Quitting Sometimes Might be a Healthier Choice

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


In a series of studies by Angela Duckworth and colleagues, individuals demonstrating “grit” were more likely to be successful in both academic and job related measures of performance and success (Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, D., Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92(6), 1087-1101). The researchers defined and measures “grit” as passion and perseverance for long-term goals, grit accounted for an average of 4% of the variance in success outcome measures (e.g., educational attainment among 2 samples of adults (N=1,545 and N=690), academic GPA among Ivy League undergraduates (N=138), retention in 2 classes of United States Military Academy, West Point, cadets).

Grit, as measured by the researchers, was not correlated with IQ but was highly correlated with the fiver factor personality construct of Conscientiousness. Grit demonstrated incremental predictive validity of success measures beyond IQ as well as conscientiousness. Many large-scale studies suggest that a mere 25% of difference between individuals and job performance and a third of the difference in school grades can be attributed to IQ. Personality factors, such as resilience, achievement striving, emotional stability and extroversion are said to contribute to the other 75%. It appears that grit and intelligence are completely independent traits. Both are associated with increasing the likelihood of success, but those with high intelligence are no more likely than those with low IQ to be gritty.


According to new research, quitting may be better for your health. Psychologist’s Gregory Miller and Carsten Wroshch have found that people who are able to throw feel comfortable quitting when faced with unattainable goals may have better mental and physical health than those who persevere and push themselves to succeed (Miller, G. & Wrosch, C. (2007). You’ve Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em: Goal Disengagement and Systemic Inflammation in Adolescence. Psychological Science, 18).

The findings build on their previous research, which found that those persistent individuals experienced higher levels of an inflammatory protein called C-reactive protein (an indicator of stress) as well as increased cortisol. They also reported lower psychological well being. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal but inflammation appears to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other stress related conditions (Wrosch, C., Miller, G. E., Scheier, M. F., & Brun de Pontet, S. (2007). Giving up on unattainable goals: Benefits for health? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 251-265). It appears that sticking with an unobtainable goal might actually be dangerous for your health.

Contrary to what we might have been taught, it appears that it might be in our best interests to “cut our losses” in the face of unattainable goals and life challenges and actually disengage from the goal to ensure optimum well-being and potentially long-term health. This appears to be true whether we are in unsatisfying long-term relationships, working for leaders who are toxic or targeting a goal that is beyond our skill and ability “set points.”

So, any good things those who persist? In other research Carsten and colleagues found that in the face of life challenge and disengaging from unattainable goals, those who redefined and set new goals were more likely to be able to buffer the negative emotions associated with failure. Maybe “rebound” relationships and new entrepreneurial goals might actually serve to help us find closure to the past and re-engage us for future journeys.

Research by Laura King and colleagues at the University of Missouri, Columbia has recently explored how we deal with lost opportunities and mistaken expectations play a role in health, happiness and personality development (Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, D., Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92(6), 1087-1101). In their research, King found that to be truly happy individuals must “divest themselves of previously sought after goals” that are no longer achievable.

Their study suggests that the happiest individuals acknowledge loss, do not spend much time ruminating on the past and can more easily disengage from failure and “what might have been” in the past. Overall, they are more likely to be focused on and committed to current goals, passions and life activities.

If you are going to regret, it seems healthier to do it about things you have tried to do, rather than, the things we are too afraid to try……Be well….

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