Why are endings so hard?

Approaching an end can have a focusing effect, leading people to summon strength for a final push. A study of more than 3,000 professional soccer games found that 56 percent of goals were tallied in the second half, and almost 23 percent came in the final 15 minutes of a 90-minute match. (Of course, the goal scorers can’t take all the credit, as defenders’ tired legs also play a part. Endings and exhaustion go hand in hand.) [1] Deadlines have a similar effect on dealmaking. A 1988 analysis of several bargaining experiments found that 41 percent of deals were struck in the final 30 seconds of the allotted time, and most of those were resolved with five seconds or less to spare. [2]

How well people navigate the end of an era depends partly on what coping mechanisms they deploy. Detachment is one approach: Among homeowners undergoing foreclosure, people early in the process expressed deep emotion at what they saw as the loss of their “home”—yet by the time it passed out of their hands, they tended to view it as merely a “house.” [3] Mourning is another approach, even when the stakes aren’t life or death: Fans of shows such as Entourage and The Sopranos exhibited the same bereavement patterns in response to their show’s end as people grieving a loved one. (An exception was a subset of viewers who angrily wrote off shows’ final seasons as failures.) [4]

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