Book Notes: “The Dip” by Seth Godin – Knowing When to Quit

I was always under the impression that successful people finish what they started. In “The Dip”, Seth Godin posits that successful people are really serial quitters. They’re just better able to determine when to quit and when to stick with something to the very end. And in his book, summarized below, Godin outlines a criteria you can use to do the same.


Table of Contents

  1. Short Summary
    1. Download Free 1 Page Printable PDF Summary
  2. Extended Summary
    1. Part 1 – The Dip Summary – What It Is, What It Does And How It Does It
      1. The 3 Stages to Mastery
      2. Purpose of the Dip: To Create the Necessary Conditions to Produce People of Value
        1. The Dip Weeds Out the Competition
    2. Part 2 – It’s All About Quitting the Wrong Things For the Right Reasons
      1. Why Quitting is Beneficial
        1. Quitting Helps You Avoid Failure
        2. Quitting Allows You to Focus Your Attention
        3. Caveat: At the Same Time, You Should Maintain Balance
      2. It’s a Good Idea to Quit When…
    3. Part 3 – When Not to Quit
      1. You Should Not Quit When…
      2. Why People Don’t Quit When They Should
    4. Part 4 – How You Can Navigate The Dip if You Decide to Continue Pursuing Your Goals
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Short Summary

  1. Don’t start unless you are ready to see it through to the end. This prevents spoilage of resources (i.e., your time, effort and/or money).
  2. Set a predetermined criteria for quitting before you begin. The criteria should consider some of the points below.
  3. Quit when you:
    1. no longer desire the goal or want to reach your maximum potential
    2. are only sticking with it to avoid the pain of adapting
    3. are on a path that leads to nowhere (i.e., staying in a failing industry)
    4. see no improvement
    5. don’t have the resources or time to pursue
    6. have reached the predetermined point at which you are permitted to quit
  4. Don’t quit when you:
    1. still have a desire to reach the goal
    2. have the talent to get there (i.e., the ability to acquire the necessary skills at a faster rate than others)
    3. can see evidence of improvement, no matter how small or slow-going
    4. are experiencing self-doubt
    5. are otherwise emotional/overwhelmed
  5. Why people don’t quit when they should:
    1. to save face / pride
    2. unable to adapt to changing environments or cues
    3. to not waste the resources already invested (not taking into account that more resources will continue to be wasted on a failing endeavor)
  6. Tips on how to get through the dip:
    1. Don’t start unless you desire to finish
    2. Identify beforehand at which instances you are permitted to quit. 
    3. Don’t coast. Lean into the challenge to hone your skills.
    4. Notice your wins, especially the small ones. 
    5. Remind yourself of the long-term benefits to get past short-term pain
  7. Benefits of The Dip:
    1. Weeds out the competition. Only those with the passion, talent and dedication make it through to the end.
    2. Creates value. Opportunity through scarcity. Not very many people can get through the dip to make it to expert level, which is why expert level becomes so valuable
    3. Helps you focus. The only way you can make it through the Dip is by choosing something you love doing, because things will get hard. The only thing that will keep you moving forward is your love of the task you’ve chosen.
  8. Tips on How to Choose Your Focus:
    1. You love doing this task/have a passion for it
    2. It comes easily to you. Not that it won’t get hard at some point. But this just means that relative to others, you pick up on things in regards to it faster.
    3. You have the resources (e.g., time, energy, etc.) to complete it
    4. It is valuable to society. Everything else will become back burner.
  9. Why quitting is beneficial:
    1. Helps free up resources to dedicate to something that you can see through to the end.

Download Free 1 Page Printable PDF Summary

Extended Summary

Part 1 – The Dip Summary – What It Is, What It Does And How It Does It

A picture of the book cover for "The Dip" written by Seth Godin, with the following text beside it: "Part 1 - The Dip"

The 3 Stages to Mastery

  • the Start
  • the Dip (the long, hard slog)
  • Mastery

Purpose of the Dip: To Create the Necessary Conditions to Produce People of Value

The Dip is the period between the beginning and mastery. It’s the long, hard slog. It produces exceptional people by forcing them toward mastery. It ensures only the people who want the end goal bad enough and have the skills or talent (or are willing to acquire the necessary skills) to get to the end are the ones who actually make it through. Emerging as the best in the world, to share their expertise with the majority.

