How to Walk Away
We hate to quit. Not just because supposedly quitters never win, but because of a cognitive distortion that psychologists and economists call the “sunk cost fallacy.” Say you’re sitting on the couch watching a show and it stinks. You’ll probably change the channel. Now say you’re at a movie theater and you’ve paid 10 bucks. Will you walk out? It’s less likely, because you have sunk $10 into the experience and will never get the money back. “But which future life will be better?” says Schwartz. “The one in which you sit through the awful movie or the one in which you leave?” And yet you have a nagging feeling that you must somehow recoup your investment, however meagerly.
Schwartz evokes the wisdom of Kenny Rogers: “ ‘You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.’ ” Think of quitting as an investment in your future, happier self—that is, the you who is free of the frustrating job, the lousy relationship, the school committee that is draining your will to go on.
There’s a good chance that someone will be unhappy with your decision, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable—for a while, anyway. “The reality is that in walking away we may have to sit with a range of unpleasant feelings, including anxiety and guilt,” says Lerner. “So when you make an important decision like leaving, take the time to think it through, then be prepared for the difficult emotions that invariably come with change.”