When we discard unrealistic goals and switch to alternate goals, we’re happier, physically healthier and less stressed, a study says.

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We’ve all heard the saying: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

But what if we’ve been looking at quitting all wrong? What if, rather than a step backward, quitting with intention can be a way to leap toward your goals?

Enter “strategic quitting,” a seemingly counterintuitive approach to helping you free up moretime, money and energy for the things that matter. (Another way to look at this: learning the power of “no.”)

Let’s say you want to write a book. That’s a monstrous, energy-consuming undertaking that, in all likelihood, will require you to “quit” your other creative pursuits or hobbies, according to Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a —.”

“What I give up when I’m writing a book is creativity in other arenas,” Manson said. “I have a limited amount of creative juice to use each day,” so writing a book gets the majority of that creativity quota.

Author Seth Godin, in his book “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick),” maintains that winners are smart quitters who quit often, like when they realize their current path and decisions cannot get them any farther toward their goal. Cutting their losses allows winners to reallocate their time and energy to the things that do continue to move them forward, he said.

“It’s better to just start the things that you know you have the resources to finish. You don’t want to be surprised by the hard parts, you want to expect the hard parts,” Godin said. “The challenge we have is how we’re going to find the effort and the resources to break through.”

Zeroing in on something is key, but that intense level of commitment can be rare in our time of endless external stimulation. (When was the last time you “quit” your phone for a week, let alone a day, solely to focus on your passions?) In fact, researchers from the University of Adelaide explored the very idea that we have a hard time walking away from the myriad options in front of us, especially when the payoff is unknown.

In the experiment, 32 participants played a computer game and were asked to repeatedly pick one of nine possible doors to enter. Each door participants chose to enter and explore rewarded them with a variable amount of treasure, which determined their compensation. But in some versions of this game, doors that were left unopened eventually disappeared. Under this condition, researchers observed that participants were willing to forgo a bigger reward to keep those options viable.

In other words, trying to do and cling to too many things cannibalizes our precious limited resources that might be better spent elsewhere — but we’d never know.

That’s where strategic quitting — and understanding opportunity costs — comes in. Simply put, this is the idea that in order to pursue one option, we must forgo certain others, Godin said. This means choosing between four hours of “The Office” on Netflix or working on your masterpiece or studying a new skill.

“That’s really expensive,” Godin said, “because all these hours you could have spent reading a book, coaching the local handball team, or giving back to the community, you chose to be watching television.” At that point, the monetary cost of Netflix is far surpassed by the opportunity cost it represents, he said.

One of those costs is time, which we tend to falsely believe we’ll magically have more of in the vague future, according to this 2006 study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. But, lest we forget: You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé. If you spend an hour here and there, you have fewer hours for writing your book or working out in the gym.

Quitting is made even harder to justify to ourselves because of the sunk cost of investing our time, energy and resources into something. Imagine you’ve stood in line for 30 minutes only to learn there’s still another hour to go. You’ve already invested that 30 minutes, so dropping out at this point doesn’t sit right with you. But that’s not rational. A paper in the American Psychological Association pegged it on our overgeneralization of the “don’t waste” rule. That is, we feel like we should put those 30 minutes to “good use.”

But refusing to abandon those investments can be costly. For every moment you double down on something that’s not working out, you are forgoing other potentially valuable opportunities.

“The right way to look at sunk cost is to say, ‘I got a gift from my other self, my old self,’” Godin said. “Once you realize that whatever you’re quitting is a gift from your former self, you don’t have to accept.”

Perseverance toward no beneficial long-term aim becomes a liability when you make yourself or others miserable. A study from Northwestern University shows that when we discard unrealistic goals and switch to alternate goals, we’re happier, physically healthier and less stressed.

“It definitely is kind of an issue of ego or self-esteem because we believe that we want to be a success, and in our eyes, quitting is a type of failure,” said Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas who specializes in educational psychology. It’s this association with failure that makes it emotionally painful to accept quitting things, Neff said.

Still, quitting at the right time is difficult. So how do you know when to grind out your goal and when to quit it and pivot?

Neff recommended that you pretend you are giving advice to a good friend or family member who is in the exact situation.

“We tend to be wiser and more supportive for others than we are to ourselves,” she said. “If you think about it, it gives you some perspective you aren’t thinking about.”

Also, recognize that there are people who have achieved goals similar to yours. What was it like for them? What did they have to give up to find their own success? After all, there’s an opportunity cost to everything. No matter your goal, you have to pay in money, pain, relationships, effort or time. And these costs aren’t always obvious.

Take long-term travel, for instance. When Manson embarked on his multiyear vagabonding adventure around the globe, he had given up the stability necessary to forge deep, meaningful friendships or maintain the intimacy of existing ones.

“When you travel around frequently, you don’t get an opportunity to build a deep history with people, so the friendships end up being more superficial and more short term,” Manson said.

And that can wear on you emotionally, according to Manson.

The point is, once you figure out the associated costs with your goals, you can assess whether it is attainable with the current resources that you have available to you, Godin said. And more important, you know what you need to quit and give up in order to get there.

The worst time to quit something is actually when you feel the most pain. When it comes to jobs, for example, most of us don’t have the guts to intentionally quit until circumstances grow dire enough to force our hand. If you are early in your career, you’d benefit from looking for another job as a go-up opportunity when you need a job the least, according to Godin.

But when it comes down to it, quitting, even if it’s something small, can be a real struggle. The solution, Neff said, is to take your ego out of the picture. When you focus on protecting your ego, you focus on the wrong questions, like “Am I a failure?” or “Am I good enough?”

Instead, ask yourself: “What do I need for me to be happy?” or “What’s good for me?”