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Sometimes quitting is the best option

Professional poker players know it’s best to wait for a good hand. Getty

When Liz Truss declared she was “a fighter and not a quitter” – shortly before quitting – she meant it as a show of strength, says Tim Harford in the FT. The term “quitter” is an “unambiguous insult”. But it shouldn’t be. In everything from ideas to jobs to romantic partners, “we are far too stubborn” to give up. Look at the viral popularity of “quiet quitting”, in which burnt-out young employees refuse to work beyond their contracted hours. It’s an understandable response to being underpaid and overworked. But wouldn’t a better response be to just quit for real? Workers are often told to tough out a job they hate so that their CV doesn’t look “flaky”. But they’d often benefit far more from quitting in the long run.

What people forget is that “everything you say ‘no’ to is an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to something else”. Poker players understand this: professionals abandon about 80% of their hands, knowing it’s best to wait for something better, whereas amateurs ditch just over 50%. People tend to be reluctant to change course rather than stick with the status quo – but they shouldn’t be. In an American study in which participants facing a big dilemma made their decision by tossing a coin, those who ended up making a major change (“that is, the quitters”) were significantly happier six months later. The inescapable conclusion: “If you’re at the point when you’re tossing a coin to help you decide whether to quit, you should have quit some time ago.”