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Quitaverance: knowing when to quit

Our one-sided toxic language


We have many encouraging words and expressions for the value of perseverance: sticking to it, fortitude, diligence, persistence, tenacity, determination, resolution, devotion, loyalty, patriotism, just do it, never give up, never say die, never surrender.


But we have no encouraging words for the value of powerfully and courageously choosing to quit, to stop, to change course, to give up, to re-negotiate or to cancel our agreements, our word, or our commitments.


Knowing when to quit

Knowing when to quit, knowing when to give up, recognizing and acknowledging that we’re going down the wrong road, and then choosing courage to quit, to give up, to change course is, perhaps, the most un-appreciated value in the art of living.


We’re all familiar with the refrain from that Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler,” “You got to know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em.”


Can you imagine how poor a poker teacher you’d be if you always encouraged your students to continue playing a hand of cards, no matter what new information was available? Yet we lionize parents and other leaders who encourage us to persist no matter what.


Honoring the value of quitaverance

We need a new word to denote this idea of the great value it is to know when to quit, to do it with courage, and feel great about ourselves for doing it. Let’s call it, “quitaverance.”


Quitaverance is the practice of learning to recognize when an action or a course of action is not working

or when it is not serving our highest values and deepest desires. Quitaverance is the willingness to choose courage to stop, to quit, to give up, or to change course in the service of those deepest values and desires.


We're already practicing quitaverance with smaller issues

Within smaller contexts we can usually recognize the power and importance of quitaverance.


If we aren’t able to unclog the drain by ourselves, we quit and call a plumber. If we have a bad hand in poker, we fold and give up for that hand.


If a first date says he or she doesn’t want to see us again, we stop trying to see that person and move on to the next. If an emergency with our child develops, we cancel our agreement to keep a previous appointment to address the emergency. 

We quit often and easily recognize that it's the best course of action.


But when the value of quitting could be much bigger, we often think quitting is wrong

It’s when we’re dealing with the bigger issues of life that we don’t see or acknowledge the possible value and virtue of quitaverance:


  • ending a marriage

  • breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend

  • moving out of our parent’s home

  • quitting a job or career

  • quitting college

  • ending a friendship

  • leaving a city

  • giving up in an argument, fight, or war

  • ending your life (jumping off the cliff before you're pushed off)

My mother and brother celebrated his divorce

When my brother decided to divorce his first wife, a big choice of courage for him, he and my mother went out for dinner to celebrate together. Although my brother could not know it at the time, he later met the girl of his dreams and they had an amazing relationship and marriage together.

Beware the sunk cost bias

Much of our difficulty in recognizing and acting upon the opportunities to choose quitaverance stems from our lionization of Next and Others and villainization of Now and Oneself. However, even if we have created great Now-Next Integrity and Oneself-Others Integrity, we can still fall into the sunk-cost trap.

  • "When I bought this stock, I thought it was going to go up. But it's dropped through the floor. Maybe I should get out, but I want to at least wait until I can get back what I paid for it." 

  • "I've already spent three years studying accounting. Even though I don't like it and it's not what I'll end up doing, I should tough it out for one more year and get my degree." 

  • "I've not been happy in my marriage for over ten years now. But I can't get divorced yet. I've worked so hard to make it work. All that effort would be wasted if I quit."

  • “Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.” This statement was made by President Trump on August 21st, 2017 to justify the continuation of the U.S involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan. 

What each of these speakers are saying in fact (instead of their story) is this: "We will not look freshly, with our current new knowledge under the current new circumstances with no bias toward continuing or quitting and, from there, decide which course of action is likely to serve us best, especially in the longer term."

Cognitive biases are like optical illusions. Very often it's difficult to begin to consider that they're leading us in the wrong direction, even when we think we're savvy to the bias.

Imagination questions to help you test if you may be falling for the sunk cost bias

  • "Imagine that I sold my stock now. I would have given up my investment in that stock and I would have the money in my hands that I could get from the stock now. Knowing what I know now about this stock compared to my other options to use that money, would I re-buy that stock, assuming I could re-assume my current position with the stock for that money that I was able to get from selling it? Or not?" If you would not re-buy that stock, then it's likely you are succumbing to the sunk cost bias if you don't sell that stock.

  • "Imagine that I had not spent any time or money studying accounting for three years. And yet somehow I know the accounting knowledge I have now and I could magically get a degree in accounting if I studied accounting and paid for studying accounting for one more year. Given that, and given the fact that I know I don't like accounting and the only benefit for doing this would be to "have that degree," in the context of all the other options before me in the buffet of life, would I choose to do that? Or not?" If you would not choose to spend the money and unhappy time of doing that, then it's likely you are succumbing to the sunk cost bias if you don't quit now and get on with your life in another way.

  • "Imagine that you were not married to the person you are married to now. You already got a divorce. You have a new life ahead of you with freedom and a big buffet of options to choose from. But somehow you have the option of re-marrying your spouse. Given all that you currently know about how you both tend to react to each other, would you choose to re-marry your spouse? Or not?" If you would not choose to re-marry your spouse, then it's likely you are succumbing to the sunk cost bias if you don't get a divorce now.

The imagination question for the president is a bit more complicated, but it follows along with the same principle. The costs that have been paid are gone. You need to consider your current position as if those costs had never been paid in order to more likely make the best choice for yourself and those involved.

Quitaverance and perseverance are both needed, just as we need both the car's brake and accelerator

Quitaverance is not an enemy of perseverance. Quitaverance works in partnership with perseverance, just as the left and right hand work best in partnership.

Looking for opportunities to use quitaverance

Ask yourself,


  • “If, in my past, I had acknowledged and used quitaverance as a valued part of my life, what difference might that have made for me?”

  • “How might I adopt and develop quitaverance, in partnership with perseverance, as an important cornerstone of my daily living? What difference might this make in my life?”

  • “When, in my life, have I chosen the courage of quitaverance and had it work out beautifully for myself and others around me?”

  • Ask yourself, “What opportunity for choosing courage and exercising quitaverance is there in my life right now? Am I willing to embrace this opportunity?”

See also Quitaverance and Quitting: the unacknowledged virtue. See also Final Exit.

"Perseverance is the most overrated of traits. If it is unaccompanied by talent, beating your head against a wall is more likely to produce a concussion in the head than a hole in the wall."

-Sidney J. Harris (American journalist)


"When one door closes, another opens. But we so often look so long and so regretfully at the closed door that we do not notice which one has opened for us." 

-Helen Keller (1880-1968,  American writer)


"If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then give up. There’s no use in being a damn fool about it."

-W.C. Fields (1880-1946, American actor, comedian)

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