Should you grit or should you quit?

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” This Napoleon Hill, is often quoted and is  a great quote for a bumper sticker!

However, is it something that you should live by? Is it not clever to quit when you seem to be continually pushing shit uphill?  

We all agree that  “grit” and perseverance are the essential ingredients for any winning strategy, if not the most essential. 

Grit as defined by University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Duckworth, in her excellent and bestselling book of the same name is defined as passion and sustained persistence in goal attainment.

 What’s more it is, she finds, an important predictor of long-term success!!

But is this always true?

Susan David,  an executive coach and psychologist at Harvard Medical School, and a researcher on emotions and thriving, suggests that putting your head down and working relentlessly toward a goal that--for whatever reason--is no longer serving you does not make you a “winner.” Quite the opposite, in fact.

We should be gritty, yes, but not stupid.

It is Important to Change Evolve and Pivot 

The business world is full of people who cling to roles, plans, models, and unsupported, outdated mindsets because they believe grit is an inherent good. It is shockingly easy to get so caught up in sticktoitiveness that you’re blind to the fact that you’re stuck.

Is bring persistent and passionate in ways that are unhealthy and lead to burnout, and  do not actually align with their real desires or do not reflect the truth of their situation,  good? . If  it is not serving them, and means they lose the chance to pursue that which would lead to true success or fulfillment, should they still persist?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I enjoying or finding satisfaction in what I’m doing—perhaps not every second of every day, but overall?
  • Is what I am doing a reflection of what is truly important to me?
  • Do I spend most days using what I am good at in pursuit of my goal?
  • In my gut, do I believe I can be successful in meeting my goal?
  • In sticking with this plan, what opportunities that I might find exciting or interesting or important, am I passing up? Am I okay missing out on those?

Answering questions like these requires what Susan  calls emotional agility - the ability to notice our emotions (even the most difficult ones) with compassion and curiosity, and then to take actions that match our intentions and values. When we’re emotionally agile, we can re-evaluate our goals and expectations set long ago, in light of current information. The world is constantly changing, and we, too, are evolving. (You can assess your emotional agility here, with a free quiz.)

There is ample research suggesting that cultivating the ability to walk away from existing goals that no longer serve us and focus on pursuing othe goals can be courageous, smart and strategic. 

In fact, goal adjustment is adaptive; it protects physical and psychological wellbeing. 

Grit needs to hold hands with the ever-changing context of our lives, especially over the long term. We need to lift the stigma of quitting under these circumstances, so that doing so can be rightfully seen as adaptive, and embraced with grace and dignity.

So, in my view, the essential conversation we should be having is not only how to develop grit in of itself (something I explore in Emotional Agility), but also how to know whether you’re being gritty about the right things. In other words: Are you applying all your passion and persistence toward a goal that aligns with your values, in the pursuit of something you enjoy, that brings you satisfaction and meaning in your life?

Rather than “Winners never quit,” Susan prefers, “A real winner knows when to quit and when to grit.” It’s a little long for a bumper sticker, but in my view, a better guide to live by.


Susan DavidPh.D., is an award-winning Psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School; co-founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital; and CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, a boutique business consultancy. She is the author of the book Emotional Agility

Join the thousands who have taken the Emotional Agility Quiz to get personalized feedback on how to be more effective with thoughts and emotions. The quiz takes about 5 minutes and you receive a personalized 10 page report.

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