Every year, when the topic comes up, I adamantly express my distaste for New Year’s resolutions.
Research shows they often don’t work because most of the time they aren’t specific enough and aren’t planned in a way that allows for measurable success to be seen.
That means resolutions typically exist as a social activity and “ritual declaration of commitments” done to fit in, according to research published in Information, Communication and Society.
Rather than participate in such a hollow pursuit, I’m going to attempt to adopt a new mindset.
I’m going to be a quitter.
Sure, some people’s resolutions involved quitting bad habits or other negative endeavors, but I’m more interested in being OK with simply saying no.
I’ve been told I don’t do this well, but more and more I’m learning about the power of quitting.
For example, even something as seemingly benign as quitting reading a book I’m not enjoying is something I struggle with. I can’t say “no” to a novel because I feel like I’m failing if I don’t finish it. The same goes for a podcast series or a television show, or even a meal.
I’m not alone in this. Novelist Joe Hill, the son of my favorite author Stephen King, used to fight this battle. However, he overcame the issue. In an interview with Men’s Health, he said he realized that as he got older he had less time and wanted to use it wisely.
This makes sense. After all, time is precious. It’s not worth wasting it on activities that don’t bring you joy.
Still, there are other benefits as well.
Often grit, popularized by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth, is lauded in society as an admirable trait because it epitomizes perseverance and pushing through hard tasks by not giving up.
However, a powerful argument against this mentality exists.
In an essay for The Atlantic, former professional poker player and current author Annie Duke wrote, “Though grit can get you to stick to hard things that are worthwhile, grit can also get you to stick to hard things that just aren’t worth sticking to—such as the remainder of a marathon after your fibula snaps at mile eight.”
That’s because one must consider the “sunk cost” and “opportunity cost” associated with any venture. According to the Freakonomics podcast, based on a book written by Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt, Dubner explained that “sunk cost” “is about the past — it’s the time, or money, or sweat equity that you’ve put into something, makes it hard to abandon. ‘Opportunity cost’ is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else — something that might make your life better.”
The pandemic helped many people reorient their priorities, which led to The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. By weighing the costs — both “sunk” and “opportunity” — individuals can take steps to dramatically improve their lives, which can and should include considering quitting or saying no.
Of course, this doesn’t mean quitting just because something is hard. As Chris Taylor wrote for Reuters, we shouldn’t “quit things recklessly. But quitting is a life choice we can get better at — by thinking intelligently about when, why and how to do it.”
Interestingly, some research has found that people who quit more often are healthier than the non-quitters, who often experience depression when they try in vain to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. Quitters, on the other hand, seemed to suffer from a smaller number of digestive issues, less inflammation, and fewer signs of psychological stress.
Despite evidence pointing toward the benefits of quitting, it is easier said than done. It takes practice. One must overcome the cognitive biases that create the aversion to just stopping and being done.
It also helps if you establish “kill criteria,” which means thinking ahead and determining what sign you will be looking for that indicates you should give up the effort, and enlisting a “quitting coach” to help you make the decision.
Of course, you could flip a coin to decide, which happened more than 20,000 times via an experiment Levitt conducted. Or you could use the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to help you determine if you are experiencing burnout and need to change.
Personally, I feel I need to be a quitter because I take on too much. I end up stressed out and irritable, which has negative impacts upon those around me, and it prevents me from enjoying daily life.
So, though I refuse to call it a resolution, I am going to be more mindful and start quitting more by just saying no. Just because someone needs something from me or I think I would enjoy being involved, if it doesn’t help me further my goals or improve my quality of life, I don’t have to do it.
It’s not going to be easy, and it will take time to master. However, I firmly believe it will end up helping me in the long run.
Maybe you have things in your life you should consider quitting too. If so, join in me in being a quitter in 2023. After all, we can all benefit from less stress and more enjoyment in our lives.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.