Unhappy? Quitting Might Help

Bernstein and Streep argue that the most satisfied people have mastered the art of disengaging.
Bernstein and Streep argue that the most satisfied people have mastered the art of disengaging.

Over and over, people are told, “quitters never win.” But, in “Mastering the Art of Quitting,” readers are shown that learning how to let go can actually make them happier. The book, written by Peg Streep and Alan B. Bernstein, argues that quitting can be beneficial and that learning how to quit can create a better state of mind.

The book looks at why people continue to persist, how to fully disengage from goals that are unproductive, handle the emotions involved with quitting and create new and better objectives moving forward. It is a “myth of persistence” in today’s society that causes a fear of quitting for many people. The familiar mantra “quitters never win,” can sometimes hold people back. “Sometimes you merely get stuck running in place,” Bernstein says. “What we argue in the book is there’s really an art to deescalating your connection to where you’ve been and disengaging.”

Of course, the decision to quit something can be a very difficult one to make. Bernstein describes making that decision in a two-step process: “You have to actively make an intellectual decision to disengage,” Bernstein says. “Then you have to make an emotional one you have to realize it’s going to feel lousy. You’re going to start blaming and feeling angry, but then, hopefully, you’re going to make a decision to reactivate yourself.” Choosing to reactivate involves an evaluation of goals. Finding the best way to meet those goals is an important step in the art of quitting. “That leads to a change in motivation where you decide where you’re going to go,” Bernstein says. “If you’re really dedicated and want to get out of this you write it down. You pre-prepare yourself by deciding what the potential downfalls in your new direction might be.”

Bernstein also lays out several different factors that hold people back from cutting the cord. These factors act as support systems that keep the “myth of persistence” going.“One is the sunk cost fallacy,” Bernstein says. “That goes into any situation where the story goes ‘I put so much into it I should stay with it,’ and frequently, that’s not really the best solution.” Another factor holding people back is the idea of unconscious bias. “This is very common in relationships or jobs where you get just enough praise to feel that ‘next time I’ll do it better,’” says Bernstein. “There’s a hopefulness that comes from that unconscious bias but it’s unpredictable and ends up making people very anxious.”

Mastering the art of quitting and overcoming these support systems makes it easier to acknowledge a bad situation and move on. “Psychologically, it frees you from the idea that you must persist,” Bernstein says. “It places persistence as an equal opposite force to disengagement and choosing another goal. Secondly, you train yourself how to go about the business of making new goals and writing them down.” Becoming happier, Bernstsein argues, involves advancing toward those goals you truly care about.  “Are you moving closer to your intrinsic needs?” Bernstein says. “Are you, in effect, trading off for the areas that make you unhappy? [Mastering involves] advancing your intrinsic goals and minimizing the parts of your life that are working against you.”


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