Quitting is what successful people do best
We’re far too obsessed with persistence. We attribute persistence to success, happiness and good health. Yet, if stubborn persistence is what makes us a success, then why do cringe every time we see bad ideas on Shark Tank? And why do we yell at the screen, begging the stressed anaemic entrepreneur to just quit while he’s ahead?!
Don’t get me wrong. Persistence is excellent when you’re working towards achievable goals (or, better yet, smart systems) that bring you immediate or long term gains and bursts of happiness and motivation. However, there is mounting evidence that there are certain circumstances in which our enthusiasm for persistence must be curbed. And learning when to give up will save you time, money and, yes, your health.
Why You Should Give Up
Have you ever done something you didn’t believe you could achieve or you didn’t particularly want to achieve (read: 95% of the law student population)? Did you find that every attempt to work towards this unachievable goal was met misery or failure after failure? Herein lies the lesson: if you had quit early on and, instead, focused on something else, would you have been further ahead today? The answer is likely, yes.
A recent study found that those who surrender to an unattainable and unwanted goals:
“avoid repeated failure […] enjoy better well-being, have more normative patterns of cortisol secretion, and experience fewer symptoms of everyday illness than do people who have difficulty disengaging from unattainable goals”.
Another benefit of quitting is that it enables you to recoup personal resources and divert these resources to a happier, more fulfilling and achievable goal. Just think of that Shark Tank entrepreneur who continues to throw good money after bad, justifying the expense because he already got out a second mortgage and can’t quit now.
When to Quit and How to Feel Good About it
Despite the benefits of quitting, we’re still compelled to never quit. We give into the sunk cost fallacy or fear that our friends, co-workers and family will dismiss us as losers and flakes. Giving up also means defeat and failure. And I know we all fear these things. After all, it’s this fear that’s so clearly felt when we toss and turn at night and when we miserably plod along through our days.
Given these social pressures and the fact that persistence is a virtue in certain circumstances, it’s critical to know how to feel good about quitting, as well as when to quit. After all, I’m not encouraging laziness, but rather the effective pursuit of happiness. I recently learned these “hows” and “whens” and can now scream “I QUIT” with confidence (interestingly, when you do this with enthusiasm everyone applauds you and agrees with your decision). I can do this not because of an expensive psychiatrist, deep mediation or “finding myself” in an ashram. But, rather, because of this economics podcast. I strongly suggest that you give it a listen. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always quit listening.