The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Do you ever stubbornly and irrationally stick with something, even when that something is not getting you anywhere?

Do you stay in a toxic relationship that is making you miserable for no other reason than because of how many years you've spent in the relationship and how much effort you've made trying to improve it?

Do you keep throwing money at a crappy investment that has never given you any returns, simply due to the amount you've already thrown at it?

Do you desperately hold on to a flawed belief system for the sole reason that you've grown up with that belief system and leaving it would mean you've spent the majority of your life believing and/or living a lie?

Do you continue to pursue a degree that you hate simply due to the sheer number of years you've already spent pursuing that field of study? You wouldn't want all that time and money going to waste now, would you?

If you've answered yes to any of these questions (or others like them), you have been committing the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

What all of the examples above have in common is that we've invested something -- time, money, effort, or whatever it may be -- that we will never get back. That loss and the fear of additional loss keeps us from acting any differently. We avoid taking an alternate and potentially better path and instead stay on the treadmill of our own self-created misery.

Problems with sunk cost fallacies:

  1. We make sunk cost fallacies first and foremost because we humans HATE the pain that comes with loss. So we do everything in our power to avoid it. If most of our major life decisions are based on sunk cost fallacies, then our lives are built on fear. 
  2. Sunk cost fallacies can keep us in situations that are harmful to ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. Sunk cost fallacies are traps that we create for ourselves. 
  3. When we make a sunk cost fallacy, we assume that we are being rational. We assume that we are thinking with a clear mind and making the best possible choice. An action based on a sunk cost fallacy can appear to be "common sense", and thus looks particularly appealing (especially when we are considering the opinions and potential judgements of our parents, families, and peers). In actuality, almost all actions based on sunk cost fallacies are driven by irrationality and unchecked emotion (see above: FEAR). 
For more on the sunk cost fallacy, check out You Are Not So Smart.

(image via 1MS)