Leadership

Don't You Know When to Quit?

Sticking with a task at all costs is supposed to show character. But a new study shows some people go on even when they should cut their losses

Written by Murad Hemmadi
Illustration: Kagan McLeod

Perseverance has always been revered as a trait that leads to success in life and business. Research hasshown that people with “grit”—the trait of bearing down even in the face of obstacles and setbacks—are more likely to graduate, get married and stay married, complete arduous Army training orremain employed, compared to those who give up more easily. But anew study points to the contrary.

Researchersfound that it’s not always smart to get so bogged down with a problem that youcan’t move on to the next task. Sometimes, you just have to give up.

A team of researchers from the University of Southern California and Northwestern University designed an experiment to measure 400 students’ grit. They were first given a quiz to assess their level of determination (you can take the quiz yourselfhere). Then, they had to solve 37 anagrams in 20 minutes. For each correct answer, they were rewarded with a ticket to enter a $100 lottery. What the participants didn’t know was that 16 of the anagrams were unsolvable.

The study found that grittier individuals tended to get bogged downin the impossible questions, believingthey wouldeventually solve it them. By failing to keep the larger goal in perspective, they dug in on the hard questionsand solved fewer problems overall—even though they knew it was costing them additional chances at the money. Meanwhile, the less tenacious subjects skipped ahead to tackle easier puzzles, thus finishing more problems and increasing their chance at winning.

The lesson here is not to give up on something the moment you encounter resistance. It’s letting the strong-willed and stubborn ones among us know that not every task deserves the same level of commitment, and in some cases, bailing out so you can spend your energy elsewhereis the wiser choice.

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What do you think? Is there such a thing as too much perseverance? Let us know by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com