The Upside Of Quitting (And Why You Should Do It More Often)

There’s bound to be something going on in your life right now that’s worth quitting, and the commonly recited maxim that “quitters never win and winners never quit” notwithstanding, sometimes quitting really is the best option. Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner discusses the upside of quitting on his bi-weekly Freakonomics Radio podcast (available for free in iTunes).

Photo by Rusty Haskell.

The episode is full of worthwhile wisdom, especially for those of us who have a hard time quitting even when it’s probably in our best interest. In fact, if you find you have a tough time quitting, you may be falling victim to the sunk-cost fallacy:

A “sunk cost” is just what it sounds like: time or money you’ve already spent. The sunk-cost fallacy is when you tell yourself that you can’t quit because of all that time or money you spent. We shouldn’t fall for this fallacy, but we do it all the time.

Another piece of wisdom that serial quitters are generally much better about than those of us who are bad at quitting: Just fail quickly. Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt explains:

[I] f I were to say one of the single most important explanations for how I managed to succeed against all odds in the field of economics, it was by being a quitter. That ever since the beginning, my mantra has been “fail quickly”. If I started with a hundred ideas, I’m lucky if two or three of those ideas will ever turn into academic papers. One of my great skills as an economist has been to recognise the need to fail quickly and the willingness to jettison a project as soon as I realise it’s likely to fail.

Lastly, knowing when to quit can have big physiological and psychological benefits, as psychology professor Carsten Wrosch notes:

People who are better able to let go when they experience unattainable goals, they have the experience, for example, less depressive symptoms, less negative affect over time. They also have lower Cortisol levels, and they have lower levels of systemic inflammation which is a marker of immune functioning. And they develop fewer physical health problems over time.

You can read the full transcript of the show here, or grab the podcast on iTunes.

The Upside of Quitting: Full Transcript [Freakonomics Blog]

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