Can you recall one movie where the hero is on a high-stake poker table at the casino?
The tension in the scene is crushing. It’s a sort of do-or-die situation where winning is imperative. And against all odds, the actor decides to go full-on. He pushes all the chips to the centre of the table and calls it.
Everybody has seen this kind of scene at least once. We can even dream of doing it (or, for the wildest among us, have done it).
But we rarely see the hero dropping his cards on the table and quitting.
Walking away, forfeiting our chance to win, that’s quite anticlimactic – so that’s no surprise why we don’t see it in movies. However, I would argue this is probably a more difficult decision than betting everything at once.
The reason is simple. Nobody wants to be a quitter.
We are conditioned to grind and persevere. Every social media reminds us with various quotes and incredible stories that success comes to those who have “enough” grit to push through despite their difficulties.
Beyond this societal pressure, there are also many cognitive biases at play.
The best example comes from my discussions with a manager I was coaching. His team had to work on several projects simultaneously, but one seemed to get most of the attention and issues. To the point, it got labelled with the “beautiful” acronym, inherited from the military slang, FUBAR, meaning. F***ed Up Beyond All Repair.
The team was fully aware of the situation since the nickname couldn’t be more explicit. Still, they endlessly kept working on the FUBAR project for months, throwing in a massive amount of resources, time and effort.
And when I asked why they were still going at it, the manager told me they couldn’t afford to quit now. All the investments they made to this point would be lost.
It would have been all for nothing.
But if they persevere, if they brace themselves and endure it a bit more, they might be able to pull through it and finally reap the rewards they envisioned since the start of this project.
Like a poker player, he was constantly putting chips in the pot, losing them, yet hoping that if he kept playing long enough, he would prevail and win big.
While that can happen, there is also a point where it is actually more rational to decide to cut our losses and stop the bleeding. There is a point where “quitting” is the best decision.
This is a difficult decision to make, especially because we often fall into a cognitive bias called the sunk-cost fallacy. Basically, we tend to continue something we invest time, effort or money in, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.
Like the renovations of an old house where costs keep on piling up and it would be more economical to buy a new one. Or staying in a relationship – even if we are unhappy – because we have already invested so much time and effort into it.
The thought of giving up triggers our loss aversion. We see all the money we are leaving on the table, which pushes us to keep chasing an elusive goal.
So how can we temper our cognitive biases and make the right call?
1- Realise “quitting” can empower
When you say “yes” to going to a party, you are giving up on a cosy evening at home reading a book.
As the team kept working on the FUBAR project, what did they have to give up? What project did they have to decline or postpone? What opportunity did they miss?
This requires us to take a step back to have a broader view of what we do with our resources and ask ourselves if this is truly the best way to spend them.
2- Know “quitting” is reversible
This is an idea I developed extensively in Chapter 8 of my book Act Before You overThink. Often, people see decisions as going through a one-way door. Once it’s made, there is no going back.
But that’s not true. Decisions can be reversed.
It doesn’t mean this is a two-way door. Instead, it’s more of a toll gate. Every time you cross it, there is a cost attached to it. Sometimes, it seems too big to be paid, and that’s why many feel they cannot undo their decision.
Quitting – like any other decision – is a reversible one.
So, if we realise we made a mistake, there is always a way to go back. It might not be easy, it might not be cheap, but experience told me that when we understand quitting might not be definitive, it helps us leap.
3- Reframe the notion of “quitting”
It is essential to have an appeased relationship with “quitting”.
For many, when we have to give up, it feels like we were not up to the task or not good enough. It feels like a failure and it stings.
One way to counter these negative emotions is to focus on the silver lining (and perform what is called positive reappraisal). What have we learned from this experience? Can we reuse this knowledge to our advantage? Are there pieces of the project we could leverage in others?
How much did we grow thanks to this?
In the end, remember that when thoughtfully made, the decision to quit is not a step back, but a step forward.
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To your success,
- I am obsessed with fostering sustainable performance and crafting unique and memorable experiences, through coaching, workshops and keynotes. Reach out if you are interested in elevating yours or your teams’ .
- With my first book Act Before You overThink to learn how to make better decisions faster and liberate your mind from the constant chatter that hinders your potential. You can buy it here.
- Parayre R., “The strategic implications of sunk costs: A behavioral perspective”. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 1995
- Troy A.S, and other, “Seeing the Silver Lining: Cognitive Reappraisal Ability Moderates the Relationship Between Stress and Depressive Symptoms”, Emotion, 2010