The Psychology Behind Giving Up
Learn the psychology behind giving up with confidence and how sometimes cutting our losses is the best decision we can make.
There’s no question that perseverance is an admirable quality. Persistence and determination are key to reaching our goals and achieving success, especially in the face of adversity. And though meeting the goals that we set may seem like the only option, the truth is that in certain circumstances, giving up is sometimes a viable choice. It’s a hard concept to accept, since giving up is often equated with failure; however, knowing when to walk away is a skill worth developing. So how do you change your perspective on leaving a venture behind and moving forward? Below are five tips on how to give up with confidence.
Compare costs—what it has cost you already and what it will continue to cost you in the future.
All too often, we continue to pursue a goal that is not obtainable or seek to improve a situation that will not improve because of a concept called the sunk cost fallacy. This is a decision-making bias that causes us to spend more time, effort, money, and/or other resources on a project simply because we’ve already invested in it.1 This fallacy impacts our decision-making most when the stakes are high—for instance, continuing to pour money and energy into a new business you started even though it is rapidly failing.
The best way to combat the natural inclination to keep investing in a project that is not succeeding is to determine what it has cost you already and what it will continue to cost you in the future. Write out the gains and losses you will experience if you stay involved; write out the gains and losses you will experience if you get out. Similar to creating a pros and cons list, this exercise will help highlight the potential missed opportunities and forgotten possibilities if you were to walk away and put your energy elsewhere.
Replace “giving up” with “knowing when to quit.”
Never giving up is constantly reinforced in society—in slogans, in motivational speeches, on television programs. But this ideal can be carried too far—in truth, we should follow our good sense and responsibly walk away from the things that do not serve us. That’s why it’s important to reconceptualize the act of giving up. Knowing when to quit takes integrity and maturity—it’s hard to walk away from something we’ve invested so much of ourselves into! Once you can determine that leaving a situation is in your best interest, you can view your ability to recognize when it’s time to quit as a strength, not a weakness.
Accept that you cannot control everything.
Another way to give up with confidence is to understand—and accept—that some things are beyond your control. For instance, say you dedicated your time, effort, and money to starting your own bakery. If the opening happened to coincide with a low-carb diet craze or a worldwide rise in flour prices, it’s not your fault. These kinds of occurrences are out of your control and you shouldn’t hold yourself accountable—they are not reflection of your competence or dedication. The more comfortable you can become with the things that you cannot control, the more clarity you will have when assessing whether you should leave a situation (or a failing bakery).
Reframe how you think about failure.
Fearing failure is often deeply ingrained and at the root of why we are so averse to giving up—even when it’s the best choice we can make at the time. In addition to the biases and fallacies that prevent us from moving on, we are socialized to view goals that don’t come to fruition as failure. This is particularly true when the “failure” is public-facing, such as a business venture or relationship. Deciding to end a project or engagement is a true loss, and you should take the time and space you need to grieve. But consider reframing how you think about this loss—is something really a failure if it ultimately moves you forward? It isn’t. Rather, it’s turning a new leaf and positioning yourself for a more successful future.
Use the experience as a learning opportunity.
Walking away from a venture that isn’t panning out puts you in a unique position to take stock of what went wrong and what went right. This also presents an opportunity for you to discover what you can do differently going forward. Regardless of how successful your project was or was not, you’ve gained valuable experience and knowledge from the process. And most importantly, you learned that you can recognize when giving up is the right call. Sometimes, the best insight we can gain is that we are equipped to make tough decisions when they count the most.
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Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Psychology degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.