The Dip Weeds Out the Competition

The dip produces quitters.

“Quitting creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.”

Godin, Seth. The Dip (p. 36). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The following people don’t make it past the finish line:

  • those with less passion
  • those with less talent
  • those with less persistence/dedication

“In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.”

Godin, Seth. The Dip (p. 26). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you manage to get to the end, you can provide value to the world and secure your place in it by becoming an expert. (The bonus is that if you’ve chosen correctly, it’s in something you’re actually passionate about. While though it is possible to succeed in something you’re not passionate about, it’s easier to get through the slog when you love what you do.) The skills you master will allow you to be of service to others, freeing up their time and resources to then pursue their own passions and master skills that will in turn help you.

Part 2 – It’s All About Quitting the Wrong Things For the Right Reasons

A picture of the book cover for "The Dip" written by Seth Godin, with the following text beside it: "Part 2 - When to Quit".

Why Quitting is Beneficial

Quitting Helps You Avoid Failure

Failure is quitting repeatedly without thought. This wastes your time and efforts, depletes your resources and eventually, your options. Quitting, on the other hand, is a conscious decision to free up resources to use on the things that matter to you. When quitting becomes a conscious process, it is a deterrent to failure.

Quitting Allows You to Focus Your Attention

In order for you to get to the other side, the Dip forces you think about what you really want. The only way you can make it to the end of one Dip is to quit all other Dips. You are required to choose which dip you want to see through to the end by determining what you love the most because once you commit, you’re going to have to sacrifice a lot of other things in the process. The only thing that will keep you going is the fact that you actually like what you’ve committed to doing.

Scattering your attention across multiple pursuits can be draining. It also results in you being average on many things instead of honing in and becoming great at the one thing that matters most to you.

“The real success goes to those who obsess. The focus that leads you through the Dip to the other side is rewarded by a marketplace in search of the best in the world. A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.”

Godin, Seth. The Dip (p. 29). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Caveat: At the Same Time, You Should Maintain Balance

Just a side to express my opinion: it’s still important to keep balance in mind. Leading a balanced life will help you avoid burnout. You’re going to be in this for the long haul, so you need to be able to maintain pace in order to actually make it to the end of the dip. The way to do that is to keep working on your goal in a way that allows you to see visible results while still sustaining enough energy to keep going and not give up until you’ve reached the end.

How would you reconcile the two conflicting thoughts of focusing while maintaining balance? You can cultivate different areas of your life to ensure you’re well-rounded by setting a focus for each. For example, the main categories in life are: finance, health, relationships, spirituality, education, career and self-development. You don’t have to work on all areas at once (or you can if you like), but choose one or two. (Or as many as you feel you can handle.)

Please note that balance should be pursued only to avoid burn out. If you are not at the risk of burn out, then I would favor a singular focus on one goal. You can identify burn out by how you feel about your goal. If you are starting to feel exhausted, or dread approaching it again, even though you may want what’s at the end of the finish line, then it’s time to step back from that goal and focus on a different area of your life for a short while, until you feel capable of approaching your original goal with a renewed sense of purpose.

In essence, don’t overwhelm yourself. Choose the amount of focused energy that allows you to maintain consistency. Key is to be able to focus and make visible progress without feeling overwhelmed or underchallenged. Everyone has a different sweet spot, so test a few scenarios out to determine what yours might be.


