know when to quit

Quit Already: 7 Ways To Know When It’s Time To Cut Your Losses

Stop whatever you are doing right now.

Not literally. Keep reading (it’s quite interesting).

Stop. Whatever. You are doing that you know you should’ve quit a long time ago. Maybe it is that “dream” project that you started so long ago that you don’t even remember why you were so passionate about. Maybe it’s your 9-to-5 that you hate going to every day. Maybe it’s relationship that you should’ve ended a few months back.

Quit. Or at least think about quitting.

There is at least one thing in your life right now that you know deep down you should not be doing. It doesn’t feel right (or at least not any more). It is wearing you down. Keeping you up at night.


Don’t listen to the outside voices screaming “a quitter never wins and a winner never quits”. Listen to your inner voice. The one that matters the most. The one that is telling you that if you find yourself in any of the 7 situations below, it is time to cut your losses and move on.

Why are you so afraid of quitting

In order to quit, you need to acknowledge where this fear of quitting, that is so ingrained in our modern-day society, comes from. Only once you understand it, you can internalize it, make piece with it, and put it to rest so you can start taking the right decisions for yourself, free of any fears.

You’ve worked so hard. Put in so much blood, sweat and tears. Endured so many sacrifices, but things are still not working out. But quitting is not an option, right? If you quit now, all your time and effort is going to go to waste and that can be a terrifying feeling. These wasted resources even have their own name. Economists call them “sunk costs”. The sunk cost fallacy is one of the primary reasons you are so afraid to quit anything. It occurs when you tell yourself that you can’t quit because of all the time or money you have already spent. The idea of all of that going to waste is what is keeping you at bay, paralyzed at the idea of quitting.

How do you overcome the fear of quitting

Enter another great economy term: opportunity cost.

For every hour or dollar that you spend on something , you are giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else, something that might make your life much better.

Quitting is scary, but staying in the current situation can be ever scarier when you think of all the things you are potentially giving up on. Your time is limited and you cannot (and shouldn’t) afford to let it go to waste doing things that don’t make your life better or have no future.

Sunk cost is about the past. Opportunity cost is about the future.

If you are scared to quit (which is absolutely natural), always think of the opportunity cost. Think of the brighter future, not the scary past, and often times that is enough to give you that extra push to make the right decision.

Now that you are no longer terrified at the idea of quitting (congratulations, it took me personally many years to get to where you are now), how do you know if you should quit something or not?

Here are 7 situations. If you find yourself in any of them, it is time to cut your losses and move on.

When the long-term cost outweighs the short-term benefits

If you are working extra hard on a project, but that is causing you to neglect your family, your friends, your health or even yourself, the long-term cost far outweighs the short-term benefits. When you finally succeed, but you don’t have the health or someone to share the success with, the project might prove not be be worth it. But it might be too late, you might’ve burned some bridges that you cannot restore.

Take 5 minutes at the end of the week and reflect on what you have achieved versus what you had to give up to achieve it. Make this a habit. There are always going to be sacrifices, but they should never outweigh the benefits. Scheduling the time to “weigh in” your situation will always keep you in check so you don’t end up giving up too much without even realizing it.

When there is no future

Entrepreneurs are especially guilty of this one. You come up with an idea. It is a pure stroke of genius. The best thing since sliced bread, the next Facebook. You are going to revolutionize the world (overnight). Fueled by the high of the moment (and maybe a few RedBulls), blinded by the ambition and determination you start work. You work and you work and then you work some more and fail to take the time and validate your idea first and see if it truly has a potential.

Or maybe you are climbing the corporate ladder, but you’ve reached an impasse. Your managers pass you over for a promotion, or you’ve simply outgrown the potential of the company. Either way, there is no future for you in your current circumstances.

It helps to take a step back, get the 30,000 foot view of your project, or life, and re-evaluate everything. Maybe you cannot see the forest for the trees, but maybe there is no forest at all. Talk to someone outside of your usual social circle. Someone who can give you an honest opinion about how realistic you are being about the future.

When your priorities have changed

Every day something changes.

The world never stops turning and what was the best thing one day might not be the best thing the next.

Maybe something better, or just different, or more fun, comes along and pushes what you are currently doing lower on the priorities list. This is not to suggest you should be jumping from opportunity to opportunity, like a bee pollinating flower after flower, but that it is perfectly OK to quit something, so you can replace it with a better, or more promising, alternative.

Things change and you should change with them. Follow your instincts. You know what’s best for you so don’t let the circumstances dictate your life.

When it is not fun (or it’s never been fun)

Some things are hard and they have their highs and lows, but they are at least fun. Either the process is enjoyable, or you feel accomplished when you are finally done or you have reached a milestone. Seth Godin calls these situations “dips”. Something really difficult, but with the opportunity to be the best in the world.

