3 Signs It’s Time to Throw in the Towel

On a family vacation to a tropical location, one of my colleagues and his siblings decided to kayak out to a sandbar. It quickly became apparent that the surf was stronger than they thought. The group had a decision to make—strain against the pounding waves to make it to the sandbar, or give up, head back to shore, and find something else to do at the beach. They couldn’t agree on how to handle the dilemma. They also didn’t know how to know when to quit.

They experienced something called the sunk cost fallacy, the tendency to follow through on something after investing in it even after realizing it will cost more than it’s worth. As my friend’s family learned, knowing when it’s time to pivot is hard sometimes. There are certainly times when perseverance is worth it. But there are also times when cutting your losses is the right move. How do you know the difference? Here are 3 signs it’s time to throw in the towel.

1. The goal is no longer profitable.

James Dyson is known for his bagless vacuum cleaners, which he invented after 10 years of testing and 5,126 failed prototypes. His billion-dollar company also built an innovative washing machine. But Dyson decided to cut its production. The product was innovative, but the sales were lackluster. Even though the washing machines were high quality, Dyson decided there was no sense in continuing to pour resources into building them if they didn’t earn a profit. If your goal is no longer profitable, cut bait and try something new. It’s better to reserve your remaining resources for future goals than to burn them all up on your current one out of stubbornness. Holding on too long to a goal in the short term leads to failure in the long term.

Holding on too long to a goal in the short term leads to failure in the long term.

2. The goal is no longer attainable.

Not every goal is reachable, even if you try your hardest. Did you expect to run a marathon but roll your ankle during training? Did you plan on taking a family road trip but get a big, unexpected assignment at work? When it becomes obvious that you are going to fall short of your goals, walking away isn’t always quitting. It’s reevaluating.

3. The goal is no longer helpful.

Say you set out to switch to a vegetarian diet but find your energy dips and your doctor is concerned for your health. Your goal, which may have been good in the beginning, is no longer helpful. When your goals miss the bullseye, you can stop without regret. Pushing forward with something that has become unhelpful just because it’s now a routine, habit, or crutch for you won’t yield long-term fruit. Negative side effects of holding onto goals too long include anxiety, depression, and hesitation to set future goals. Recognizing that a goal is no longer helpful and being brave enough to walk away is not only a productive move but a healthy one, too.

Sound off: What advice would you give to somebody who doesn’t know how to know when to quit?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Are there times when you think it’s good to quit?”