The Best Way to Solve a Problem: Give Up

The Best Way to Solve a Problem: Give Up

Sometimes the easiest way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem. Sometimes the smartest choice is giving up.

I don’t think that giving up should be your primary method for dealing with problems. But there are certainly a lot of cases where it just seems to be the most intelligent answer.

The more I stop trying to force things to happen, the more they just seem to sort themselves out. The more I let things happen, the less time I spend trying to make them happen.

Giving up is really about honoring your feelings. It’s about giving up trying to force yourself into a mold of societal shoulds and embracing your true self.

So here’s an invitation to…

  • Give up trying to be cool.
  • Give up your golden handcuffs.
  • Give up wanting to be a famous musician, artist, architect, thinker, writer, whatever-it-is. Maybe it’s smarter to make your purpose to have an impact, instead.
  • Give up wanting to be different for the sake of being unique.
  • Give up trying to be perfect.
  • Give up keeping relationships with people you don’t really like.
  • Give up trying to be the center of attention.
  • Give up trying to be important. (Focusing on community is usually more fulfilling.)
  • Give up achieving a lot of ego-driven goals.
  • Give up trying to be super-focused. Sometimes the most compelling ideas come from the most messy, unexpected sources.
  • Give up trying to be indie.
  • Give up trying to popular.
  • Give up caring about owning a lot of cool things, which keep you distracted from acknowledging that you don’t like what you’re doing with your life.
  • Give up trying to have a perfectly organized workspace and a zero inbox.

With that said, there are a lot of ways we think we’re doing good, but we’re really not.

Counter-intuitive to what you think, it might make more sense to…

  • Give up trying to be super happy all the time. Instead, settle for being peaceful.
  • Give up needing a reason to share your love. Being alive is reason enough.
  • Give up trying to be everything to everyone.
  • Give up trying to fit the mold of your race, astrological sign, job title, religious group, political party or other erroneous associations.
  • Give up caring about being the smartest, best and fastest. At least don’t let your ego get caught up in it.
  • Give up caring about “being a man” or “being a woman.” Or doing what is expected of your gender.
  • Give up sacrificing your life for an expensive degree that makes you feel important.
  • Give up trying to be ultra productive, especially if productivity is making you miserable.
  • Give up caring about having a respectable job, a respectable resume, and a respectable life. Replace following a template, with freestyling life.
  • Give up trying to constantly improve yourself. Sometimes too much self improvement can cause you to lose sight of the present.
  • Give up caring about doing what works.
  • Give up thinking you don’t have the time or skills to make your dreams a reality.
  • Give up caring about knowing everything in advance before you take action. Put yourself on auto-response instead.
  • Give up trying to always find interesting experiences and interesting things to do. Alternatively, be interesting and be interested.
  • Give up trying to live up to the expectation of your parents, your friends, your boss, and peers.
  • Give up trying to live up to the expectation of… yourself.
  • Give up trying to have a flawless body, perfect face, or an impeccable wardrobe. Care more about beautifying your mind and being a person who takes beautiful actions.

Trying to make things happen all the time creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety. It’s stressful trying to deny what is.

When I give up, I accept life as it is. No strings attached. No wishing things were different. If an action needs to be taken, I take it. But I’ve given up letting my happiness be dependent on a thing.

Most of these problems only exist within our minds. They’re not real physical problems; they’re simply psychic, imagined obstacles.

It’s interesting how we seem to have so many problems, so many dilemmas. But most of the time the answer to solving them is doing nothing. Giving up.

So, what do you think? Has giving up ever helped you win?

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229 Comments on "The Best Way to Solve a Problem: Give Up"

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There are some real gems in here. I’ve realized a few things in the last few trying months. Some things are important, truly important, and they deserve your time and energy. Others only provide the impression of importance. Knowing the difference. Knowing what holds you back, and what moved you forward.

Anchang jaspa

You are right my man , if u can be able to spend time only on those things of great importancwe will achief more in life ,than spending time on things that will not bring any Progress in life

I once worked for a company where my easy going attitude did not fit in with the type “A” personalities, so I tried very hard to become like them. I started working lots of overtime, skipping lunches, you know the rat race motto! Well it was not working, and I was becoming a person I did not like. So, I stopped caring what they thought and went back to my normal mode of attack, work 40 hours and have a life. You know what- just like Jonathan said, it made all the difference. They still did not like me, but… Read more »
I’m in the same exact situation. I’ve been with the same company for 16 yrs. the whole time I’ve been employed here, I have always worked many hours and it doesn’t end in the office, it continues at home now that we have to be attached to our phones these days with certain jobs. Today I realized I’m done. Why am I working all of this overtime for free because I’m salary. Why do I even care so much? I’ve done all I can to always go above and beyond in my positions and ur doesn’t matter. They out more… Read more »
Hi I agree with you on most of it. However, here is the thing…..if you give up you can’t make your dreams a reality. It’s like coach Bobby Knight, sure he was very short tempered but that’s who he is and that’s why Indiana Hoosiers went undefeated and won a NCAA championship. Some say why just Bob Knight gives up on his bad temper, the answer is that that’s who he is and sometimes that bad thing stays with you. Another good example is Dennis Rodman he won like 4 or 5 NBA championships….how did he do it, he didn’t… Read more »

I think it all comes down to being true to yourself. If you focus on that (and it is certainly difficult to do so), all of these points that are mentioned here flow out naturally. You become more accepting of yourself, which is the gateway to acceptance of everything around you, which is what leads to real, lasting happiness.