On the flip side, there are situations or projects that you dread starting, you hate the process, and when you are finally done, you wish you never did it. Seth Godin calls these “cul-de-sacs”. A situation that has no promise to get better, or in this case, more enjoyable.

In the grand scheme of life, you should only be doing things that bring you at least a little bit of pleasure. Either from the process or from the end result. If there is no benefit of doing it and you hate everything about it, doing more of it won’t help. 5 times 0 is still 0.

When extra effort does not bring extra results

Tim Ferris calls it the “minimum effective dose”. Science calls it the “laws of diminishing returns”. It all comes down to the same basic principle: once you have reached a certain point in a project, in life, or in any activity for that matter, doing more does not necessarily bring your better results. If you want to boil some water, you need to heat it up to exactly 100° C. Anything past that won’t make the water “more boiled”, it is just a waste of time, heat and energy.

If you reading a book or an article looking for an answer to a specific question, you can quit after you have found it. You don’t have to finish reading the whole piece just because you started it. Your question cannot be “more answered”. Extra effort does not always equal better results.

When you are doing it for the wrong reasons

Everything that you do should have a reason behind it. Your reason. One the matters and makes sense to you and you should always be in synch with it. The moment the reason is no longer there, or is no longer valid, it is time to move on.

Maybe you are doing something because someone pressured you into it or it just landed on your desk. Or because you are afraid to disappoint other people, or even yourself. These might seem like valid reasons at the time, but there are not yours and sooner or later they are going to backfire on you. If it doesn’t make sense to your personally, it is time to cut your losses and move on.

When you become immune to the red flags

Busting through the low moments, being determined to succeed no matter what, being able to focus on the task at hand and ignore any negative emotions, or pain, are generally good characteristics to have.

But they can also get you in trouble.

If your body is aching, if you friends and family are begging you to stop or at least to slow down, if the results are not there, the fun is not there, but you keep on going, it could be because you’ve become immune to the red flags. You’ve learned to tune out the pain and the negative and concentrate on the end goal.

Take a step back. Press the pause button and examine the red flags. Often times there are there to warn you before you crash and burn so don’t ignore them completely. It is fine to tune them out from time to time, but when you become immune to them, it can get dangerous.

Over to you now

Fear of quitting should never be a factor in taking the right decisions for yourself. Knowing when to quit is a requirement for success so embrace it.

In the words of the great Seth Godin: “quit or be exceptional, average is for losers”

What are some other situations where it is appropriate to cur your looses and quit? Share in the comment section below:

  • stephen714

    This is a good guide and it should but does not seem to apply to relationships that become counterproductive. At some level the relationship may offer something you need. But on many others it’s a problem most of the time. I loved but…maybe it still fills a critical need in spite of all that you know is wrong. How to make sure it’s time to leave or stay in this situation? The benefit may be companionship or a help at tough chores at home. Or simply overwhelming loneliness that existed before this love. How do you decide when the prospects for love are zero and the chores being done you should be doing yourself? Or is it a dependency on the other that allows you to continue a bad habit you know you need to stop but are enabled by this person? It’s not so difficult looking at others. It’s when the people in the situation are us or the two of us, it becomes not so clear when to quit with no obvious benefit other than to give up some bad habits this person enables. Those are often the hardest decisions of all. Knowing and remembering the tender moments of most loves makes this a most unsettling choice. Trying to think of the other persons feelings also seems to get in the way. Think about how sweet he was on my last birthday and I almost crack. Then I remember that no one ever stayed in a relationship with me over the years that I alone needed. People come and go for their own reasons and have never just stuck around because I needed them. What obligation do I have to stick around? And is that obligation only to help the other or is it to make me feel better by not making them cry?

  • Linda Odom

    just happened upon this article researching something else. this directly applies to a major issue in my life right now but also i have quitting issues in so many other ways and changing over so many years. ive always considered the losses as final and usually a devastating set back so i stuck in there for fear of loss but also cause i was so loyal to my idea. Loyal to a serious fault. I never though of emotional or financial loss as a ‘sunk or opportunity’ cost. and honesty this common and basic concept is gonna be a game changer for me. im always working on changing the negative thoughts into the positive thoughts and all that spiritual and psychological jedi mind trickery but sometimes heartbreak and job loss is not very logical and realistic to our bottom line of happiness. its hard to write off a horrible heartbreak accompanied with guilt and shame and the home with so much love and money invested is shot too. but if i can think of these events and set backs as strategy, a cost of opportunity and a small price for something diminishing in value anyway, I feel i can proceed confidently and almost excitedly into the unknown and uncertain.