I am sure few of us are immune from this; the reluctance to give something up because we’ve invested money, time, effort and/or our heart into it.
“Cars” are my go-to analogy for this. Of the four cars I’ve owned, none of them have been under ten years old when I bought them and so inevitably they all needed ‘significant’ work doing to them at some point, whether it be new sills welded on them, a head gasket or clutch going, or drive shafts or steering racks that need replacing.
On one occasion I’d not long owned a car when the cam belt went, requiring ‘expensive’ work to fix the engine. I justified the cost because I’d already spent half as much again on the car itself, and I had struggled to find one that I liked and for the money I was prepared to spend. The car wasn’t actually ‘worth’ what I’d spent on it plus the repair costs, but I figured I could “get my monies’-worth out of it” in the long run. And I think I pretty much did, but that meant keeping the car for as long as possible, and inevitably other things needed replacing in the course of its life. Since my previous car before it I’d kept a detailed record/spreadsheet of what I’d ever spent, from parts to petrol. I think this enabled me to learn how things would go and I could better rationalise future decisions. Without this I can see how decisions would be made more with wishy-washy memories and feelings. Not that I don’t get attached to my cars.
I’ve grown to accept these things with cars, and how certain parts are likely to fail at some point, and I dispute the ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ somewhat on the grounds that when certain things have already been replaced once (such as a clutch, drive shafts, or brakes) they’re probably not going to need to be done again. I pretty much class a car as scrap once welding needs doing since in my experience this work only lasts a year (unless you’re paying for a proper restoration job).
But that’s enough about cars. There are of course other areas where the Fallacy plays out.
Many of the people who will be reading this will be fellow bloggers. We all invest a certain amount of time into our blogs, or if you are new to blogging you might hope/expect to be blogging for some years to come (perhaps you’ve not thought this far ahead). The same could be said of other platforms such as Instagram or Youtube. Perhaps some who join these platforms do so with hope or dream of becoming someone with a vast audience, or even generate their income from doing so.
But what if it doesn’t work out like that?
What if you wake up one day and suddenly consider that you haven’t yet “made it big”. Did you ever plan a time-frame for the thing to work out as you planned, or did you just dream? Maybe you need to give it more time, but how much time? Maybe you need to do something different. Maybe you need better equipment or to invest in advertising. Or maybe it’s time to move onto other things?
Sorry, I don’t mean to suggest that to you the reader (I hope your blog is doing great!) I don’t think I’m even suggesting it to myself, although I do occasionally consider where things are going, whether it be here on my blog, on my Neocities site, or on my various Youtube projects; I’ve invested time in these things and I consider my past self and how disappointing it would be to think I would do all of this that lies ahead, to just discard it. [Actually, what I generally find myself doing is filing things away that no longer have meaning for me in the present with the view to regurgitate them into a different form later on; perhaps a book of blog posts, or CDs of my story readings, for example].
All or these projects I have invested time in and continue to do so. For the most part I enjoy them, and that is primarily why I blog (although this is perhaps something to consider every now and then in the words of Marie Kondo: Does this thing Spark Joy?), even if they don’t command much of an audience. But how much of an audience is necessary? I think enough of an audience is necessary to generate some feedback, otherwise, why publish things for the world to see? Sometimes I continually create content for certain platforms with the dream that one day there will be a flurry of people finding their way to my content and they will be kept entertained by a vast back catalogue! (Rather than there being a flurry and it disappears again because there is not the content to sustain the interest). But then I realise that not everyone can have a million subscribers, since that would involve a pyramid scheme!
From time-to-time I come across deserted projects online (and it can be quite a depressing thing to encounter); the blog that hasn’t been written to since 2014, a website that hasn’t been updated in as long, or the once popular and now decade-old Youtube channel that has either been abandoned, descended into something mundane, or is kept going out of a routine of uploading something once a week.
Deserted projects exist offline too, and perhaps this is where hoarding typically takes root.
