The Key to finally taking back your time by exercising sunk cost
“Do you really want to do the 5k today?” I asked my wife.
She smiled back at me, “I was hoping you wouldn’t want to do it! No, I really don’t.”
“Oh, that’s such a relief. I’m not up for it at all!” I replied. “Sunk cost for the win!”
“Can we at least go get our gear?” She asked excitedly, knowing she didn’t have to run the race anymore.
“Well, we can’t get our money back so we might as well.” I said.
“I’d like to at least get the shirt!” She said with further excitement.
“Okay, I guess we can do that. You’ve got a deal.” I answered. “I love that we are aware of the sunk cost fallacy.”
“Yeah, we’re really weird,” she said, shaking her head.
That conversion actually happened. I’m not making it up, although part of me wishes I was.
Miranda and I didn’t want to run the race because we’d already had a super busy week. We honor our commitments, sometimes to our own detriment, so learning to say no and cutting down on the list of things to do is important.
Our situation with the race represents the sunk cost fallacy, and it has powerful implications if we recognize it when it shows up. It’s a fascinating look into our own psychology, and, if we can master the solution, an enormous boon for our personal growth and goal progress.
We could have done the race and it probably would have been fine. But even though we paid money to run it we wouldn’t get back, we still had the choice to do what we wanted to do with our time.
This choice makes all the difference.
If you’ve ever held on to a pair of shoes that make your feet ache or a pair of pants that no longer fit you for no other reason than you paid a lot of money for them, you’ve experienced the sunk-cost bias. ―Leena Patel, Raise Your Innovation IQ: 21 Ways to Think Differently During Times of Change
We don’t have to finish an expensive meal even if it’s lousy, stay in a movie theater even if the movie is utter garbage, finish the article we know is garbage, or do something we thought was going to be fun but now actually feels like the last thing we want to do today.
We don’t need to accept things as they are. We can seize back our time like it was the mind stone and we’re Thanos plucking it out of Vision’s forehead.
The way to beat sunk cost? Celebrate wins and move on from losses quickly. Don’t believe the lie that your time isn’t valuable. Don’t stay stuck if there is a way out.
Live in a state of being all in and never look back. Value your time more than the loss. Don’t be loss averse, go for big wins instead.
Here are the Three Rs for Avoiding the Sunk Cost Trap:
- Recognize: Learn to spot when you’re doing something just to do it, or if you actually really want to do it. What situations or circumstances do you lean into and deal with that would be better to move on from?
- Reflect: Ask yourself the tough question: “Do I really want to follow through with X?” Weigh the cost against the reward of sticking with it.
- Respond: If sticking with X is worth the cost, then stay true. If changing direction is overall better for you, then don’t be afraid to quit. This is not an excuse to quit anything that’s hard.
Understanding the sunk cost fallacy could affect our lives in minor ways, like changing plans and not going to the movie theater, or it could help us navigate trickier life decisions such as when to quit the job we hate or how to know that now is the time break up with the girlfriend of 10 years who just isn’t the right fit anymore.
It’s a risk to cut ties. It’s often even riskier to stand under the alluring umbrella of inaction.
The choice is yours.
Best of luck,