Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin in the 1970s, I was raised on the gritty gospel of venerable Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who said, “Winners never give up and dropouts never win. . ” This mindset propelled me towards a college golf scholarship and I was convinced that I would be a professional golfer. But something unexpected happened in my freshman year: I honestly reviewed my game, meticulously compared my stats to those of my peers, and realized I would never be good enough for it. make a living as a pro. I was wondering if I should stop my dream.

I played for the rest of college, even becoming an American academic athlete twice, but gave up on the idea of ​​ever playing professionally. It was an agonizing decision that went against my upbringing. But I’m lucky to have quit, because I found another vocation, a vocation for which I turned out to have an extraordinary talent: economics. Decades later, my work as an economist convinced me that good old Vince was wrong. People don’t give up enough.

That could start to change in the age of Covid, as many people reassess their priorities. This has led to what the media is calling the big resignation or the big departure: More than 24 million people in the United States have quit their jobs since April. Most people don’t leave the workforce permanently, but simply seek greener pastures (and less prone to burnout).

As 2022 dawns, many of us are wondering how we would like to improve our lives, and of course we are making New Year’s resolutions. To help your year be as successful as possible, I have put together four science guides for what I call “optimal smoking cessation”.

Confetti flying in Times Square on New Years Eve last year.


COREY SIPKIN / AFP / Getty Images

1. Look in the worst and the best of times

A lot of research shows that we tend to base our decisions on information that is right in front of us, ignoring the rest. A well-known experiment conducted in the 1990s captured this well. Participants were allowed to ask questions about an exciting opportunity, such as going to a movie in a foreign city, before deciding to do so. The best strategy would have been to weigh the proposed activity against other options, but the subjects thought very narrowly: their investigations focused almost exclusively on the proposed event rather than alternatives.

This psychological phenomenon can blind us to potentially superior life paths and explains why we tend to only think about quitting when things are going badly. When things are going well, we become complacent. To approach your career, health or free time in this way is to neglect what economists call your set of opportunities, a set of opportunities available to you and available with your current talents, resources and know-how.

You can’t find the best options if you don’t research. And if you wait to only look for outside options when the going gets tough, you’re quitting too late. So, in the New Year, make your search strategy symmetrical: actively generate alternatives when life is tough and when it’s groovy. Even if all goes well, take a look at potentially greener pastures. New opportunities should be just as likely to change you as a bad boss or bad owner.

2. Find your Portuguese wine

Wine and cloth were the two commercial goods that the British economist David Ricardo proposed as examples in 1817 to illustrate his new concept of comparative advantage. Portugal, Ricardo pointed out, was excellent at making wine: they had the right grapes and the right climate, and a tradition of winemakers with the know-how to produce good exportable wine at competitive prices. England, on the other hand, was excellent at producing sheets; the country had a long textile tradition and the right machinery to give it an edge in the global economy. Ricardo’s argument was very simple: do what you are comparatively best for.

Succeeding or failing in goals does not have to be a black and white proposition; the goals can come in nuances.

The lens of comparative advantage can serve as a magnifying glass to uncover activities that are worth giving up. Do you have a job that doesn’t call on your strongest skills? Well, maybe you should leave it because there will be limits inherent in your success. Also, keep an eye out for how the world is changing. What might have been a comparative advantage before, such as hosting large events in person, might not give you a competitive advantage at this historic moment. So what other skills can you tap into, or what niche areas that weren’t there a few years ago might you have a natural talent for? When I decided to devote myself entirely to economics in 1987, I wasn’t thinking: ‘My equivalent of Portuguese wine will be to combine economics with data science to help a peer-to-peer digital ridesharing business. . I discovered this comparative advantage much later.

3. Climb mountains or abandon them in small steps

Tons of research shows that humans are not good at staying motivated when it comes to distant goals. We want to live long but we eat poorly and do not exercise enough; we want to retire young but are not investing or saving enough. When deciding your goals for the year, it’s good to have a lofty end goal, but you should also set some encouraging interim goals. If you want to train for a fall marathon, for example, do a 10k in the spring and a half marathon in the summer. Not only can this keep you more motivated, but you can also collect valuable data on your performance that will help you train better for the big day. Alternatively, you might hate running the half marathon so much that you’d rather give up that resolution and find a better one. Better to quit today than tomorrow if you end up quitting anyway. An early stumble can be as instructive as an early success.

But succeeding or failing in goals doesn’t have to be a black and white proposition; the goals can come in nuances. You can set a resolution of, say, earning $ 15,000 with your side activity or losing 50 pounds of extra weight. But if you lose 30 pounds, you are still healthier and will feel much better; if you earn $ 5,000 from your side business, that’s still good extra income. Just like gradual successes, quitting smoking can also be done gradually. You can leave a job but not an industry, change your house but not your city. Too often we view goals in a binary fashion, causing us to miss smaller, but still important accomplishments or potential changes.

4. You don’t stop, you call a beep

Behavioral economists like me love to do experiments using framing effects, which is a fancy way of saying that we play around with the way we present ideas to people and see if that affects their decisions. For example, if one of my kids gets a bad grade, reacting by saying I’m disappointed that they are slacking off might have a different effect than saying something more positive, like saying that I want them to achieve. its potential. In that vein, given that we are conditioned to view giving up as inherently bad, we should try to define giving up in a positive way – in football terms, as calling for an audible.


Have you ever stopped something and found that by doing this you finally won? Join the conversation below.

Even Vince Lombardi would accept a beep – a last-minute change of play made by the quarterback on the line of scrimmage – if that helped him win. Positive framing works in other ways. When I work with government organizations, nonprofits, and for profit businesses on how to use and generate data, they usually recoil in horror when I say we should do an ‘experiment’. I learned to avoid the word electronic and instead offer “trials” and “pilot studies”. They like it.

The word quit smoking has negative connotations that might make us feel that we are not “serious” enough. Instead, set it up as a pivot or sound call. Every now and then, we all need to call for a beep. After all, if you set big goals for yourself, then you are clearly approaching your life with vigor, and you should be feeling good about it. Each time you engage in an optimal stop, you are heading for something better. Doing this shouldn’t be seen as a loss, but rather a victory at a different game.

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