Do we know when to cut our losses?

A pair of scissors

I reckon we’re all pretty bad at knowing when to cut our losses and move on. Consider these two questions:

1)  Do you find it easy to just stop and give up on a novel that you’re part-way through reading and not enjoying?

2)  Do you find it easy to get up and leave the cinema if you’re half way through a film that is boring you to tears?

If you’re anything like me, then neither of those two things would be easy for you. There’s a little part of me that feels like a failure if I stop reading a book rather than seeing it through to the bitter end, and of course the further I am into reading it, the more of a failure I feel if I stop. I know I’m not alone. Why is that? Does it relate to some childhood schooling experience of being forced to finish books we don’t like? Is it because other people, maybe people we admire and respect, have enjoyed the book and we therefore feel there must be something wrong with us if we don’t like it? Is it an optimistic hope that it will get better? Possibly all of those, but mostly I think it’s because we all have such precious little spare time that we don’t want to entertain the possibility that we may have wasted some of it. So, for my part, I convince myself that I am gaining something worthwhile by continuing to read the book; certainly not pleasure, but perhaps education. I’m making myself into a better, more rounded and worldly person by soldiering on through those pages of hell.

The cinema is an interesting one. Some of the same reasons I mentioned above could apply here too, but I think the overriding issue is financial. I have paid to come and see this film, and I am therefore going to sit here in complete misery, whilst time passes slower than I ever thought possible, because I’m damn well going to get my money’s worth! Seriously? How ridiculous is that? Does it cost me any more or any less money if I leave early compared to staying through to the end? Of course not, so why I do feel I am getting better value out of the money I have spent if I put myself through a boredom endurance test, rather than leaving and finding something better to do with my time? The ridiculousness goes even further; twice I have fallen asleep at the cinema during films that have bored me – did I feel annoyed at myself for having wasted my money? No, I felt pleased that I had found a way to make staying there through the film bearable! (That showed ’em, they wanted to bore me into insanity, but instead I had a lovely nap, how clever am I hey!).

Of course, reading books we don’t like, and going to the cinema to see films we don’t enjoy, are on a small scale compared to some of the big projects we undertake in life. Giving up on something you have spent weeks, months, or even years developing, is a tough decision, but it’s one we probably need to make more often. There is no shame in stopping something that is not working for you, whether it’s career or hobby related. You can’t get back the time and money you have spent, but you can avoid putting more into it. Whatever you have done to date on it will not have been a waste of time because, trust me, you will have learned some valuable lessons along the way, even if it’s just that building a half-sized replica of the Empire State Building out of matchsticks isn’t the project for you (don’t ask).


2 responses to “Do we know when to cut our losses?

  1. Last year I had quite a long conversation with my psychologist about exactly this. I can not stop stop reading a book once I have started it. Even if I am finding it really tedious I have to see it through. My OH says she can’t understand it; if it’s rubbish she will throw it away without a second thought.
    Discussing it further I realised that, strangely, I feel a responsibility to the characters in the novel to finish. It’s kind of like if I don’t read it they won’t live out their lives in the book. I’m not stupid. I do know this is not really true. apparently, it possibly relates to my feeling of responsibility towars others and a strong need to protect them that has featured in my life.


    • I really found your reply funny and interesting, and I’ve thought about it a lot. It made me realise that one reason I don’t like to stop reading a book I’m not enjoying is because I have this feeling that the author will be offended if I stop. That’s not quite the same as you, but it’s just as illogical! It all shows how much more of a driver our emotions can be than our intellect.


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