Quitting Time

Maybe it's time to stop jumping over all those hurdles. (Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

No one wants to be called a quitter. And absolutely no one wants to be the guy who tells other people to quit … except maybe Stephen Dubner. Today on Marketplace, Dubner explains the virtues of quitting to Tess Vigeland, making the case that people don’t quit enough. One upside of quitting is avoiding “sunk costs,” the time and effort you’ve put into something that makes it difficult to move on. We’ll hear from Justin Humphries, a former prized baseball prospect who made the difficult decision to quit — and abandon all the time he sunk into baseball. Humphries went on to Columbia University, where he worked with sociologist (and Freakonomics contributor) Sudhir Venkatesh on a study which finds that many baseball players would be better off if they quit too. Another upside of quitting? It can make you healthier. We’ll hear from psychology professor Carsten Wrosch, who found that letting go of “unattainable goals” has psychological and physiological upsides.

Here’s where to find Marketplace on the radio near you.

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  1. anonymous says:

    No doubt it is important to adapt and recognize when something isn’t working. At the same time, I think about all the achievements over the course of my life, such as attending law school, teaching myself piano and guitar, learning how to golf, all of which required consistent failure and persistence. Even learning the most simple skills, can require repeated failure. I would not be surprised if humans had some evolutionary urge to continue with certain tasks in spite of repeated failures. Thus although its important to be realistic and adapt to new situations, I think we very often underestimate the strength and role of patience and persistence.

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  2. Greg says:

    I learned not to quit from my mom and the plate in front of me. :)

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  3. Ted Pavlic says:

    This is a little bit of self promotion, but an article of mine published in _Acta Biotheoretica_ this year that actually relates sunk costs and opportunity costs directly. In particular, it shows how the sunk cost effect can actually result from opportunity cost minimization for certain environments.

    “The Sunk-cost Effect as an Optimal Rate-maximizing Behavior”
    by Theodore P. Pavlic and Kevin M. Passino
    _Acta Biotheoretica_ 59(1):53–66
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/pu2v621167568076/
    DOI Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10441-010-9107-8

    For example, this mathematical observation helps to explain why tundra swans tend to spend more time in each costly activity in areas where costly activities are the norm. Despite energetic models that expect the opposite behavior, opportunity cost models explain this sunk-cost effect (i.e., continue costly things longer than cheap things) because they reduce the entrance costs of other activities that are almost surely going to be encountered.

    Other human examples are mentioned in the paper. However, in this case, you could imagine a baseball player continuing his “dream” because his other alternatives (other sports or shifting his investment into intellectual activities) are very costly to enter. An interesting non-linearity that enters into this system is that the longer a baseball player pursues his dream, the (at least apparent) cost of a new activity increases, which further reinforces the behavior.

    So it may not be optimal, but it may be a good heuristic that usually tends to minimize opportunity cost.

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  4. AWilliams says:

    This podcast was very valuable to me. My philosophy has always been to NEVER EVER GIVE UP. Though it has always been one of my strengths and served me well, over the past few years it hasn’t. For me it’s because of the career I chose (in which very little ever changes), econmoyand people I hoped would

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    • AWilliams says:

      UH – OH – POSTED BEFORE I WAS DONE…. to correct & continue:

      the economy and people I hoped would be inspired to do/ be better. It was soooo good to hear, there is in fact, sometimes a very good reason to give up… to feel empowered to throw in the towel and not feel like a failure. This show came at the right time for me to hear the words and have them mean something powerful. I would even say it was meant to be and helped me navigate a very very difficult time in my life when I was very unsure about whether conventional wisdom was the best way to go. I have decided that winners sometime do quit.

      Thanks Freakonmics! I just love the show – keep them coming!

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  5. Kasper Kirk says:

    Big day in Denmark and watching Simpsons.

    I’ll guess its about quitting in time because of my recommendations?

    Didn’t vote the show is over and I feel relaxed but sure had hopes for Greenland

    I’m so relaxed, maybe Ill watch a movie.. Thank’s!

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  6. Uzo says:

    Wao! this is very encouraging, You made my day today..

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