Alright, if you’ve been following us for any amount of time, you’ll know that we like to start by defining our terms. When you read the title of this blog post, you may have thought to yourself, “What’s the sunk cost fallacy?” So let’s define it! The sunk cost fallacy is the tendency we have to stick with something that isn’t serving us well because we’ve already invested time, money, effort, or any other resource into it. Think of the old adage, “in for a penny, in for a pound”, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about here.
This happens to humans a lot. It happens to me a lot. It’s hard to walk away from something that you’ve put a lot of yourself into. It can also be hard to walk away from something that you put a lot of money into but didn’t get what you felt was your money’s worth of use out of. It can also be hard to walk away from a relationship that you put a lot of emotional investment into but for any number of reasons is no longer healthy for you.
There are just so dang many reasons it can be hard to let go.
And to be fair, sometimes we shouldn’t let go! Just because something is hard or temporarily unpleasant doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t good for us. Sometimes it’s important to see something through.
For example, if we’re tracking progress and seeing that what we’re doing is working, it’s just taking longer than we had originally hoped, it might be in our best interest to stay the course.
Another example: if we feel that a course or service is a waste of our money because we think we already know everything being taught, but we can’t answer basic questions about our progress in the course, it may be that we skimmed the surface and made some assumptions, but need to dive deeper in order to benefit from our investment.
And another example: if we’re creating something new and we’re making a lot of mistakes and sacrifices along the way, and that process is really scary and uncomfortable, but the potential outcome is worth all of that pain? Stick with it!
This is why it’s important to examine the thing we’ve invested in and ask ourselves some important questions:
- What was my goal when I originally invested in this?
- What is my goal currently?
- Does this investment have a high probability of helping me to attain my goal?
- Is it doing so in a way that is healthy and sustainable?
- Is there a way to stay with my investment and make it more healthy and sustainable?
- How am I making these assessments? Do I have evidence or am I basing my answers on my feelings?
If we conclude from our assessment that the course, service, relationship, mindset, or whatever else we’ve invested in isn’t serving a good purpose in our life, we need to let it go and move on. Life is hard enough without carrying a lot of unnecessary baggage.
This is especially important if we’re already feeling overwhelmed and overburdened. Because of my own tendency to overcommit myself, I periodically have to pause, step back, and do an inventory of everything that I’ve currently invested in to determine what I can let go of and what I need to see through to the end. After these sessions, my life feels much more doable.
That doesn’t mean these inventories are easy! Letting go of something you’ve invested in can give us some big feels. I can’t speak for you, but for me, when I find myself clinging to something that I know I need to let go of, it’s because of this narrative that happens in my head: “You’re wasting even more [time/ money/ emotion/ insert resource here] than you already have! You’ve got to stop being so wasteful! If you walk away from this now, you might as well have just set that [resource] on fire!” What helps me in those situations is to change my mindset. Dropping sandbags when you’re drowning isn’t wasteful, it’s lifesaving.
Plus, those investments weren’t a total waste. If we allow ourselves to learn from the situation, we do get something valuable out of them. Try some of these on for size:
“I learned that I already have a good handle on this aspect of my profession, so I can feel good about my current knowledge and skills in that area.”
“I learned that this isn’t where I need to focus my energies, and that my niche is actually in another direction.”
“I learned that my path has diverged from that person’s, and while I enjoyed the time when our paths ran together, it’s time for us to explore different paths.”
“I learned that this training approach is not for me or my pet, so I am free to explore something else.”
“I learned that there’s an entirely different way to view the world and think about how I move through it.”
The more we practice letting things go that no longer serve us, the easier it is to do, and the better we get at it. And the better we are at keeping our resources and investments streamlined, the more free we will be to grow, improve, and really enjoy the things that benefit us the most.
And that’s a price worth paying.
- Whether you’re a pet parent or a pet professional, we all fall trap to the sunk cost fallacy. As we move into the new year, take stock of the last year.
- Pet parents, is your enrichment plan serving you and your pet, or is there something that is bogging you down? Step into the new year committed to sustainability.
- Pet professionals, is your business serving you? Do you feel satisfied and confident through your processes with your clients, or do you often find yourself caught in the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” loop? Our Enrichment Framework for Behavior Modification Class is geared toward helping professionals find the structure and systems that serve them, and in turn, their clients, and their pets. The next round starts on January 18th, so register now.