It’s a Good Idea to Quit When…

  • You have no interest or passion for the thing you’re working on. This is your fuel to get you through to the end. If you no longer have this, quit. Caveat: don’t confuse this with your lack of belief in your abilities to get to the end. Even if you don’t think you have what it takes to get to the finish line, as long as you still want to, keep going. Because when you have the desire, all you have to do then is figure out HOW. Which is usually easy enough to do. It just takes a bit of research for the right steps to take. And then a matter of practicing what you learn you need in order to acquire the skill. So lack of skill/competence shouldn’t hold you back. If the drive or desire is there, it’s just a simple matter of increasing your skill set.
  • The path you’re on leads to nowhere. If you see no personal improvement, no potential for improvement, no headway on a project, no matter how much effort you put into it or how many different ways you approach it, then it’s best to cut your losses. If you see a dead end on the horizon, it’s best to find a different path.
  • You don’t have enough talent. This is different from having the necessary skills to get to your goal. Skill is the level of ability you have to get a task done. It is something that can be acquired and increased through practice and hard work. Talent is the rate at which you acquire a skill and is something you are born with. Everyone is wired differently to pick up different skills at different rates of acquisition based on their talents. If your talents predispose you to pick up a certain skill at a faster rate than others, it does not mean that you will not face hardship while acquiring the skill. You will. But you will make acquire them faster than the average person. Or you will have a certain desire or feel compelled to continue acquiring the that particular skill relative to another person who was not wired with the same talent (i.e., rate of acquisition) for that skill. The speed at which you pick up something or the desire to continue working on something even when it’s hard is a sign you’re on the right path and should keep going.
  • You don’t have the drive to be the best in the world at it. You need to want to be the best in your field, even if you don’t think you can quite reach that dream yet. You need to have the need to hit your maximum potential. If you don’t have that drive, it’s best not to keep going and re-shift your focus to something where that motivation exists.
  • You don’t have the resources or time to pursue. The Dip demands a lot out of you. So if you do not have the time to focus on it, or the resources to put towards it, sidestep the Dip until you have the necessary ingredients to commit to it.
  • You’ve reached a predetermined stage at which you had decided beforehand that you would quit. As mentioned previously, quitting should be a conscious decision. The book did not go into detail about how to determine ahead of time the point at which you should quit, but take the time to think about the signs you should look out for yourself. I am assuming Godin was implying that the criteria listed above are the signposts you should set up for yourself. The main idea I had gotten was: if you no longer desire the finish line and you see no improvements, then you need to quit and free up your resources for a pursuit that matters to you. While you’re at it, * Identify potential setbacks and plan your reactions

Part 3 – When Not to Quit

"The Dip" written by Seth Godin, with the following text beside it: "Part 3 - Don't Quit When".

You Should Not Quit When…

  • Things get hard. This just means you’ve hit the dip. Things are going to be hard. If what’s at the end of the finish line still appeals to you, keep going. If you quit now, then you will set a precedent for you to quit whenever things get a little hairy.
  • You still want what’s at the end of the finish line. If, despite all the challenges and hardships, you still feel like you want to get to the end and you continue to see progress no matter how little, keep going.
  • There is still some evidence of progress. Even if it’s slow, so long as there is some progress, no matter how little or how long it takes to get it, keep going.
  • You’re experiencing self-doubt and you don’t think you have what it takes. This is when you don’t have the ability to get to the end or you don’t believe you can acquire the ability to get to the end. If the former, you can easily remedy this by approaching the problem from different angles or building your skill set. If it’s the latter, take the time to notice your progress. Learn how to build your skill set, set up practice sessions and take note of the progress you make. Put in that effort if you still want what’s at the end of that finish line. Just noticing your small wins can keep you moving forward and gaining that the momentum.
  • You’re stressed or otherwise emotional. The decisions you make when you’re emotional will not be based on facts or logic. Your view of reality will be distorted by your emotions. This is not the right time to make any choices. Sit tight. Take a break. Step away from the situation. When you’re in a calm state of mind, come back and reassess. If you feel yourself get emotional again, it’s still not the right time to decide anything. Step back, return to it another time and try again. Keep trying until you can review the situation in a calm manner. Only then should you consider quitting. Quitting should not be an option on the table when you’re emotional.