Sometimes content is actively and suddenly removed, by the creator I mean, rather than someone having their voice silenced, although sometimes it is as if such a person is silencing themselves, rage-quitting if you will. I relate it to a form of depression and I’ve experienced it myself.
I was once part of a kind of social networking online forum thing. I’d been a part of it, from what I can remember, for a few years. However, as much as I enjoyed the banter on the forums there, I came to realise that I’d never really formed any friends there, or at best only one or two; I felt like no one really knew me, or more precisely they perceived me in a way that wasn’t accurate or fair (I’ve felt like this at other times since). I remember the sense that people didn’t even like me there, although I think that was the style of the banter on the site; it’s not that I felt like people were being actively hateful towards me, but they weren’t being actively nice either. (I actually wonder if I have some kind of self-delusion/slight narcissism where I think other people should be actively nice to me while I’m not going out of my way to be engaging with others in that way – like being disappointed about not being invited to a party when I’ve never considered hosting one myself).
It suddenly happened that on one day when I was logged into that site I just decided to quit. I think I’d considered it before, and indeed in the forums it was occasionally joked about when someone quit but then came back some weeks later (since there was a “cooling off period” in the formal quitting process). I could perceive that it was some sort of internet addiction that brought people back and that it was some form of weakness that lured them back in. I didn’t let that happen to me. As much as I was addicted to the site (I can remember routinely logging in and scrolling through the forums, and repeatedly refreshing pages in the hope of new content to absorb), I just left and have barely looked back since.
How this relates to the Sunk Cost Fallacy is that I’d invested time into this pursuit; I’d participated in the forums, created a user profile, and sought out friendships there, perhaps I even hoped to find a partner. To just leave was to give up on that pursuit and for all of my time to have been in vain. In fact, I once found myself leaving a relationship in a somewhat similar fashion; it had “run its course” and yet I had been still desperately clinging on (as I used to do) to the dream of what it could have been. Where addiction is concerned (or unhealthy relationships in any form), I think a clear and concise cut-off is often the best way (although of course one should be fair to others involved, and, if possible, let them know your intentions or troubles).
I even discarded [my belief in] God during my childhood when I felt like that practice had let me down (I’ve come across a fair few examples of people leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a sort of example here, and such a thing is rarely trivial).
There is a fear of the unknown. “What lies ahead for me if I leave?” There is the anxiety of “going it alone”, being without that thing in your life, whether it be your participation in Facebook, your regular blogging for the sake of blogging, absorbing your daily dose of “the news”), or doing without your drug (whatever that may be).
I think the only way to rationalise any of this is to ask ourselves what such a thing we have invested in is doing for us now? Is it serving a purpose for you? Sometimes I have worried about the feelings of people I have been engaged with, but then, in the case of online stuff, I rationalise this with the consideration that these people don’t even know me, they don’t know the real me, they’ll get over it if I just quit.
If you planned to start something (like a blog, or maybe your own business) and you’ve found yourself at somewhat of a dead-end, did you, at the start, foresee a time-frame and a path of progress? Is there a particular point at which you’ve found yourself going astray? Have your values changed? What has triggered your urge to escape?
If you’re thinking about starting a project, perhaps list your aims, aspirations, goals and a time-frame; document your progress so you can see if you are indeed following the same path you originally set out on, or falling prey to the Sunk Cost Fallacy.
While there are those times above (and others) where I’ve simply quit things, and doing so may have served me well, there are certainly times where doing so has not, or it has got me off that thing but led me on to something else that fills the gap left behind. Therefore quitting something should perhaps not be taken lightly, even if it’s something harmful; ask yourself what that thing is doing for you (like, Facebook might be giving you that much-needed connection with others, but doing without it would mean lacking a connection with others, so what can you do instead to make up for that deficit?) If there is something in your life that you have the urge to give up that isn’t necessarily causing you harm (beyond perhaps some anxiety) then perhaps actively give yourself some time out (a week or a month, or three), and see how you feel at the end of that period. I would recommend keeping a journal or some other record of your “progress” or feelings along the way so you have a more rational measure that you can look back on.
What experiences with the Sunk Cost Fallacy have you had?