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How to Tell That It's Time to Quit

Sticking with the wrong goal could lead to a dead end.

"No problem is so formidable that you cannot walk away from it," said Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. Quitting is usually perceived to be negative, whereas perseverance is seen as admirable and even essential for success in life.

Surprisingly, though, when perseverance is taken too far, it becomes self-destructive. Research shows that people who let go of unattainable goals experience higher well-being. So why is it so hard to surrender?

Here is the one thing to consider in order to celebrate "failure": We may be biased against quitting because we are trapped in the "sunk cost fallacy."

Sunk costs are those costs that are beyond recovery the moment a decision is made. They represent the time and effort already spent on a project. For example, consider membership in a warehouse club like Sam’s Club that costs $40 per year. To “recoup” the membership fee, members often overspend on frivolous things, such as five-pound barrels of pretzels.

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Everyone experiences the influence of sunk costs in some form or another, whether through the investment of time or money in projects or doomed relationships. It is hard to let go. And while we know it's common, the sunk cost fallacy may also be more dangerous than we realize.

Holding on to a current subpar opportunity hinders the potential for one's future. To help you let go of sunk-cost thinking, economists recommend instead considering opportunity cost. Whereas a sunk cost is about the past, opportunity cost is about the future.

In a world of finite resources, every dollar you spend on one thing is not spent elsewhere. Held back by yesterday's projects, you cannot solve future problems. Letting go, then, and ending the continued investment of time, money, or energy in one direction offers us practical and mental freedom to advance in another, more promising area.

Those who quit dead-end endeavors are mentally healthier than those who stay entrapped, as people trapped by dead-end goals may begin to experience negative effects like anxiety and diminished well-being.

When we are overly focused on a particular goal or outcome, we become rigid and inflexible. This narrows our options and makes us feel more limited. Use your time and resources more effectively: Do not be afraid to give up frustrating goals. New opportunities will be just around the corner.

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