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 get better about than those of us who are bad at quitting: Just fail quickly. Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt explains: If 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 recognize the need to fail quickly and the willingness to jettison a project as soon as I realize 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, also experience 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.”
This was a revelatory article to me. Something I am not good at is quitting. I hate to quit a book I have started reading, and have ploughed my way through many relatively uninteresting memoirs or novels, because I decided, as a teenager at school, that I would finish books I started.
Especially, as a novice writer, I could spend months over a piece of writing that was going nowhere instead of quitting and reducing it to a few paragraphs.
Peter Kramer in his book Listening to Prozac writes of an experiment tracking what depressed people did in their lunch breaks. The more depressed they were, the more likely they were to spend the whole lunch hour in the queue in the post office or bank rather than cut their losses, and return later.
When to persist, and when to quit. I guess we need the wisdom of God for this, don’t we? Is this in your plan for me, or have I persisted long enough to learn what I needed to learn?
And of course, there is gold in one’s weaknesses, and weakness in one’s strengths. I am sure I learned things through sticking out projects that seemed likely to fail (and did!).
But for now, I am deliberately deciding to jettison and fail in some projects, like developing fluency in French, to focus on one big one: my writing!