The Difference Between Quitting and Giving Up

Fritha Hookway
3 min readDec 20, 2015

A few years ago I came across the concept of the sunk cost fallacy. Put simply, it applies to situations where any money you’ve spent can’t be recovered and even against more rational judgement you let this dictate decisions you make.

Let’s say you spend money on a movie ticket, but then half way in realise it is the worst movie ever and you’ve no interest in what happens at the end. More often than not you’ll stay because you’ve spent the money even when you know full well you aren’t going to enjoy it. On the other hand, leaving the movie means you’d actually recover the hour or so you’d have wasted by staying and watching something you were not enjoying. No matter what you do, the money is gone so why not at least get your time back?

When you look at it this way, the second choice sounds more sensible but appears to be a lot harder to action for most of us.

I like the theory around the sunk cost fallacy because it shows the power of acting based on what you think you should do, rather than what makes more sense.

Recently I was discussing the notion of quitting with someone. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with quitting when it is a considered thing. This was where we disagreed until realising one of us was talking about quitting and the other was talking about giving up.

Giving up has a sense of exasperation. If you read the line “oh I give up!” it’s hard not to imagine someone throwing their hands in the air while saying it. Giving up implies knowing there is more you could do, but not bothering. You consciously decide you’re not going to finish the job. While giving up isn’t always a bad thing, it is usually premature. It’s a shot gun call that is often made when all options haven’t necessarily been exhausted.

Quitting, by contrast, is the decision that something isn’t worth continuing. ‘Worth’ being the operative word in that sentence. This is where the sunk cost fallacy comes in. Despite investing time and energy into a project, if you are not getting value out of it in whatever way you had hoped, sometimes it is better to quit and put that time into something else.

The first time I signed up for a half marathon I had to pull out because of an injury. I felt like such a cop out and was so embarrassed for having said I was going to do something and not being able to see it through. Of course pulling out of the race was the smartest (and only) option I had because I would have continued to injure myself had I let my stubbornness get in the way. Here, I was confusing quitting for a rational reason with giving up because it was too hard.

Giving up and quitting are not the same thing. They’re barely close.

As a society we are conditioned to think quitting is failing. I’d argue almost the entire opposite. When you quit something in a considered way it shows you have value for your own time, purpose and worth, and you’ve made a decision to the betterment of those things. Largely because of the way we view (or mistake) quitting for giving up, it’s an even harder thing to do because we are also taking into account what other people think.

When I ran this post past my boyfriend for a quick spell check, his comment was “I still think quitting sounds bad”. And I guess that’s my point. It ‘sounds’ bad because we have been conditioned to think so. But when you really look at it, it shouldn’t be that way at all. You should never tell someone to do something they may not agree with simply because society says so. Similarly, it shouldn’t be the reason to continue something that isn’t computing with you either.

Quitting, when it’s right, takes courage. Often it’s harder to find confidence in your own conviction than simply plod on with something because you were worried what people would think.

And it’s hard to say that if you can act in that manner it is the attribute of a failure.