Sunk Cost and How To Avoid The Trap That Can Plague Your Life

Sunk Cost

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

I sat in my seat half excited to be there.

For 29 years, I cheered loudly for my team. I screamed when they won and screamed when they lost. I lived and breathed their successes and failures as if they were my own. One year I even cried as they got within one win of the coveted championship.

And then it ended.

The 2012 lockout signified the end of an era for me. Gone were the days of sitting around with friends, drinking beer, and watching the game we loved. Along with its departure went the comradery and “boys will be boys” mantra that my friends and I personified. In its place appeared the politics of the sporting world. 

Due to one of the only powers in the world that can separate the inseparable, I watched my team and every other shut their doors to the fans that supported them. Feeling as though I had been betrayed by an unfaithful spouse, I left my love and never looked back. 

As I told my friends and family that I couldn’t and wouldn’t watch them anymore, they looked at my like a confused dog. You know the kind? The kind that tilts their heads as if they are trying to understand you but can’t quite figure out what you are saying. 

I was done. It was over. In my mind, the league was dead. 

Undead

For the last 5 years, I have lived and breathed my life in the only way I know how…one day at a time. As things come up, I take them, well, one day at a time. This past week harbored one of those things. I had the opportunity to go and watch the game I used to love, live in my hometown arena. 

I pondered. Certainly, the spectacle is worth seeing.

Players passing by at 46 kilometers an hour, small pieces of rubber creating their own 144-kilometer windstorms, the roar of the crowd, the highs and lows of each game, and the screams of joy or the cries of heartache all bring an experience that can’t be beat. There’s a reason why it is the number one sport in my country. 

And yet I pondered. 

On one hand was the spectacle and on the other, my morals, beliefs, and integrity. I carved out a life that didn’t involve the game and was happy to ignore it for the rest of my life. I had no plans to go to this game. Then, as if some sort of divine intervention, my brother received the other two tickets. This would mean that he and I would watch the game together. Just like the good ol’ days and I couldn’t resist.

Game time

The game started at 7:00 pm and for those 3 hours, my brother and I watched, screamed, cheered, and paid homage to the two of us circa 2011. I could tell that the Joel of old was proud and as a consequence, I was proud. As our home team sealed the victory, I leapt out of my seat and continued my verbal assault on the arena. If I was to never experience this again, I was going to make sure that the arena would remember me.  

As I pounded on the boards, I quickly realized that my inner child had been freed. I’m sure you’ve met yours before. S/he is the person that you attempt to calm, hush and subdue at all costs. The one that tells you to have fun when you are knee deep in work and the one that enjoys the simple pleasures of life.

Him. I awoke him.

For the first time in a long time, I was the person that I have desperately been trying to escape from. All of the energy that went into suppressing and taming my love for the game was cast aside and I enjoyed every minute of it. I ask if these thoughts and feelings were hidden within, why didn’t I act on them earlier?

Sunk cost

The Concorde Fallacy, or Sunk Cost Fallacy as it is more commonly known, refers to anything that you must move on from yet won’t because of your investment in it. Think about purchasing a car. 

Within weeks of buying a new car, you realize that it doesn’t sound like it should. So you take it in to be fixed. Over the next 4 months, you have spent more time at the mechanic than at home. Everyone around you, including the neighbor, is telling you that you have a lemon and that you need to cut your losses immediately. Rather than admitting they are right, you continue to have it fixed because:

  1. You hate the idea that you have lost money on the car
  2. To prove that the car was not a waste you cling on to it in hopes that the situation will improve
  3. You are unable to see the potential positive outcome of giving up the car
  4. You feel stuck to the commitment that the car has brought

In my case above, it happened because I had invested so much time and energy into my thoughts. For years, I told all those around me that I wasn’t a fan anymore and that I wanted nothing to do with it. Because of this, admitting enjoyment would conflict with the façade I had put on.

In every failure, there is a lesson

Subconsciously, it is difficult to give up on something that has had so much time and effort put into it. In its essence, it is an admission of failure and as beneficial as it ultimately is, failure hurts. It means that whatever it is we did, didn’t work. However, remember that with failure comes the opportunity for growth.

Knowing when to sever ties on your heavy investment is difficult. The decision can be a grueling test of your will and desire to move on. If I may offer you some advice, I often turn to a series of questions that help guide me through sunk cost. Feel free to use them for your benefit.

  1. What was the initial reason for your sunk cost? Is the reason still relevant today?
  2. Has the information about your sunk cost changed over time, thus making you think differently about it? If you knew what you know now, would you still invest your energy into it?
  3. Have you watched others go through a similar predicament and noticed that their level of happiness increased as a result of moving on?
  4. If a friend were to approach you with the exact same scenario, what would you tell them?
  5. Is proving that you are right even if you’re not, actually worth the stress, worry, and pain?
  6. Feelings aside, would you invest in that sunk cost again? Why or why not?

Take time to carefully answer each of these questions.  While they may not bring you immediate clarity, they will, over time show you how to make better decisions. It is my hope that with better decisions comes the avoidance of sunk cost.

Cheers to your success,

Joel

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About Joel Scott 93 Articles
I am a family man first and foremost. Everything that I do is for my family. They keep me focused and moving forward. My world was turned upside down when I visited Africa for the first time. That trip left me with a newfound purpose in life: To cause and create profound change in every corner of our world.

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