The sunk cost effect. Chances are, you’ve lived this at least once in your life. And you could be living it right now.
Have a pair of shoes in your closet that kill your feet so you never wear them, but can’t get rid of them because of what they cost?
Absolutely hate going to work every day, but hesitate to quit and find something new because you’ve been there 10 years and invested so much time in it?
Then you’ve discovered the sunk cost effect.
Scholars tell us sunk costs are backward-looking decisions we humans make because we choose to continually reflect on our past decisions, we attempt to make sense of them and we reference the past in order to justify future decisions. Apparently, much of it comes down to the fact that we don’t like losing.
Maybe if we stay in the relationship it will get better, which will prove it wasn’t a mistake all along. If I try really hard, I can convince myself I love living in this house, because after all, I paid a lot for it, so why not spend more money on improvements.
And then there’s the good old demon of dreading the energy it can take to actually make a change. Staying in the rut is so much easier, right? Especially when we fear facing the reality that maybe whatever we’ve sunk so much of ourselves really was a mistake, and we are scared if we acknowledge that and move on, we’ll just die of misery.
We’ll have to feel bad.
Others will shake their heads and wonder what’s wrong with us.
We will have failed.
And it’s that feeling of loss that can take over our minds…blocking out all the possible benefits of making a big change, like new opportunities for growth, new relationships, new adventures and more.
Because remember, sunk costs are those you can never recover. You spent the money on the dress you can’t wear, and it’s not coming back whether you give it a way or you let it take up space in your closet for 20 more years. You bought the ticket for the terrible movie you would love to leave after 10 minutes, and whether you leave, or make yourself sit through it, that money is gone.
Gone. Over. If you don’t accept that and move on, you will find it harder to make choices for better experiences in the future…instead, you will keep trying to reduce the bad feeling of a past loss.
Sunk costs are bad at any age, but I think they can be most troubling as we get older. We feel we should be smarter, wiser. We should be at a place in life where we like where we are. Like all those happy, pretty people in the commercials flying kites and laughing with grandchildren…all our past decisions should have been the right ones.
Right? We’re supposed to be happy now, right? And if we’re not, we sure don’t want to admit it and acknowledge maybe a choice we made just wasn’t the right one.
But what if that’s the only way we really can be happy?
It’s scary. Scary to imagine everyone around us thinking we’re nuts to reverse a decision, make a big change, maybe return to something we once gave up. Or to see us “suddenly” stop doing something, or leave a relationship, or change our lives in a big way.
You can’t get spent time back. But can you make the most of what’s ahead. And you can start right now…because now is all we really have anyway.
“There is no future in the past.”