What you are saying is not so much giving up as it is to just be yourself.

The more we try to force being something or someone that is not our authentic being, the more we create discord and unhappiness.

It’s much more fun and rewarding to give up comparing myself with the perfect media specimen and just be myself.

I’ve often found that giving up came right before a breakthrough experience. This seems to be true of the spiritual path, in that right before the completion of what’s called “1st path” in the Theravadan insight maps comes a complete and total giving up. But be careful! “Apathy is the near enemy of equanimity.” Giving up and giving in are a razor’s edge difference, and I’ve often fallen into depression and apathy instead of surrender and equanimity. It’s quite the art, and I find myself more humiliated regularly with how I fail to make the distinction appropriately! And how I… Read more »

I totally respect what you are saying, but I don’t agree with a point you made.

Specifically where you said that “Giving up and giving in are a razor’s edge difference,” although I think there is truth to what you said, it isn’t appropriately applied here. I’m pretty sure that the overall message is to ‘give up on / let go of ego-driven, external BS that you let influence / distract / hold you back from your Self’ but obviously NOT to give up on caring about the thing(s) you LOVE to do…

Matt R.

I love “Give up wanting to be a famous musician, artist, architect, thinker, writer, whatever-it-is. Maybe it’s smarter to make your purpose to have an impact, instead.” As a musician and songwriter it really hits home. Though I’ve never had a primary objective of being famous, my goals are a lot different now then they were when I first started. I’ve learned that I’m most successful when I do things on my own terms and not try to emulate some one else.


Good post, though I don’t know if I would have phrased it as “giving up.” I guess you’re approaching the Zen ideas letting go and non-attachment, just using different terminology. The idea of not letting fixation on certain ideas is a simple yet incredibly effective way to improve your outlook on life.

Rori Raye

This is such an incredible post! Giving up on working so hard for your goals is hard to put into words without sounding slacker-ish – what you’re doing here is a sort of re-framing of your goals, a softening of them so that you’re marching with, through and to happiness and contribution instead of some kind of certificate of accomplishment. Self-fulfillment instead of acknowledgment (not that you can’t be acknowledged as a bonus…) Thank you for the wonderful pieces, Rori


I so know the feeling! I often face problems where I over-analyze them to pieces. “If I do this, then this bad thing will happen, but if not, then this will happen…” Sometimes, when you let go of the reins, the problems will suddenly fall into place and the path is clear. I often forget what in the world I was so worried about.

Thanks for sharing! Stumbled. :)


While most of your points are valid ones, I beg to disagree with the whole attitude of it. Well, I am not a psychiatrist but am an avid reader of the genre. Well, IMHO, people, rather than concentrating on something “negative” like this, should concentrate on positive words. Our brain is a complex computer and we need to program it very carefully. “Giving up” is not a negative phrase but there’s a difference between “I will stop doing this” and “I have started doing something else”. We need to program our sub conscious mind saying things that are positive. This… Read more »

“rampantheart” your comment is strange, however valid, since it contradicts IMO the whole spirit of the post. I just find it funny that you even bother to write being the gist so far away from the “programming” concept. By the way, I wouldn’t see why I have force myself to be “positive” while that’s supposed to arise naturally from chosing right, from loving and existing.


Good post, Jonathan! I was just re-reading Seth Godin’s ‘the Dip’. One of his main points in this book is becoming the best in your field by giving up a lot of things you know you’re not able to be the best in.

This is not really the same as what you write, but it’s also about giving up and not holding on to everything you do just because you started it.


Yes, this was similar to my thoughts. Giving up all the extraneous bull shit that holds you back from your offer to the world. I particularly like the point about giving up relationships with people you don’t like. It can be so exhausting sometimes trying to form/keep a relationship with someone just for the sake of it. I’m all for creating strong bonds, networking, all that but there is just no time for people who don’t compliment your journey in life.

Jonathan…what you say is eerily strange. I think people can read it on a first level and if they stop there it sounds as if you are recommending giving up in this article, not accomplishing goals in others, etc. The thing is, if one is a contemplative soul and can truly reflect on the deeper meaning of what you say, one should conclude that this advice may just be the best advice out there. I have to accept that I’m pretty firmly entrenched in midlife and I have had my kids taken in a divorce. Today I work harder than… Read more »

Dear Scott – sounds like you could take some of the advice quite urgently – look after yourself!


