Arm holding out a white flag of surrender. Sometimes, you should just give up.
Image: Rob Bayer/Shutterstock

Perseverance is overrated – here’s why it’s OK to give up sometimes

4 May 2018

You know what? Sometimes you shouldn’t just ‘keep going’ – in these cases, science says the best thing to do is to give up.

There are certain traits that are prized in our society, and perseverance is one of them.

Motivational office posters and energising Instagram posts around the world all put out the call for you to ‘never give up’, ‘don’t stop’ and ‘just keep going’. That’s all well and good but, sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to just admit defeat.

Future Human

There are more compelling arguments than you would think in favour of occasionally just packing things in and abandoning particular goals, despite how counterintuitive a notion that may seem.

It may seem logical to stay on the path. Surely nothing worth having is easily attained, right?

Yet while you may believe perseverance is logical, you may be rationalising what is, at its core, an irrational emotional attachment to a particular goal that exists simply because our minds enjoy latching on to things, irrespective of how counterproductive they are.

“We get so emotionally attached to a goal that we’re setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment,” said business adviser and author Stephen Shapiro, speaking to the BBC.

There’s actually a name for when an emotional attachment to a particular goal causes you to stay the course even when it’s not benefiting you: the sunk cost fallacy.

The fallacy states that people convince themselves that a previously invested resource – money, time, effort – compels them to keep persevering to complete a particular goal. In reality, the most logical thing to do is often to cut your losses, but an emotional attachment to an imagined outcome can cloud your judgement.

From a career perspective, refusal to specialise can seriously benefit you. Sometimes, realising defeat in one field and going on to pursue another is the best option. Stanford School of Business labour economist Edward P Lazear has argued that generalists are nine times more likely to end up in senior management.

There is also a solid corpus of compelling research to indicate that giving up on a particular course of action can have positive effects on the body, while persisting with unattainable goals can incite an inflammatory response.

NetCredit has compiled an exhaustive infographic detailing all the ways giving up can actually be the best thing for you. For some more research-backed examples, check it out below.

Infographic: NetCredit

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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