I recall once holding on to a pair of designer shoes that made my feet throb every time I wore them for no other reason than they cost me a bomb. It was pretty darn stupid but I remember thinking, “I need to get my money’s worth!”
What about you?
Ever held on to something you bought (like an ill-fitting jacket) because it was expensive? Ever kept reading a lousy book right to the end because you didn’t want to waste your dough? Ever stayed the course with a business partnership or strategy primarily because you’d invested so heavily in it – despite it not working?!
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you’ve experienced a phenomena psychologist’s call “sunk-cost bias.” It’s our tendency to continue investing in a losing proposition because of what it’s already cost us. Needless to say, we can all fall prey to sunk-cost bias because we’re all innately loss averse. I mean, who wants to admit they wasted money, energy or even years of their life that could have been better spent?
No one. Well no one I know anyway.
Biting the bullet and acknowledging that our choice to invest in something (or someone) isn’t working out as we hoped is painful. Sometimes agonizingly so. It’s why people stay in careers they loathe and relationships that leave them lonely. It’s why ‘smart’ people stick with blindingly obvious bad investments for far too long, clinging on with blind optimism. It’s why I kept those shoes so long and you likely have a few things in your wardrobe right now that, if you had the choice whether to buy them again, you wouldn’t!
But here’s the deal: if you ever find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
Investing more into something that’s already not working, won’t make it better. If you’ve ever head the phrase ‘throwing good money after bad’ then this is where it applies! Except it’s not just money you’re wasting, it’s time, energy, creativity, and most of all, opportunity. After all, every day you spend on something that isn’t advancing you toward what it is you want more of in your life is a day you aren’t investing in something that could.
Sunk cost bias can drive otherwise intelligent people into a cycle of self-defeating decision making. Consider the Concorde. Year after year, million after million, decade after decade for forty years the smart people within the British and French Governments kept investing in the ill-fated aircraft before they finally bit that bullet and conceded the Concorde was simply not commercially viable.
Perhaps they’d been misguided by General George S. Patton’s advice that, “Courage is holding on a minute longer.” While it can sometimes hold true, if your hands are growing calloused, then it may be more courageous to concede defeat and let go! Courage isn’t just about persistence, courage it’s also about having the humility to own what’s not working, to admit mistakes and to try a fresh approach.
So as painful as admitting defeat can be, it’s less painful than the cost of burying your head in the sand while continually repeating a ‘Winners don’t quit’ mantra. Winners do quit. They just don’t’ spend years doing it. The longer you let your fear of feeling like a failure keep you from calling it quits, the harder it will become to start over and begin anew.
Let me be clear though. This doesn’t imply that your initial decision was mistake. Not at all. We often learn far more from the choices that don’t produce the outcomes we want, than from the choices that do. The biggest mistakes people make is not avoiding mistakes (avoiding all risk is lethal!), it’s refusing to admit when they’ve made them. Certainly, the most successful people I’ve met over the years – like seven-time world champion surfing pro Layne Beachley whom I interviewed for RawCourageTV – aren’t those who never make mistakes; they are those who are quick to admit when they do. They fail fast and quit quickly. As Richard Branson advises, “Don’t be embarrassed by your failures, but learn from them and start again.”
You can watch my interview with Layne here.
So let me ask you, where might you be investing – time, talent, money, energy or skills – in something primarily because of how much you’ve already put into it? And how might calling it a day free you up to invest in something that could ultimately serve you (and the world) so much more?
While calling it quits can be painful, it frees you up to pursue new possibilities that will make you wonder why you ever held on for so long.
On that note, I’m going to throw out a few more pairs of shoes!
Margie Warrell is a bestselling author, international speaker and coach. More inspiration and advice at www.MargieWarrell.com
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