Discovery is a wonderful thing. When you take the time to reflect on why you do the things you do, or why you retrench in your comfort zone, you begin to uncover the silly irrational behavior that can drive you in a particular direction. I can’t help but see that far too many people have persisted with unhappiness in their lives because they were irrationally attached to the costs they had invested in a financial asset, career, or relationship. We find it too easy to simply hold on to our current normal, despite the discomfort that it may cause.
Governments are the masters at this irrational persistence. How many times have you heard a government continue spending money on a program, knowing that it’s a failure? Yet, since they’ve invested millions or billions already, they continue the investment on the basis that they’ve already invested heavily into it and don’t want to lose the value of their investment.
The problem is that in most cases the value today is nil, and the past investment was already spent and won’t be recuperated in any event. People cling to the hopeless sense of saving face.
So if we know this, then why do we continue to base our future decisions on a past decision? We do it for the following reasons:
- we want the value that we invested
- we loathe failure
- we feel personally attached
- we lose sight of the goal
We want the value we invested
Of course we want value in our investments in time, money, relationships, but this drive to make our efforts worthwhile leads us to great unhappiness. We make investments with the expectation that the investment was worthwhile. This makes sense. I invest in the stock market with the expectation of making a good return. I invest in my house with the expectation that the value will rise. I invest in my relationships because I expect it to provide me comfort. The problem lies not in the fact that we expect a worthwhile outcome, rather in dwelling on the fact that the investment hasn’t proven worthwhile. You need to resist this notion and start to invest your energy into new more worthwhile investments, so cut your losses, get over it, and look ahead, not behind.
We loathe failure
Our social culture over-promotes success. Everything has to be related to success. Walking away from a past investment in time, money, or relationship isn’t failure; rather, it’s an admission that you didn’t get the intended results. Allow yourself to make investments. Some will prove worthwhile and some will not. Don’t call unintended results a mistake or a failure. It’s neither. It’s a low-yielding investment, and as such, you’re re-investing to improve your personal returns.
We feel personally attached
Once we’ve decided to invest our time, money, or emotional energy we stubbornly attach ourselves to it. The bigger the commitment or investment we’ve made, the harder we find it to let go. When we feel emotionally attached, we need to evaluate our investment by ignoring all the sunk costs or effort we’ve already put into it. This will allow you to focus on what you need to do going forward, not what you have done.
We lose sight of the goal
When we focus too much on the sunk costs to gain some relevance on its worthiness, we tend to lose sight on why we made the investment in the first place. We make an investment in time, money, or relationships to realize a particular goal. By dwelling on past investments, we become fixated on the means rather than the end. If we realign our thoughts toward the goal we were trying to achieve in the first place, we’ll realize that the means by which we need to attain it have to change. This more than anything will help pull you away from this tendency to cling to your past actions and focus on what you need to do to achieve your outcome.
Do you have an irrational attachment?
Feel free to share your answer in the comments.
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