I did my first handstand in 2013 and quickly became obsessed. But like many pursuits, whether it’s chasing a hobby, pursuing career goals, or building a relationship, I eventually found myself at a crossroads: Should I persevere or pivot?
My journey into the world of handstands began earnestly. Every day, I dedicated a chunk of daily time to mastering the art, progressing from simple wall exercises to being able to do some pretty cool tricks. When it came to handstands, I had what psychologists like Angela Duckworth call grit: the passion and perseverance for long-term goals. While other friends started doing handstands at the same time as me, most of them soon moved on to other interests — but I kept going. As Angela says, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”
This passion drove me until about two years ago when I reached a level most people associate with gymnasts and circus performers. Without delving into the nerdy handstand technicalities, the next logical step was to master the one-arm handstand, a monumental feat that requires immense strength, balance, and technique, often taking years to perfect. Unexpectedly, I lost interest.
Still, I kept pushing through. We all have times when we temporarily lose interest in the thing we’re most passionate about. Maybe we’re burnt out, or we just need some inspiration. I’d been practicing handstands almost daily for seven years at that point. A bit of burnout seemed natural.
But the feeling didn’t go away. The realization hit hard: achieving high-level skills like the one-arm handstand demands an unwavering commitment. If the love for the grind is absent, the journey stops being enjoyable.
I didn’t love it.
Eventually, I had to face the truth: I’d reached a crossroads in my handstand training. Did I really want to invest vast amounts of time and energy into mastering this skill? Or was it time to explore a new pursuit, perhaps one that would reignite the passion I felt at the beginning of my handstand journey?
I chose the latter.
Every one of us, at different points in our lives, encounters this decision. When to persevere — and when to pivot? There’s a fine line between unwavering commitment and knowing when to let go.
Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, introduces a concept that can offer some clarity in these moments: the “Hard Thing Rule.” The rule begins with Duckworth’s recommendation to commit to a challenging goal, like learning an instrument, a language, or, yes, working toward a handstand. And once you’ve committed? No quitting early on. But if, after a pre-determined amount of time, you decide they want to move on to something else, that’s perfectly fine.
I like this strategy because I’ve observed how easily most people give up. Initial enthusiasm leads to quick progress, but that passion fades once they hit their first plateau. The Hard Thing Rule is an antidote to this tendency, forcing you to push past that inevitable early dip in your progress (Seth Godin wrote an entire book, The Dip, on this phase — it’s a must-read if you haven’t read it).
Gritty people achieve the seemingly impossible. They hold a one-arm handstand on top of ten stacked chairs in a Cirque du Soleil show. They solve problems and build businesses most people would abandon early on.
But there’s a catch: sometimes we stick with things too long. Part of this is the sunk cost fallacy — the psychologicalentrapment of thinking, “I’ve already invested so much into this, I can’t quit now,” even when continuing might not be the best choice.
So how do you know when to grit it out — and when to quit? While there’s no easy answer, here are three questions to guide your decision-making:
- Do you believe you can improve?
Self-belief is the cornerstone of perseverance and grit. If we don’t believe we can make progress, we won’t put in the effort needed to improve, setting ourselves up for stagnation. It’s a trap many people fall into, underestimating their true potential. This is where guidance, often from a seasoned coach, becomes invaluable — providing an external perspective to spotlight areas of potential growth.
Still, sometimes, we come up against an unfortunate truth: we’ve reached the limits of our potential in this particular domain. Or maybe reaching the next level will demand an overwhelming dedication of time and energy. This is the question you must ask yourself: Is the eventual payoff worth the effort? Or is reaching this point a signal that you might be close to the upper limits of your potential and be better off putting your efforts into something else?
- Do you enjoy the daily grind?
Starting almost anything new is exciting. Beginner’s gains, no matter what your skill, are real. When I first started training handstands, for example, it was cool to see the wins I made every week. But eventually, no matter whatskill you’re pursuing, those gains will get smaller and your progress will slow.
The question is: Do you enjoy the daily work once you reach this point? Mastery of any skill takes time — longer than most of us want to admit. Are you willing to keep doing this for months, years, or even decades? If the daily grind becomes more of a chore than something you look forward to, it might be worth asking yourself if it’s time to move on to something else.
- Does your motivation come from within?
The balance between intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivations is at the core of our drive. Many of us thrive on external motivators, like praise or recognition, but a pursuit fueled solely by these factors might lack genuine depth. If you find your primary incentive is to be able to brag about it to your friends, not because of true passion or curiosity, it’s worth reconsidering your commitment.
Research shows that doing something for intrinsic reasons — because something is personally rewarding to you — is linked to higher levels of persistence, effort, and overall performance. It leads to better long-term retention and enjoyment of your pursuits.
If you’re not quite sure, consider these questions: Do you go above and beyond because you want to — or only when others are watching? Are you obsessed with the details and nuances of your pursuit? Do you easily get into a state of flowwhen working towards your goal? A ‘yes’ to these questions suggests a deep, intrinsic connection to your pursuit and is a sign you should likely grit it out.
Deciding to quit pursuing handstands was difficult. I’d dedicated years to mastering handstands — and the thought of giving up felt like betraying all those hours of hard work. Undoubtedly, the sunk cost fallacy came into play here.
There’s rarely a clear-cut or easy answer to deciding when to dig deep or move on to something else. But just because we’ve invested deeply in one pursuit doesn’t mean it needs to define us forever or that we’re obligated to see it to an arbitrary end. In my case, it was time for a new challenge.
Grit is a powerful trait and one that, when nurtured, can help you go far in achieving your dreams. But wisdom lies in discerning when that persistence aligns with your passion — and when it’s time to search for a new mountain to climb.