It’s a common sentiment that you should never quit. We tell each other and ourselves to “not be a quitter” and that “a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” But is this the truth?
When is Sticking with Something Harmful?
With any ambitions in life, there will be challenges and roadblocks in your way. Most of the time the answer is to stick with it, endure, practice discipline, and grind it out until the end. That’s where the stigma of quitting comes from. But in some instances, the best option is actually to quit, to reexamine, redirect, and start anew. Being gritty, which means maintaining both high levels of passion and persistence, is only healthy when you are controlling the passion, rather than letting it control you. The point at which it significantly hinders other important aspects of your life is when you need to ask yourself whether or not you should stick with it.
It’s easy to let the Sunk Cost Fallacy lead you astray. The Sunk Cost Fallacy states that our decisions are tainted by emotional investments that we accumulate. Therefore, the more we invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it. Just because you have invested a great deal of time, effort, and resources into something does not mean that it will necessarily work out.
Hanging on to unrealistic or harmful goals, often perpetuated by emotions and the sunk cost fallacy, leads to misery and missed opportunities. Many of us invest years in pursuing unsatisfying or unrealistic choices because we are afraid to be truly honest with ourselves, and when we realize it too late, we have a mid life crisis and buy a fancy sports car. Saying winners never quit is a blatant lie. Plain and simple.
The first step in knowing whether or not to quit or to persist is to Know Yourself. Are you the type of person that easily quits something, or are you the type of person that has a track record of sticking with something longer than you really should? Be honest. Most of us fall into the first basket, which is that we easily quit something in response to resistance. In times like these, it’s important to give it a chance. If you just started a new job or school, don’t let the adjustment period and associated stressors get you off track.
Separate Hardship from Learning
Some of the best and most effective learning occurs when you struggle, deal with an obstacle, and learn how to overcome it. There’s a fine line of struggling and learning a great deal versus struggling and giving up, feeling like you want to just quit.
The next time you are struggling and want to quit, ask yourself the following questions:
1. “If I knew what I knew now, would I still pursue this project or goal, or would I do something different?” If you answer is “hell no” or “what in the world was I thinking,” then your next question should be…
2. “Why am I still doing this?” It’s often due to sunk costs and overvaluing what you have done due to an emotional connection that you may not be acutely aware of. The Endowment Effect describes that we ascribe more value to things merely because we own them.
3. The second question to ask yourself is “do I still believe in the vision?” If the vision still gets you excited, if you still get giddy thinking of helping sick children in the hospital, if you believe what you’re working towards will help you truly make a difference, if you can’t imagine doing anything else other than achieving this goal, then don’t give up. This is your time of being tested. You’re experiencing the dip.
The premise of Seth Godin’s book, titled The Dip, is the following: things that are scarce are more valuable. To create something valuable is difficult, otherwise it would not be scarce. Lots of people start a project, hit The Dip, and then quit. But The Dip is often your time of being tested. We all know how millions flock to gyms in January as part of their New Year’s resolutions. How many are still there in the fall? Those who endured The Dip are reaping the rewards of better health and better physiques. At my undergrad, a few thousand students were premed in freshman year. At graduation, only a couple hundred actually applied to medical school. Those who endured the rigors and passed through The Dip were the ones who moved onto the next stage of their medical training.
Deciding that you will not quit does not mean to just “try harder” or “endure” or “suck it up.” Deciding not to quit means that you were just pushed to the brink, and you decided to come back and work on this goal of yours. Clearly something is not working for you to have been pushed to that point in the first place. So sit down and figure out how can you be more resourceful, more efficient, more resilient so that you don’t get pushed to that extreme again. Are you inefficient at studying? Are you unable to get proper sleep and does that negatively effect multiple aspects of your life? Is your energy low because you don’t eat healthy and aren’t prioritizing exercise?
Look Back at Your Progress
Persistence alone does not guarantee success. To differentiate between when something is a Dip or a Dead End, it often helps to look back at your progress. If you see that your grades are improving, or that you are getting stronger in the gym, or your body fat is decreasing, then that means you’re headed in the right direction. If you’re not progressing how you should, re-evaluate your situation. That doesn’t mean drop everything and sulk in the corner. Find ways to improve your current methods. Several small tweaks can result in a drastic change in results.
We should be gritty but not stupid. Don’t give up too easily, but at the same time don’t hold on just because you’ve put in a lot of effort. Be willing to adapt and you will be successful. These are tough and scary decisions to make, but remember there’s no shame in quitting. There’s actually great deal of virtue in making a logical and honest choice. It’s not giving up. It’s moving on.