Ep #19: The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Have you ever followed through on a plan that you were dreading because you had already bought your ticket in advance?

Have you ever been halfway through a book that you hated, but forced yourself to finish it anyway?

Have you ever outgrown a friendship or a relationship, but refused to pull the plug because of how long you’ve known each other?

This is what’s referred to as “The Sunk Cost Fallacy”– when we continue to pursue something, solely because of the time, money or resources we’ve invested into it, even if it doesn’t bring us joy. Today, I talk about this trap, how to break free and feel instantly more liberated!

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • All about The Sunk Cost Fallacy and what it looks like in your own life
  • How to simply and quickly cut the cord on something that’s not bringing you joy– no matter how much time or money you’ve invested!
  • How to escape this trap once and for all and feel instantly more liberated!

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TRANSCRIPT

Welcome back everybody. Thanks so much for being here as always.

I want to start today’s episode by posing a few questions for you. Are you ready? Here they are:

Have you ever followed through on a plan that you were dreading because you had already bought your ticket in advance?

Have you ever been halfway through a book that you hated, but forced yourself to finish it anyway?

Have you ever kept an unworn piece of designer clothing in your closet, just because it was expensive?

Have you ever outgrown a friendship or a relationship, but refused to pull the plug because of how long you’ve known each other?

This is what’s referred to as the sunk cost fallacy– when we continue to pursue something, solely because of the time, money or resources we’ve invested into it, even if it doesn’t bring us joy.

I am so excited to talk about this today. But first, you should know that I learned the term “sunk cost fallacy” about 10 minutes ago.

I was just talking with Nathan over Facetime– and I was like yea I’m about to sit down and write some show notes for the podcast. And then he asked, “What’s the topic?”

I said, “Well, I want to talk about the power of simply choosing NOT to do something. Walking away from something that you think you should be doing or should continue to do even though it brings you nothing but stress.”

And he said, “Google sunk cost fallacy.” And when he said it, he said it so quickly that it sounded like gibberish. I was like, “Ummm what and how do you spell that?”

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that this concept that I was so excited and inspired to talk about had an official title. So there ya have it. Sunk cost fallacy.

And to start off the conversation, I want to give you a very recent example of when I got sucked into this physiological trap.

Now, you may think it’s a silly example, however it prompted me to take a closer look at this concept and investigate other areas of my life that I’ve done this with– both in the past and the present.

And coincidentally (or maybe not a coincidence at all) around this same time, a student of mine came onto our call having fallen into this same trap and Nathan had a huge breakthrough of his own, which I’ll share a little bit later.

Anyway, so I thought, “Oh yea Shaina, this is happening all over, to the best of us.” This is so interesting.

So here’s what kind of woke me up…

As most of you know, Nathan and I are gearing up for him to move in with me. And when we made this decision months ago, I decided that we’d not only bring in a heavy duty cleaning crew to help an outdated apartment sparkle and shine, but that I was also going to paint the entire apartment. I thought, “OH YEA, a good, fresh, coat of white paint to every room will make this place feel so fresh and so new.”

So one day, I was in bed and I went online and started to gather information about how to paint a room and really what that entails. Because I’ve never actually painted a room before, let alone an entire 1,200 square foot apartment.

I’m not kidding you, I spent probably 7-8 hours of my day, watching videos on Lowes website and on Youtube on different strategies and techniques and what equipment I should buy. I then went onto to Amazon and researched reviews on all the different materials and then went a step further to create a Word Doc with a list of those materials and the links of where to buy them and the best deals to compare. Like I went balls to the walls.

Now note, that doing this for 7-8 hours was not fun. And I even remember thinking at the end of the day, like man that was such a waste of my time. And I then immediately corrected my brain and was like, “No, this wasn’t a waste of my time. Like all these hours weren’t wasted because it’s getting me closer to a nicely painted apartment.”

Side note: if you’re wondering, why in heck wouldn’t you just hire painters? That’s because it would cost around $350/ $400 per room and I’m very conscious to what we’re putting into a rental knowing that we’ll never see that money again.

Anyway, so I spent pretty much my entire Saturday doing this.

So here I was, I had this BIG list of things to do for the move. Things to buy, things to sell, small improvement projects and of course the big task of painting. Well as the weeks went by and I’m slowly attacking this list, each and every time, I look at it, I get so stressed. The move (and the moving pieces) become zero fun. Which I thought was odd, because I love selling things on Craig’s list and I love organizing and cleaning and DIY projects and decorating. So I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I was feeling the way I was feeling. So I just kept pushing and forcing my way through it.

Weeks later, I even went to the paint store, picked up a can of Alabaster paint (#7008)– finally chose that color after additional hours of research and then picked up other essentials.

Now, I’m feeling the stress more than ever before. My chest feels heavy and it all feels like too much.

So I’m driving around LA and just hits me. And I’m like, “What am I doing?” Why am I continuing to pursue this idea of painting when it’s bringing me nothing but stress. No ounce of joy whatsoever. Like it was a huge aha moment for me. I was convincing myself that this was something I had to do, especially now, because of all the time I had spent preparing for it. But at that point, I knew I had to cut my losses.

