walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

quitting and decision making

A while ago, I reviewed (more or less favorably, IIRC), Seth Godin's _The Dip_, a thin book about when not to pursue a goal.


In this Olympic season, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would muse about "quitters never win and winners never quit", Godin's book, and a variety of other research that shows that, in fact, winners _do_ quit (often, at times) and then try to draw some conclusions about, say, parenting.



After telling a story about a couple of idiots bidding up to $204 for a $20 bill (auction structure: winner gets the bill, but the 2nd high bidder has to pay up their bid, too, only they get nothing), and observing: "This tendency to feel so invested in a situation — or too embarrassed to admit that we might have chosen the wrong path — permeates all aspects of our lives", the author nevertheless still feels that it is hard, as a parent, to allow a child to quit.

My parents had this attitude about a variety of things. Music lessons on the accordion (even _after_ accordions became cool, I still loathe them, and I was actually really compliant about practicing and eventually switched to piano. To this day, I can't bring myself to touch a musical instrument with any serious intent, largely as a result of this parenting style). Our religion (yes, well, we all know how _that_ turned out). They didn't, as a general rule, permit us to _have_ after-school activities, so there wasn't much there to quit. However, they insisted that we quit those activities our religion decided, after we had started them, were inappropriate in some way.

Way to go, 'rents.

Needless to say, I have some strong opinions on this subject, that can be summarized as: You want to try this? How bad? Okay. You don't want to do this any more? How bad? Okay. If money is/was/were to become an issue, I'd just lay it out for them: here's what we got. How do _you_ want to spend it. Poll the family. Come to consensus (by exhaustion if necessary).

The author goes on to (accurately) describe the internal state of many parents: "The urge is often to tell him to stick with it because he’ll appreciate it when he’s older, or he made a commitment (and we spent the money), or because we fear that letting him give up this time means he will give up on anything when it gets a little tough."

Right. Because people _generally speaking_ give up the things they truly love and care about when things get a little tough.


Oh, and btw, good way to teach kids how to engage in the classic error of sunk costs. Not to mention destroying the intrinsic motivational structures that will ensure your kids grow up to be adults with some stamina when it comes to pursuing the difficult-but-valued.

Fine. Whatever. I'd really be able to live with all this. The author is just working through the emotional tangle and _I respect that_. I really do. This, not so much:

"Rom Brafman, who is also a psychologist [sez on the subject of the _right_ way to quit which the author and Brafman assert is important]: “It is as important to teach someone how to quit as staying committed,” he said. “Lots of times people just stop showing up, and that’s wrong.” Rather, he suggested, say something like “ ‘I tried to work it out, and this not a good match for me.’ Do it in a responsible manner.”

I've quit by not showing up. I've quit by volunteering why I'm quitting. I've quit by responding to in-person or in-writing surveys of why-d'ya'quit. I've quit involving the courts (divorce). I've quit involving a multi-page, single spaced explanation of _why I quit_ in front of a bunch of JW elders, bringing someone with me as a witness.

And I have so say, there's a _helluva_ lot to be said for not showing up. If you just stop showing up, and people come after you, you have a reasonable chance at getting a restraining order against _them_. If you quit and insist on explaining yourself, there's a chance they'll get one against you. People who show up with guns in workplaces after they've been discharged are quitting with an (emotional and highly inappropriate) explanation.

Right way to quit my ass. We may live in a society that worships contracts. Don't you be suckered. If there _is_ a contractual obligation, think about the consequences of breaking it. But if it's one of those "social contract" or so-help-me "etiquette" things? Quitting without an explanation is a _really phenemonally good_ way to quit. Saves face all 'round.

The author concludes with the expectable -- but still so moronic as to be evil -- conclusion from Godin that the worse time to quit is "when you’re feeling the most pain". Godin does a nice job of this in the book that is inadequately summarized in this article of explaining how to avoid quitting while you are in the most pain, and for the most part, it amounts to noticing that this is _going_ to be painful, and quitting before the pain starts so as to avoid the temptation to quit in the middle (pain with no payoff) or stick it out when it isn't really worth it to you (sunk costs). And in this context, I will refer you to the Groningen protocol. The Hastings Center (free registration) had a great article defending it (at least in the Dutch context) a while ago, and it may be the single strongest temptation I've ever encountered for transplanting myself once again, to the home of (most of) my ancestors. These people know how to think through a tough problem, and make the right decision -- and how to explain how to do it to other people so it can be done in an Orderly Fashion. Because, after all, that is the Dutch way.

Don't research that if you are already depressed; it won't cheer you up at all. I'm serious when I say this is some of the best decision making I've ever encountered in my life. But the subject matter is hard, and some of the secondary commentary is obscene in both how it misrepresents the protocol, and the value systems represented by that commentary.

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