That is of course a simplistic view but you get the point, you plan your dive and dive your plan – and yes, I had three Critical Pressures and two bottom times to ensure that I made my depth and could manage anything unexpected. Each pushed the boundaries of safety a little closer to the edge, making it more or a risk that I wouldn’t make it back and making me more susceptible if something went drastically wrong (losing all the air in a cylinder at depth for example).

All well and good, but how on earth would three pre-determined quitting points make a dive successful ? When I do an extreme dive I always do a mini dive that mimics that deep dive in everything but the depth. To do that I dive in a place called Badgat, an abandoned asbestos mine. Because it is a mine to get to depth requires that you first swim to the main shaft, then when you get to the bottom of that (110 meters), you swim again until you reach a small (and I do mean small) decline shaft that goes to approximately 180 meters. Because of the swimming the amount of decompression required for 160 meters is equivalent to 221 meters. It is closer and has better facilities, so is the perfect prep dive – only it freaks me out. Being solo in a space that is two divers wide and just one diver high…with no support….which means if something goes wrong you fix it yourself  or die…is paralysing. I tried for three years, try after try to get that dive under my belt and turned around from fear.

Finally I made a stand. I would not let emotion make me quit. The only reasons to quit would be logical, sound, factual – my critical pressure, me time or my depth – nothing else. Heart pounding, mind almost numb I dived, reached the bottom of the shaft and the black ominous tunnel and swam on, reached the innocuous pile of rocks that declared the entrance to the shaft, and swam in, reached the narrowing point where you can practically touch the roof and sides it gets to narrow….and swam on. The only thing that got me through that fear were those three quitting points.

Just thinking about taking pre-determined quitting back into my everyday life is liberating. Imagine creating a plan and then, when you aren’t in the thick of it and not thinking so straight, knowing exactly when and why you will quit ? I can finally see a way to manage my emotions rather than have them managing me.

Making Quitting a Habit

Yes, a habit! A planned, conscious event with specific conditions that are independent of how hard the current path is or how you are feeling.

Pick a project, a goal, something at work that you are either busy with or planning to get busy with. Have you planned your exit points ? How do your projects usually go ?  Start – enthusiasm, middle, energy flagging and then somewhere down the road you just give up and stop ? How often is quitting based on how you are feeling at the time ?

Even worse, do you never quit and so spend hours, months, weeks…even years on something that is never going to change and be what you want ?

Three questions to determine if you should quit

When do you know if you should stick or if you should quit ? I like the three questions that Seth Godin has.

1)      Are you panicking ? Never quit when you are panicking. Quitting is pre-meditated, unemotional and based on logic. When you plan to quit you take the time to understand the price and consequences of that action. A planned exit point is tied into your goal and the fact that you can only get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ if you are moving forward. Panic is an entirely different beast. It is an emotional response to being out of your comfort zone, a desperate need to feel back in control and safe and it makes for costly decision. Never quit based on an emotion!! So wait until the panic has passed and then make your decision.

2)      Who are you trying to influence ? That feeling that you are getting nowhere that normally comes just before you decide to quit is based on the feeling that you are not able to get anyone to buy into your plan. Corporate speak calls it influence and influence is what gets things done in the world. Seldom is there a personal plan that does not require interaction with other people (my world record required that I have at least 5 support divers, something that took a while to ‘get’). Influence creates buy in and it takes time. How long depends entirely on who you are trying to influence. If you are working at an individual level than the lifecycle is short compared to the group/community level. Most projects require the cooperation of a group which means that the influence lifecycle is probably longer than you are expecting, which means your decision to quit could be quite premature.

3)      Are you moving ? Are you moving forward ? You are either moving forward, falling behind or standing still. Sounds simple when you read it, but it takes a while to get used to looking at your life and categorising it into only three categories. To get to the end you have to keep moving and you have to keep moving forward. If you aren’t moving forward then why are you still trying ? Because without forward movement you are wasting time, money and energy. You are also losing an opportunity. If you were a business you would be all over that giving it a nice name, opportunity cost and actively managing it. Think about it. If you are not getting anywhere why not move to where you can create forward motion ? Why carry on doing the same thing and getting the same unwanted result ? We don’t leave because not quitting is easier than quitting.

Planning to quit is the best way I know to avoid wasting time and energy. It ensures that you are always focused on moving toward ‘there’ and ensures you don’t get stuck being merely busy. It also ensures your emotions don’t hijack you.

Quitting is about choosing a new platform not about letting go of your goal

Still not convinced ? Well here is one last idea that might give you pause. What if ‘what’ you are doing isn’t the important part ? How you get there, what you do, these are all how’s, these are the platforms you have chosen, the story, the arena. It is a mechanism that you are using to create your end result.

Successful companies like Wal-Mart and Apple use products to champion a cause. Wal-Mart champions the common man, Apple is all about upsetting the status quo and being a rebel. That is their platform. Your job is another platform and platforms can change. But we don’t because we confuse how we intend to get ‘there’ with the actual goal and so refuse to let go of this way of doing it. How you get to ‘there’ is a tactic, a mechanism a way. It can and should change if it is not taking your forward, yet we get stuck in the ‘how’ and forget all about ‘where’ we wanted to end up.

What if you let go of how you get there and made getting there the most important thing ? What would you have to quit to do that ? How much time have you wasted insisting that there is only one way to get there ?

Try it! Work out the conditions you will quit on and then what you would need to have in place to support that. You may find it quite liberating.

Go on, I dare you! See what happens if you Live with Dare!

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