Do(n't) be a quitter. - The Power of Quitting.
Updated: 4 days ago
There are many negative messages we hear about quitting throughout life including the often heard statement ... ‘Don’t be a quitter’.
Other examples include some of these more famous quotes.
“Losers never quit and quitters never win.” - Vince Lombardi
“If you get tired, learn to rest not quit.” - Bansky
“Losers quit when they fail. Winners fail until they succeed.” - Robert Kiyosaki
Deb Caletti wrote in “The Six Rules of Maybe” “It was practically un-American to not set goals and then do everything you could, everything, to reach them. Quitting - it was a dirty word...”
Ms. Caletti points out that by the time we are adults we have often internalized messages that quitting is a negative reflection on ourselves. That we have internalized the idea that quitting, in fact, equates to failure.
Yet how often do we look back on our life and realize we stayed in situations not meant for us far too long?
It could be a job, relationship, education program, career, house, community, project, meal or movie. There is an assimilated message that we must stick it out. And so often we do remain in places not meant for us at great cost to ourselves.
People stay in in unhealthy circumstances for a wide range of reasons. They may remain due to loyalty, financial need, lack of alternatives, social pressure, fear and a myriad of other reasons. They work harder, try to adapt, compromise, adjust and persevere. Yet when we persevere in these situations, we limit our opportunities to pursue different, potentially healthier alternatives. When we persist past a situation’s natural expiry date the stress it creates can even lead to illness.
So why do we insist on staying in these situations? Is it just the internalized bias against quitting? Or is there more to it.
One reason is the sunk cost fallacy. What is this you ask? Well the Oxford Languages defines it as “the phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial.”
In other words it is when a person can’t bring themselves to quit something they started because they feel they have invested to much in it, even when they know that continuing is more negative than positive. This investment could be in the form of money, time, physical or emotional energy or any other resource that a person won't get back. An example of this is going to a performance you bought tickets for even when you’ve decided you don’t really want to see it. You feel like you spent the money so you should use the tickets. However, if you go you will not only waste the cost of the ticket price (a monetary investment) you also waste those hours of your life that could be better spent on something you enjoy (time, physical and emotional investment).
So, you not only lose the monetary investment you also lose the other investments as well. If you had chosen not to attend the performance, you still would have lost the monetary value but not lost your time and energy value.
This also applies to gambling, business, eating, jobs, relationships and other domains. When people continuing gambling after losing money in hopes of a payout that will recoup their losses, they are basing their actions on a sunk cost (the losses) when in fact they are far more likely to only add to those losses.
When a business continues to spend on marketing for an unpopular product because they have sunk costs into its development, they not only loose the initial sunk costs of development and production, but also the additional marketing costs as these will not make a poor product more popular.
When people eat past the point of fullness to prevent throwing out the food they paid for they are not only losing the sunk cost of the food’s purchase price, but also their physical comfort and health.
My mom always said 'better straight to the trash than through you and into the trash'.
When someone stays in a job that isn’t meeting their career needs because they have been
there so long, they are using the fallacy that their sunk time, effort and energy will result in a better outcome, when in fact they will likely just be there longer with more sunk costs they can’t recoup.
When we persist in unhealthy relationships because of the time, energy and emotion we have invested we are falling into to the bias of the sunk fallacy trap of continuing even when we know it is doing more harm than good.
Anytime a person sticks to a course of action based on the idea that they have already put something into it that they can’t get back, even when the outcome isn’t meeting their needs, they have fallen prey to the trap of the sunk costs fallacy bias.
So how do we know when to quit?
Well, that takes some critical thought.
First, take a step back from the situation and look at it as if you are looking from the outside. This allows you to reduce the emotional reaction to your situation and strengthens your logical interpretation of the circumstances.
Second, accept that whatever your sunk costs are they are unrecoverable and that is ok. No matter what type of sunk cost you have invested in the situation (monetary, time, effort, emotion) those are gone, and nothing will bring them back. It is what it is.
Third, overcome your fear of loss. We tend to have a tremendous fear of losing out. We become attached to things, people, ideas, places, projects and so on. But, loss is a natural part of life. When we choose to give one thing up, we make room for new things to enter our lives. It may be new experiences, careers, relationships, adventures, or even versions of ourselves. But if we don’t make room for them by letting go of the old unhealthy sunk cost biases, we can’t have the resources for new more healthy life choices.
Fourth, evaluate what additional sunk costs you stand to lose if you continue in your current direction. Will you waste an evening of studying and be sleep deprived for your exam tomorrow if you go to a concert that you aren’t really keen on? Will you feel sluggish and gain weight from cleaning off your plate? Will you loose hours of your life that you never get back enduring a performance you really don’t enjoy? Will you invest more money in a project that is not providing returns? Will you spend additional years and energy in an unfulfilling job that saps your spirit? Will you invest time, energy, effort, and emotion into a relationship that is not positively impacting your life?
Fifth, consider what you have to gain from not investing further sunk costs. Will you use your time, energy, money, effort and emotion in more positive, constructive and joyful ways? Will you get a better grade on your exam by choosing to not attend the concert? Will you lose a few pounds and feel more confident by leaving some food on your plate? Will you pursue an activity that really enjoy instead of attending a performance? Will you save your money for a future more profitable venture by ending a current business venture? Will you be available for new exciting career opportunities by leaving a job? Will you have time and energy for healthier, more positive relationships, either new or old, by ending toxic ones? Think of all the things you win by not investing any more sunk costs.
Finally, quit. Just quit. Give away unwanted tickets. Leave food on your plate. Don’t go to things you don’t enjoy. Stop spending on money pit projects. Leave jobs that drain your soul. Exit unhealthy relationships.
Don’t worry about the sunk cost. It is gone no matter what. Just don’t sink anymore investment into situations no are longer serving you, because those will just be lost too.
In short… be a quitter. Because in reality quitters really are the winners in these situations.
So… Quit Early. Quit Often. Quit Well. Quit worrying about sunk costs.
Then you can be a winner too!
Think of all the new and wonderful adventures life has waiting for you out there.
If you would like to read more about cognitive biases and how they influence our decision making (not always for the better) check out the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” by David Kahneman. (See link in references for audible book.)
If you are struggling to quit things that no longer serve you, or interfere with you building the peaceful, fulfilling life you deserve call us for support. We want to help.
Caletti, D. (2010). The Six Rules of Maybe, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.