My take from this is to make sure my priorities are firmly rooted in my deepest values (life principles). I find myself forcing things that I “should” be doing, while letting the truly important things go by the wayside…this is my ego’s attempt to live up to an image that I’ve created so others will “like” me, instead of following my heart’s desire so that I can actually like myself. Giving up on the superficial “todo’s” and the need to please everyone else seems like a good prescription for a happy life. Thanks for a wonderful post!


this is a really great post. in fact, I copy and pasted the “invitation” and put it on my mirror. I often try so hard at trying to make something work that I often end up with the exact opposite result than I wanted. I often find myself trying force things I think I “should” be doing or thinking and letting the things I really value and the more important things to me end up on the back burner. awesome post!

Maria | Never the Same River Twice

It’s the great dilemma of self improvement, isn’t it? How do you walk the line between acceptance of what is, and striving for improvement?

Sounds like you’ve got some solid tactics for doing just that, Jonathan. Personally, it’s still something I grapple with every day.


Yes indeed I feel the same way as if its the paradox of what life is suppose to be….I have accomplish some valuable goals but failed in the goal that matters the most which is the acceptance of self…now after thinking that I had reached peace and was ok with letting go of staying in a marriage for such a long time that I was miserable with; I reached totally devastation.

I love this article because its the best thing to do but the hardest as well. This statement:”Give up sacrificing your life for an expensive degree that makes you feel important.” really hits home for me because right now I am pursuing a degree that is not sacrificing my time but it is not getting my attention or motivation the way it once did. I tried so hard to find a degree program that I would enjoy doing and now I feel like I wasted my time because I learned a lot less than I thought I would. I don’t… Read more »

What your are saying Jonathan is basically to ACCEPT some aspects of our life and don’t waste too much energy fighting them.
I agree “nobody is perfect” and you should sometime accept your imperfections.
I prefer to use all my energy to emphasize my strength and let things happen instead of only work on my weaknesses.

LifeMadeGreat | Juliet


I would look at as realising what is in fact important to you, your values and your ultimate goals. And then working from that. Not deviating, not being affected by others. Being you.



Give up trying to get a job? Give up trying to please my parents? Give up trying to get a lot of traffic to my blog? Give up trying to make money blogging?

Something to think about.

Silke (Organized Diva)

I gave up just doing things because somehow it was expected. I now know what I need to do for myself and for others (or I try to.)
I gave up being frantic.
I gave up being friends with people who are just energy-drains (or at least I moved them from close friends status)
I gave up smoking twice. The second time it worked. I think that counts, because it was the best thing I ever did.
I have more but I don’t think there’s room.


I’ve been needing someone to tell me this for a long, long time. You’re definately right: too much focus on goals can make those goals seem unattainable. Thanks for encouraging me to let my hair down.

Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

Well, whatever we focus on expands. Sometimes we focus on a problem and it’s all we see. So “giving up” provides us with a new perspective where we can see beyond the “problem” (which often only exists in our own perception, anyway!) and focus on being present.


Tim Tyrell-Smith
Hey Jonathan – I heard about your site via a Twitter from Heather Mundell. I’ve really enjoyed reading along. I started writing a couple of blogs about three months ago and am still looking for my voice. One of them has parallels with yours. It is called Quixoting – A Quest for New ideas. It is all about impulsively releasing all of my pent up (and stored away) ideas to the world and hopefully inspiring others to do so. Originally intended as an incubator of sorts, it is now that plus a place for creative wanderings and some philosophy. However,… Read more »
Brad Spencer

Ya know, I always love reading your articles because they are just chock full of perspective.

Each of these things to give up is a gem and I genuinely feel much better leaving them on the table rather than internalizing all these things. I do way too many so I’m going to try to give up a few of them :)

Cheers and keep up the great articles!

Brad Spencer

george yuen

The notion of “giving up” seems antethetical to solving a problem, however i think your explanation of giving up is an insightful approach. i think that giving up is about acceptance of the problem- this is not being passive- in buddhist terms it’s called, “yielding”
thank you for this perspective on approaching problems- one may not agree with this perspective but it feels plausible

I think that in the moment you give up to something you detach yourself from the outcome and therefore you attract something more meaningful to you. Another thing that can happen is to get what you initially wanted. I once gave up to push signing a contract for my ex corp, and then suddenly I got my contract signed in time… ;-) The more you are keen on something the more energy you waste. Opposite, the more you give up, the more detached you are, the more in harmony you live, the more you attract what is meaningful for you… Read more »

that happened to me once – I wanted a place at a more prestigious college, and was pretty nervous and burnt my socks on the morning of the interview! – didn’t get in. Next interview (second choice college) I had this (mistaken( idea that I was ‘too good’ for the college, didn’t even bother trying to impress them, and got offered a place. That was decades ago.

