*Quitting can be good for you | Business Standard News

Clipped from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/quitting-can-be-good-for-you-123011801373_1.html

Human beings find it hard to quit, but life is too short to be wasted on endeavours not worth sticking to. Annie Duke’s book illustrates the virtue of knowing when to give up

Book cover

Quit: The power of knowing when to walk away
Author: Annie Duke
Publisher: Ebury Edge
Pages: 309
Price: Rs 799

In households with middle-class values, the virtues of grit and perseverance (besides hard work, of course) are drummed incessantly into children. In this eminently readable book, author Annie Duke posits that persevering can on occasions prove counterproductive. Her central message is that life is too short to be wasted on endeavours not worth sticking to.

The writer studied psychology and is a decision-making consultant. Her past books include Thinking in Bets and How to Decide. She has also been a professional poker player with $4 million in tournament winnings.

The book begins with Muhammad Ali’s story. In 1974, when against all odds Ali beat George Foreman, he cemented his place in boxing history as one of the greatest. He was already 32 then. While he continued to fight, it was mostly downhill thereafter. He lost often, receiving the kind of bashing that made for a sorry spectacle. Despite his well-wishers urging him to quit, he continued. All that battering contributed to him falling prey to Parkinson’s later. By sticking around for too long, he caused avoidable harm to both his physique and his reputation.

Another story in this book that illustrates the virtue of knowing when to quit pertains to climbing Everest. One point expedition leaders drill into climbers is the importance of the turnaround time. The summit climb from the final base camp begins at midnight. If a climber has not reached the summit by 1 pm, he must abandon the attempt and return. The turnaround time is set because descending (especially once it turns dark) is more dangerous, and causes more deaths, than ascending.

Remember, the climbers pour in a lot of time, money and effort. Abandoning an attempt, sometimes only a few hundred metres or a couple of hours from the summit is hard.

Three climbers make the attempt in 1996. By 11:30 am, they are still three hours away. They realise it will be well past the turnaround time by the time they start the descent. After some deliberation, they agree to turn back. They reach base camp safely.

On that very climb, expedition leader Rob Hall reaches the summit at 2 pm. He waits for a client named Doug Hansen. Hansen reaches the summit by 4 pm by which time he is utterly exhausted. Hall is unable to help Hansen down but is also unwilling to abandon him. Both die.

One obvious takeaway from this story is that while quitting may seem unheroic, it allows you to live and fight, or climb, another day. But there is a second, more troubling, lesson. Those who died became heroes. Books were written and movies made about them. Those who quit were consigned to oblivion. The author poses a question: If the quitters are not celebrated, or are thought to be cowardly, how will others emulate their example, even though they were the ones who took the more sagacious course?

According to Ms Duke, quitting creates options which one shouldn’t forfeit for a few important reasons. One, we live in an ever-changing landscape. Two, sometimes we, and our priorities, also change. What may seem worth pursuing today may not appear so tomorrow. Three, the world is full of randomness. Besides effort, Lady Luck, too, plays a role in determining outcomes. If on a given day the rub of the green is going against you, it may be smarter to wait for a better day.

And four, the decision to undertake an endeavour is taken based on incomplete information. But as we progress along a course, new information becomes available that offers feedback on whether continuing is worthwhile.

Alas, human beings, especially the gritty and optimistic types, find it hard to quit. They believe if they work long and hard enough, things will turn around. On the other hand, if they quit, they will always be left with the nagging question: “What if I had stuck on?”

The sunk cost effect also makes quitting difficult. We tell ourselves that all the time, effort and money spent will go down the drain if we quit. An example explains this dilemma well. A friend offers you a ticket for an outdoor concert on a cold, wet day. You turn down the offer because you have no wish to contract pneumonia. Now imagine a scenario where you have spent Rs 10,000 on buying the ticket. The decision to not go now becomes harder, even though the chances of falling ill remain exactly the same.

The rational response is to consider the future expected value (EV). If the EV from an endeavour is likely to be positive, pursue it. If not, jettison it.

Like Mahabharata’s Abhimanyu, we blunder into life’s many chakravyuh with no exit strategy or quitting criteria in place. This book can help you excel at deciding when discretion is the better part of valour.

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