Why People Don’t Quit When They Should

Short-term pain can do double damage. It can either lead people to quit something when they should stick to it or stick with something when they should quit. Godin mentions the following reasons people don’t quit when they should and it’s usually centered around avoiding short-term pain, at the cost of foregoing long-term rewards:

  • Can’t be bothered to or don’t want to change or adapt to new environments. For example, a newspaper journalist may see that circulation is going down, but they keep going even though it might be a smarter move and cut down on losses and find a different medium to work on. They stay to avoid the short-term discomfort of having to change or adapt to new environments.
  • The need to stick to it out due to pride or to save face. If you see no improvement, you no longer want the goal, and/or the path you’re on is leading to a dead end and you still don’t want to stop working on it because you might not want to admit you were wrong, then think about all the time, money and resources you’re wasting to keep working towards something you don’t want or something that will lead to nowhere. It’s better to stop and refocus your energy on figuring out what else might be out there.
  • Don’t want to let all the resources they’ve already committed go to waste. What’s done is done. The past can’t be remedied, but the future can be salvaged. Again, if the goal is not something you want, if you fail to see any improvements or you can see that the path you’re on is leading to a dead end, it’s best to stop. Let go of all the resources that have already been wasted. If that’s the reason you’re hanging on, then take into account that you’re willing to waste more resources on a pursuit that will ultimately be fruitless. Save any resources you might have left and refocus your attention on finding another endeavor, taking with you the lessons of this attempt.

Part 4 – How You Can Navigate The Dip if You Decide to Continue Pursuing Your Goals

When you make it through a Dip, it signifies that you are the most talented and dedicated to your field. And that you have persistently built your skill set in order to reach top. But in order to reach the top, you’re going to need a few strategies to get you through the Dip. The following are tips Seth Godin provides to help you through it:

  • Do not begin unless you’re willing to see it through to the end. You should only start on a path if you’re willing to follow it through to the end. The best way to ensure that is to follow your passion. Caveat: Sometimes if you don’t know what your passion is, it’s ok to dabble. But once you’ve identified a path, commit to it.
  • Determine beforehand under which circumstances you are permitted to quit. The urge to quit usually hits when you hit The Dip. To avoid quitting when you shouldn’t, make quitting a conscious decision. It prevents you from quitting during panic moments or when you experience a little bit of pain. If the current situation you’re in doesn’t meet your predetermined criteria for quitting, then you have to keep going. Deciding ahead of time when to quit helps you stick with things when you should.
  • Don’t coast through. Lean in to the challenge. Recognize it for the opportunity that it is. Do something exceptional to make it out on top. Focus your efforts, attain new skills, approach problems from different angles.
  • Notice your wins, especially the small ones. There will be a point in the dip when you will not see great strides. Remember that real results take time. You won’t lose 10 pounds after your first 10-minute session of exercise. But you can place a check mark on day 1 of a new habit. Your next goal can be to see if you can do 7 days of those sessions. At the end of the week, you can set the next goal of seeing if you can do another 7 days of those 10-minute sessions. If you see that you perform the habit without thought, you can set the next goal to see if you can do it it for 20 minutes. Or make it a habit to notice your small wins everyday. That’s more motivating than picturing something amazing far off into the future though that helps too. Use both strategies, don’t just rely on the big dream to carry you through when you don’t notice the things going right at this moment
  • Amplify the long-term benefits. Remember your long-term goal. Combat short-term discomfort of having to do the thing by looking at the far-off dream you’re trying to reach. Alternate between looking at your dream and noticing your small wins. Use both strategies, don’t just rely on the big dream to carry you through when you don’t notice the things going right at this moment. “Short-term pain has more impact on most people than long-term benefits do, which is why it’s so important for you to amplify the long-term benefits of not quitting. You need to remind yourself of life at the other end of the Dip because it’s easier to overcome the pain of yet another unsuccessful cold call if the reality of a successful sales career is more concrete.” -Godin, Seth. The Dip (pp. 53–54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


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