When Quitting Can Actually Help You Get Ahead

Vince Lombardi famously once said, "Winners never quit. Quitters never win." But a new study finds otherwise.


Vince Lombardi famously once said, "Winners never quit. Quitters never win." But a new study by the University of Southern California and Northeastern University has found that quitting could actually help you get ahead.

To test the "grit factor," researchers had participants carry out a series of verbal and mathematical puzzles, all with the promise that they would receive modest monetary reward for correct answers, negligible reward for quitting the problems, but zero compensation for answering incorrectly. The participants who attempted problems that were impossible ended up coming out with the least financial gain. In other words, the ones who tried the hardest were also the ones that came away with the least.

As children, we're often taught quitting is nearly synonymous with being un-American — everything we try we're supposed to "stick with" or "never give up." From Rocky to Gladiator, Hollywood films are rife with heroes who never gave into their temptation to give up. But what if knowing when to give up is the key to personal well-being?

If only Hamlet had given up on exposing his father’s killer or Madame Bovary had given up on Rodolphe, their stories might have been less tragic.

The success stories of quitters are few and far between, but they do exist. Twenty-six-year-old Bjorn Borg quit tennis at the height of his career and later founded a successful fashion line. Citing disagreements with network execs, Dave Chappelle walked away from his extremely popular eponymous show on Comedy Central to focus on his stand-up. But successful quitters are not just famous: A year ago, NPR reported on scientists who'd given up own their fields because of monetary constraints — one former microbiologist became a liquor distiller and another opened up a California grocery store.

Thoughtful quitting allows a person to reprioritize what’s important and think big picture. If everything in life is given our equal value and time, we could go crazy. Look no further than some of literature's greatest works to tell you to quit while you’re ahead: If only Hamlet had given up on exposing his father’s killer or Madame Bovary had given up on Rodolphe, their stories might have been less tragic. Quitting shouldn’t be a habit, but it shouldn’t be avoided at all costs either.

--

Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.

Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less