For most of us, we were taught early on the value of persistence and the benefits of sticking to something until its completion. It’s human nature to be persistent. Whether it’s finishing a boring book, staying too long in a failing relationship or continuing a path in school that no longer interests you, people will often stick with the failing venture for far longer than they should in order to justify their original decision and the time, effort and money that has already been invested into it.
There’s a psychological explanation for it. It’s called “the escalation of commitment to a failing course of action.”
We live in a world that often penalizes those who change their minds or correct a mistake or course of action. They’re called wishy-washy, irresponsible, indecisive or unstable. For many, quitting a course of action creates feelings of failure and incompetence. Sayings like “quitters never win, and winners never quit” have always been commonplace. But is quitting always the wrong decision? What if quitting means that you now have more information about something and that it’s not really taking you in the place you want to be? What if quitting is actually the right decision?
The ability to re-evaluate your position, thoughts or feelings should be seen as a positive attribute, not a weakness. By saying you were wrong and that you no longer feel the same way or that the path you have chosen no longer makes you happy can actually be a positive step in the investment you make in yourself. But how do you know the difference between quitting because you’re lazy, scared or unmotivated and quitting because you’re putting yourself and your emotional well-being first?
There are always times when you should tough it out, when the hard-work and sacrifice will lead to results that will take you closer to the place you want to be. For most of us, making decisions involves learning from what we are doing and make corrections to our path as needed. We do this at work, at school and often in relationships. But how do we know when enough is enough. How do we recognize when it not only OKAY to quit, it’s actually the right decision? Here are some guidelines to help you decide when to quit and when to tough it out:
- When reality doesn’t match to your expectations: We all make decisions based on the information we have in the moment. It’s possible, and even likely, that when you start down one path and gain more knowledge along the way, you will recognize that the path you’ve chosen isn’t for you. That ok. No decision is ever made in stone.
- When you’ve outgrown a belief, idea or value: The ideas and values you have in college aren’t’ necessarily the same ones you will have 5, 10 or 5 years later. It’s often a struggle to let go of strongly held beliefs but even as adults, you are still growing and changing. What worked for you then may not work for you now.
- When the timing is wrong: Sometimes the decision or path may be the right one but the timing is wrong, like deciding to go back to school when you’ve just had a new baby or starting a new relationship when you’re being transferred to Beijing.
- When continuing on a certain path will lead to emotional distress: There will always be times when you don’t want to go to work or school. But when it’s a daily occurrence and work or school or some other venture is continuously causing you to feel emotionally depleted and distressed, it’s important to really ask yourself whether you are on the right path.
- When quitting is the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself: There will always be times when you need to evaluate the percentage of time you are happy in a certain endeavor and the percentage of times you are unhappy. While there will always be times in whatever choices you make when you will struggle, when the bad times far outweigh the good times, it’s time to make a change.
Despite how you look at things, quitting is not always a bad option. Sometimes walking away from one choice, relationship, program or project is actually a move toward something positive that will help you to be the best and most fulfilled person you can be.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it. ~ W.C. FIELDS