Aphorism Be Damned, Quitters Often Win

Email a Friend

From feeling like you've already invested too much to being surrounded by phisical reminders of your efforts, it can seem really tough to move on from something that's not working. But Alan Bernstein, co-author of  Mastering the Art of Quitting:Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2013) thinks you can master the art of quitting, and save yourself lots of heartache. He shares his advice.

Knowing When to Quit: Some Useful Tips

Alan Bernstein believes that quitting can be a “tool” to get the most out of life -- if you master it. Here are some things to keep in mind. Good luck giving it up!

Don't Get Caught Up in American Exceptionalism. Especially in the US, says Bernstein, "persistence is a national myth" ingrained in many of us. So the things that keep us back are not necessarily conscious. Try to make a clear-eyed evaluation of the pros and cons of the decision.

Beware the Sunk-cost Fallacy. It feels bad to leave something behind that you’ve already invested a bunch in, but remember that quitting presents an "equal and opposite opportunity as persistence."

Gain Perspective, Write a List. If you can gain perspective and visualize the impact of giving something up, it really helps. Turn to others for perspective, and try to write down a list of all the pros and cons of quitting something.

Change “I Will” Consequences to “Will I” Questions. When visualizing what could happen after giving something up, it's easy to think about all the consequences ("I will not be doing this..."). In addition, try to think about the opportunities of your decision ("Will I have more time for...").

Do You Have an Optimism Bias? In the business world, says Bernstein, “you want a pessimist to make the tough decisions.” Are you over-estimating your ability to see something through, and, as a result, under-selling the advantage of taking a different course?

Get Rid of Reminders. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by nostalgia before and after you’ve made a change. Advising a painter who is considering giving up his art, Bernstein suggested he move away from the physical space and de-clutter, so that he's not surrounded by reminders of past efforts, like old pictures and frames.