I am not a person who puts down a book midway through, even if it sucks seven hours from my life. I’m not a quitter. Apparently, even when it would be smarter to stop.
Sure, I thought about quitting. Giving it up. Putting it down to read another, more interesting volume. Still I kept going.
The same kind of dogged determination has been an adaptive life strategy, helping me succeed with other things. It’s kept me getting up in the morning even when my joints are stiff and swollen with arthritis. It has helped me to persevere to find a publisher for my book despite a zillion rejections and it’s been good for my relationship. It keeps me committed and working to improve even when I’m tired.
Of course, I could quit any of these things too. I don’t have to write the book. I can blame the chronic illness for any lack of progress in my day. I could walk out on my marriage – people do it all the time. But knowing I have the freedom to give up, leave, quit, say sayonara, might actually fuel my drive to keep going.
Knowing You Can Quit Helps Us Persist
Researchers Rom Y. Schrift from the Wharton Business School and Jeffrey R. Parker, at Georgia State University found that we are actually more motivated to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle if we know we can quit.
In several experiments, participants who knew they could quit a designated task, like solving a word puzzle, tended to persist longer. One way to motivate people then, might be a reminder that they can quit at any time.
Perhaps people persist longer because they don’t want to be labelled a quitter. In Western culture there is a big-time stigma that comes with quitting.
Yet other research shows that quitting one goal to start on another might be the smartest strategy. It often leads to greater success and contribution. When we stop investing time and energy in that one thing we’re never going to accomplish, we have more to give to the thing that matters, the thing we can achieve.
There are times for all of us, when quitting is the best course of action. I’ll share them with you on Wednesday and provide an exit strategy to help you get moving when it is time to go.