All day, every day, you are interacting with the world around you. Other people, places, things, ideas, your internal monologue, and so forth. Everything that happens to you, you have a choice in how to respond. But, it’s unlocking the power of choice in life’s most crucial moments that can truly make the difference between success and failure, passion or indifference, and optimism or pessimism. And, that’s where the sunk cost fallacy takes root.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”-Victor Frankl
Most of the decisions we make daily are thoughtless and automatic. Our lives tend to become so habitualized that we stop consciously thinking about many of the choices that we face. We continue with the status quo, what we have grown to be comfortable with. Unfortunately, we become so used to this mindless way of making decisions that many of us miss out on opportunities because we fail to act.
So often, too many of us choose to be in things such as an unfulfilled job, an unhappy relationship, where you may love the person, but you know, it’s not the right thing for you. Or we may have trauma in our life. And instead of making the decision to face that trauma and do something about it, we choose to ignore it. Or it could be a drinking problem where you know, you could choose differently, but you continue to do the same path. The same thing with friends. And I could go on and on and on.
To progress in our lives, we need to become mindful of our decisions and unlocking the power of choice when it matters the most. But, often we let the sunk cost fallacy get in the way.
This article is adapted from a Passion Struck podcast episode I did on the Power of Choice.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy
When we talk about staying on the wrong path out of habit, The Sunk Cost Fallacy comes to mind. The Sunk Cost Fallacy is basically the idea that someone will stick with something failing because of the time, money, effort, or other investment that has already been made. It can be easy to fall into this trap.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy can apply to any of the items on this list. Perhaps you are following a restrictive diet, but you had a cookie at lunch, so you tell yourself your diet is ruined for the day, and at dinner, you give up and eat something completely unhealthy. Or you go to eat at a buffet, and you overeat to “get your money’s worth.” The truth is that the charge for the buffet is the same no matter what items (or how much of them) you eat. The money is gone, and stuffing yourself does not mean the money had more value.
And the Sunk Cost Fallacy can quickly compound so that the further you go in the wrong direction, the harder it becomes to decide to leave. A common example of the Sunk Cost Fallacy is in education. You get three years into a four-year degree and realize that you absolutely hate the industry, but you finish the last year of your program anyway because you did not want to waste three years.
During college, some people knew that they would hate their intended job, yet they waste their entire adult working life in an industry they hate because they did not want to waste those years. Or maybe you know your romantic partner is wrong for you, but you have been together for six months, and you do not want that to go to waste, so you decide to keep dating for a while longer.
If something is failing, is not progressing, does not bring you joy — then you need to move on before you waste any more time.
Six Important Ways to Unlock the Power of Choice and Avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy
We make countless decisions every day; these choices add up to make us who we are. Here are six crucial choices that you have the power to make in your daily life.
1. Practicing Physical and Mental Health and Wellness
You have the power to choose to prioritize your health and wellness. This can mean focusing on getting healthy, changing your diet, working out, improving your current mental health state, or simply taking better care of yourself. Identify what you want to change, make a plan, and put it into action.
If you’re going to increase your physical fitness, but you do not know how to get started, book a personal training session. If anxiety is holding you back, contact your doctor and get a referral for a mental health professional. Whatever you need to do to take that first step towards improving your health, just get started. When you prioritize your health, you look better, you feel better, and you perform better in all aspects of your life.
2. Engaging in Healthy Relationships with Others
Our lives are full of relationships with other people, our spouse or partner, family, friends, co-workers, and countless other people we interact with throughout the day. You choose how you want to interact with people and what kind of relationships you want to have. Just as we make decisions out of habit, we can also choose to withhold a decision out of habit.
Many people are in an unhealthy relationship with their romantic partner, but they stay because the choice to leave can be difficult. You cannot control how other people treat you, but you can control what kind of relationship you have with someone who treats you poorly.
3. Pursuing Happiness in Life
Some people seem to have a life that is constantly full of joy. Their secret is simple, these people have chosen happiness. Optimism and joy or pessimism and negativity, it is up to you to determine what kind of outlook you will have.
In fact, recent studies have found that smiling, even a fake smile, releases neurotransmitters that make you feel good and elevates your mood. Researchers have shown that participants who forced a fake smile even had physiological changes, including reduced stress response and lower heart rate. You can allow negativity, fear, and doubt to consume you or choose to pursue happiness.
4. Igniting Passion and Fulfillment
You have the power to choose a life that brings you passion and fulfillment. This might mean finding a career that you feel genuinely passionate about. It might even involve taking a considerable risk, such as completely changing your career path.
Seeking your passion does not always come from your career. Fulfillment can come from any part of your life. If your joy comes from a hobby or activity, pursue it. Find whatever it is that makes life worth living and gives you purpose.
5. Being Present in the Moment
Being physically present and being present in the moment are not always the same thing. When you make yourself available in the moment, you can be there mentally and emotionally to appreciate the intricacies of life. Unfortunately, technology is a double-edged sword here.
While it has made it easier to connect with people, it has become increasingly easy to tune out the present moment. Maybe you go to your child’s ball game but answer emails on your phone instead of watching and cheering. Or you go home at night to work on your laptop when your spouse needs your support, and so on.
6. Seeking a Guide
You have the power to choose to seek a guide, mentor, or coach. This may be the last item on the list, but the ability to choose to seek guidance can permeate into all other choices. Depending on your personal goals, you might pursue a fitness coach, mental health therapist, work mentor, or life coach. Successful people around the world seek out coaching and guidance.
Final Thoughts on the Sunk Cost Fallacy
We are constantly faced with decisions, and the choices we accumulate turn into the people we become. It is quite easy to fall into complacency, where we are avoiding making any new or challenging decisions because our lives have simply become habitual. To evoke change and seek personal growth, we must first decide what we will prioritize and what actions need to be taken. It can be all too easy to fall into the Sunk Cost Fallacy, so you may need to be honest and recognize when to move on.
To learn more about the power of choice, you can listen to the full Passion Struck podcast on Unlocking the Power of Choice here on iTunes.