Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Know When to Walk Away

Why most of what you learned about quitting is wrong.

stop button
Growing up, few of us learn when to keep going toward a long-range goal and when to consider stopping. Knowing how and when to quit involves initiating a set of steps, a process known as goal disengagement.

Maybe you assume that “just stop” is all you need to know. But it’s more complicated than that, according to Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work, by Peg Streep, the author or coauthor of 11 books, and Alan Bernstein, LCSW, who has served on the faculty at New York Medical College and New York University.

One of Streep and Bernstein’s more helpful suggestions is to understand and recognize intermittent reinforcement. This anti-quitting motivator arises when your efforts toward some distant goal pay off once in a while. You’re likely to continue to pursue a goal when you occasionally get some positive feedback, even if the overall trend of your progress is clearly negative. Take the time to step back and see this pattern so you aren’t misled by an occasional positive reinforcer.

You may also be familiar with the psychological phenomenon called the sunk cost fallacy. It’s when you continue behaviors aimed at certain goals for the illogical reason that you’ve already put so much time and energy into them. Examples might be staying in a terrible relationship because you’ve already devoted so much time to it, or spending yet more money on repairing a lemon of a car.

According to Streep and Bernstein:

Quitting sometimes requires a huge leap of faith—imagining an as-yet unrealized future—and a willingness to take on the possibility of failure, along with the emotional fallout that accompanies it. Since persistence and staying put are the default settings for human behavior, successful goal disengagement can stall on the affective, cognitive, motivational, and behavioral fronts. . . . Keep in mind that both letting go of a goal and setting a new one are essentially creative activities that demand that you be flexible in your approach.

One of the most important ideas in Mastering the Art of Quitting—which may seem obvious yet is often overlooked—is that by quitting something, especially if you’ve long been unhappy, you open up your life to fresh, positive possibilities.

With the tools and thought processes clearly laid out in this book, you may find yourself better equipped to know when to hold and when (and how) to fold, and deal yourself a new hand.

 

If quitting is a frequent habit of yours, you may want to read this previous post.

Peg Streep blogs at PsychologyToday about relationships in the digital age”.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Follow me on Twitter @BunnyApe

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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