So ya know what I did when I got home? I went over to my desk, grabbed my to-do list, took a black sharpie and crossed it off the list. Just like that. Crossed it off as if I had completed it.

I’m not kidding you, almost immediately, I felt a huge weight lifted off of me. I called up Nathan and I was like, “Babe, I’m not painting the apartment and I feel so good about it right now.

Can we just talk about how insane that is? One simple choice. One simple choice, to say, “Ya know what, I don’t want to do that. I don’t feel like doing that.” One simple solution created so much freedom.

I mean WOW! Just by granting myself the permission to not do something was so liberating.

It was something that I should’ve done a long time ago. But again, because I had invested so much of my time into it (the gathering of information and preparation) and even a little bit of money, I was being stubborn. It’s like I didn’t want to feel as though I wasted my time. That’s the sunk cost fallacy right there.

So not too long after this happened, I jumped on a call with one of my students. She was telling me about all of her “mental debt”– a laundry list of “to-do’s” that started piling up years ago. Some tasks she started and never completed, while others she never even started.

So I asked her to give me some examples and she began to rattle off a bunch of things.

We then began to sort through some of the individual tasks by separating the ones that felt exciting and those that didn’t. And for each one that didn’t bring her joy, but only stress when she thought about doing it, I asked her, “What’s so bad about not doing this?”

For example, she had promised her mother-in-law (years ago) that she’d create postcards for her. And since then it’s been weighing on her mind. So when I asked her, “What’s so bad about not creating the postcards?” She responded, “Because I’ll let her down and then, she’ll have an opinion about me.”

So this is not necessarily somebody whose invested the time, the resources or the money into something she’s struggling to let go of, in fact she’s invested zero of that, however, she’s so invested in her belief about what it means if she doesn’t do it. She’s so attached to the mental investment she’s made that the decision to cross it off, seems like a loss now.

Does that make sense?

This is really “good” stuff here you guys.

When it comes to cutting the cord, we hear people say all the time, “It’s not that simple.” When in fact, it is that simple. Our thinking about what it means to cut the cord is what’s complicated, not the actual cutting of the cord. That takes less than a second.

I’m not doing that.

I’m not going to that event.

I’m not finishing that book.

I’m breaking up with you.

I’m pulling plug on this friendship.

I’m quitting this project.

Very simple.

The people who respond, “it’s not that simple”, are so attached to the story that they’re telling themselves.

No you don’t understand. I can’t just end this friendship. We grew up next door to one another. I’ve known her my whole life. Our families used to vacation together. There’s too much history there. I’ve dedicated too much of my time to her.

That’s the story that we tell ourselves that make it complicated. It’s not the decision to walk away from the friendship. That takes less than a second. It’s our story that makes it complicated. It’s us that makes it complicated.

We then use our stories to justify maintaining a friendship for example, with somebody who is really negative all the time and brings us down every time we’re with them. That is the sunk cost fallacy. Hanging onto something that doesn’t bring us joy, but because we’ve invested so much of our time into it.

So when we can learn to recognize what we’re holding onto for no actual good reason– but for only the reason of time or money or our own BS thinking and stories, we can then choose to set ourselves free of it…people, places and things.

Just like that. Just with a snap of the fingers. And not feel guilty about it. Granting ourselves permission to say ya know what, that made me happy at one point in my life (or maybe it never did, I don’t know), but it’s not adding real value to my life right now. And because of that, I’m not doing it. I’m not going there. I’m not choosing that. I’m not committing anymore time, energy or money to it.

Like I mentioned earlier, Nathan just had a huge sunk cost fallacy breakthrough. For those of you that don’t know, he’s both a music producer and builds music software. Well he had an idea for a piece of software years ago, and pretty straight away he felt the stress of it. It was definitely not fun, he told me a million times, how he’d much rather be writing music than working on it, but he kept pushing through and forcing his way onward despite his strong physical reaction to it. Well as time went on, more and more of his time, energy, money and resources went into this software, to get it running and out into the public. And guess what? The more time, energy, money and resources that went into it, the harder it was for him to pull the plug even with his increased stress level. It’s like a gambling addict trying to win back his money right?

Well just last week, he had a meeting with his business partner and they finally came to the conclusion to press pause and cut their losses.

Nathan called me immediately after he left the meeting, told me that they decided to press pause and cut their losses for now, they’re moving onto a different project and then he said, I FEEL SO FREE. His exact words. He told me that he felt so much better and lighter in the exact moment they decided to let go. Again, such a simple solution, yet so powerful.

Gosh I love this lesson.

OK, and on kinda a final note here, I want you to think about this…

If you could go back in time and point at something that you wish you never started and yet you’re still doing it today, stop doing it immediately!

That’s a little extra inspiration from Brian Tracy himself.

And that my friends is a wrap. Thank you so much for listening as always. I will see you next time! Bye.

 

 

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