I can relate to the one about giving up wanting to be a famous artist. It’s like, that’s a mind-set that is contrary to real creativity and hence to real achievement.

I agree partly with what you’re saying. And I disagree, also. There are many things in history that would not have occurred had those involved just given up on the issues at hand. Polio was a pretty big deal, and is coming back in some parts of Africa. Imagine if Dr. Salk had just accepted the disease for what it was! Smallpox. Automobiles. Computers. The internet. Space travel. All derived from the will to do something with our lives and push ourselves ever onward. We could have just accepted smallpox, horse-drawn carriages, lack of super-fast, super-abundant information, and remain stationary… Read more »

[…] charge of what I think is interesting, intriguing, inspiring and fascinating to me. I’m giving up on what was never right for […]

Daniel Richard

I just gave up 2 full years of serving the nation! I’ve actually finished my service and am now liberatORD to pursue an abundant life. :)


Hi Jonathan,
I am new to this game and live across the planet in little old Denmark. All I wanna tell you is that you put out some really cool stuff. I like this last one, and have followed that way of life for a long time myself. It does work.



Thank you. I needed to read that.

Gianluca S.

I completely agree with you.
We want to be what we constantly see on all that advertizing (made to make us feel unsatisfied) and we forget that’s not reality.

“This isn’t life, it’s just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.” from American Beauty


Gianluca – spot on!

The naysayers will argue that Kevin Spacey’s character met a sorry demise – but dammit – you know what? That Lester’s last days really became the days in which he really lived. And didnt accept another boring turn on the societal conformity wheel.


This was an awesome post about the important thing in life and getting one’s priorities straight. Thanks so much for sharing it!


wow, when I read that the smartest choice was ‘giving up’ I wasn’t sure where you were heading with the post, then I read the rest ;) Fantastic compilation, very thought-provoking.


This is certainly one of the best posts I have stumbled upon lately. Such a great list out there, and so painfully true as well.


Great post J.

What is the point of trying. All is transitory, nothing lasts forever.

Enjoy what you have while you got it, everything you think you gain today you also lose. A gain in wealth for a loss of days left living.

Come on don’t you guys get it? He’s not saying give up and don;t care, he’s saying accept what is….it is, what it is …..acceptance is the most pure form of happiness…. one way to manage your expectations is to determine what you want….we follow a plan for school, for buying a car, for reading a book, there is a method we follow, so why don’t we plan the most important most obvious readson we are here…which is OUR LIFE! we just randomly blunder through each day without a clear path to get to where we want to go…check out… Read more »

Always good to have a bit of perspective. Thanks.


That’s a good point you make, however, i don’t think that giving up trying to achieve something will mean that you will achieve it. I think the point you really make is that you need to give up caring about things that are unimportant or things that are too unrealistic that you will never achieve (eg. like trying to be perfect); come back down to earth and focus on the more important things in life.


I think you’re right.
But how do you give up? I just can’t.. But at this moment I really would like to do it.
Why’s life so difficult..


just try it – give yourself a break!


[…] The Best Way To Solve A Problem: Give Up […]

Jerry J. Davis

I am glad I stumbled upon this article of yours.

Thank you for playing the Devil’s advocate against the current trends. I may not agree with all of the items on your lists, but several of them made me think very hard about my own goals, and made me step back and examine things I previously took as self-evident truths.

Guess what? They turned out not to be so true.

So please consider this high praise.


[…] The Best Way to Solve a Problem: Give Up | Illuminated Mind. […]

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
You speak to the idea of “non-being.” Not to take one ounce of energy away from your impressive work here, there are dozens of philosophers, writers and thinkers who have written volumes on this mode of being. You simply put it in a modern frame for your readers, which is a hallmark of an excellent communicator. Here are some of my favorite “non-being” quotes: “Freedom from the desire for the answer is essential to the understanding of a problem.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~ Chinese Proverb “You spent… Read more »
Gebadia Smith

lol I love that..give up..I am head over feat with a girl in malta…and I keep trying to find a way to make it possible..maybe by not trying life will give me a way…


[…] following the good advice from zen habits here, and Joining the Power of Less. between that and illuminated mind telling me that the best way to solve a problem is to give up, i may just kick off my shoes and […]


[…] Hela artikeln “The Best Way to Solve a Problem: Give up” hittar du på Illuminated Mind: […]


[…] Which leads me to this day, and the calendar, and the long, long list of things that I’d hoped to accomplish this year and the long, hard journey I’m going through of letting the guilt of that all go. […]


[…] first step in the art of surrender is to give up when you meet resistance.  This requires noticing when you meet resistance (that shouldn’t […]

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