Why You Should Seriously Consider Quitting

By: Jim Murphy


Why You Should Seriously Consider Quitting

1. One of the hidden benefits to the worldwide pandemic has been forced change. For a lot of us, that meant quitting things; stopping things we wanted to do and doing things we normally wouldn’t, because we had no choice. This has created significant upsides for some; especially those unattached to how things had to be or the type of person society said they should be. 

2. One of the mistakes many people make is they stick with things much longer than they should, perhaps based on the sunk cost fallacy, which describes our tendency to continue endeavors that we’ve invested resources into, regardless if current costs outweigh the benefits. 

3. In order to achieve anything great, we need to, as James Clear says, “ruthlessly eliminate goals.” That means quitting most things in order to focus on a few things. Simplify your life. The enemy of extraordinary success is ordinary success in many things. 

4. Poker success, in many ways, is getting good at quitting. According to professional poker player Annie Duke, author of How to Decide, to be a great decision maker, you need to quit a lot. It’s at least as important, if not more, than sticking to things.

5. The most extraordinary people in history are those who risked their lives. They didn’t play it safe. They tried things. They “failed” to live up to society’s measures, quitting what was incongruent as often as necessary, to get to what was. 

“I’ve not failed 10,000 times; I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” – Thomas Edison, prolific inventor (phonograph, motion picture camera, etc.)Over the years I’ve come to realize that the most successful athletes and  businesses, and people with the most peace and confidence, have at least one thing in common: They’re willing to take risks, which means they’re willing to fail, and perhaps most importantly, they try new things over and over in order to keep learning. They quit a lot of things because they try a lot of things. 

Imagine if Edison, rather than trying 10,000 ways to build an incandescent light bulb, stayed with the first effort for say, 10,000 days instead. Part of his genius, it seems, is that he was not attached to failure, and would readily move on when he saw something wasn’t working. 

“You’ve got to be willing to fail, to crash and burn. If you’re not willing to fail, you won’t get very far.” – Steve Jobs, Apple founder

The most successful performers in any endeavor are not attached to how things are. They don’t get caught up in the Sunk Costs Fallacy.

Imagine an outdoorsman named Tommy the Turkey Trapper (TTT) is deep in the wilderness, Alone. Triple T has a box with a stick and a string. He’s hiding in the bushes waiting to pull the string so the stick will come loose and the box will drop. A dozen turkeys come by (woohoo!) and they all wander under the box (it’s a big box), and he’s just about to pull the string to catch all those turkeys when one wanders out. While waiting for it to go back in, another wanders out. Now he has 10 where he had 12 a minute ago. Soon he ends up with none, because he didn’t pull the string when he had 12 and now only has 7 then 5 and so on.  This is the sunk costs fallacy. Triple T’s mistake was not letting go of what he had (12) in order to get what he can now (7 or 5 or 1!). 

One of the big reasons we fail to quit when we’re ahead, or when the costs begin to outweigh the benefits, is psychological attachment to our choices. Our choices easily become fused with our identity. We have a hard time separating who we are from our mind and thoughts.

If I make a decision, and the result turns out poorly, then changing course immediately may be the best decision but hard to do, since my identity is connected to my decisions. That’s why we need to remember this important presupposition:

You are not your mind. You are also not your thoughts, decisions, or results. You are far more than a thinking and performing machine. 

Sometimes you’ll have terrible thoughts, make poor decisions and finish last (especially if you try a lot of new things). You can let them go much easier when you remember that you are not your mind, your decisions do not define you, and results are up to God (as coach Denzel reminds us in the Great Debaters).

As you remember this important presupposition, you can improve your ability to change course much quicker when you’ve made poor decisions, when the benefit no longer outweighs the cost, or when it’s simply time to let go and start something new. 

The old you might think, “If I made this choice, and now I change my mind (or quit), that means I made a bad choice… which feels like losing a little bit of myself. If I can’t trust my choices, what can I trust? Who can trust me? Where’s my stability?”

The reality is, you made the best choice you could at the time, with the resources you had. Perhaps things changed. It doesn’t matter what’s behind you, what matters is what’s in front of you… and will you make the best choice you can now, with the resources and environment you’re in at this moment, and not get caught up in your feelings about the past? 

What you can do:

1. Let go of your pride. If you’ve read Inner Excellence (the one on sale now for $2.99),  you know that the thesis of the book is that self-centeredness is the biggest obstacle we face in performance and in life. It leads to a narrow vision, constant comparison, and ultimately anxiety and fear. Pride prevents us from fully living the life we’ve imagined. It says I need to present myself a certain way, to be successful, and definitely don’t let others see me quit. Humility (and its cousin selflessness), however, paves the way for fearlessness, because there’s nothing to lose when the self is gone. Bad decision? Finish last? Not reach your goal? Quit your pursuit of living in a bus after six months of searching? 🙂 It’s not good or bad, except your judgment of it.

2. Check your sunk costs. In pro baseball there’s a long-standing idea that the higher you’re drafted, the longer an organization will stick with you (and vice versa), because they don’t want to make it look like a bad decision (release a high draft pick too soon shows the world the mistake they made). Is there an area in your life where the sunk costs fallacy has kept you from making a change you need to make?

3. Ask yourself, am I doing this project/job/sport/career because of how I appear to others? Is it ego that’s keeping me here? Or is the best choice to take Simone Biles lead and let go of what the world thinks and do what I think is best in this moment? Perhaps it just means you’ll re-devote yourself to learning and growing every day to become your true self, wholehearted and fully engaged, and let the world get caught up in your results if it wants to. 

4. Ask yourself what areas/projects/things or anything else would simplify your life and help you focus on your life purpose, if you quit them? 

Let me know how you’re doing! Merry Christmas! I love you. Or at least that’s my goal. 

love Jim
Christmas is coming… and so is 2022! This is the last letter for 2021. As we finish 2021, I have one final question for you:

What good reason do you have for not quitting every single thing in your life? If you don’t have a good reason…

Thank you so much for joining me on this Inner Excellence journey. I pray that you’ll take the time to reflect on what you were given in 2021 and leverage that gratitude to see more possibilities in 2022.

Speaking of The Great Debaters (a based-a-true-story movie of an all-Black high school debate team taking on the white Ivy league champions in 1930s Jim Crowe south)… check out this 14 year old in the final debate. Hold that tension before you speak…

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