Nothing is more responsible for people wasting their time than their fear of wasting their time.
In this two minute and fifty second video clip from Big Think, Julia Galef explains a popular idea among economists known as The Sunken Costs Fallacy.
The sunken costs fallacy is any form of reasoning that employs the following logic:
Although I would prefer to do something other than what I’m currently doing, I’m going to stay put on my present path because I don’t want to waste the time, energy, and resources I’ve already invested.
In other words, I’m afraid of wasting my time. Therefore I’m going to keep wasting my time because “hey, I might as well go all the way with it, right?”
One of the reasons why it’s so easy for us to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy is that it allows room for us to avoid uncomfortable confrontations with the fact that our past expenditures are no longer congruent with our present priorities. As long as I persist in activities that don’t reflect my real priorities, I can soothe myself by thinking “well, at least I’m getting SOMETHING out of my investment.” But what is the true value of that SOMETHING when it’s contrasted with the opportunity costs of procrastinating about what I really want to do?
Another seductive attribute of the sunk cost fallacy is that it can be used to avoid responsibility by perpetuating a sense of powerlessness. If I’ve already made sacrifices for something, then I HAVE TO stick with it. This logic relieves me from the responsibility that comes with owning my choices and it allows me to make myself an unfortunate victim of prior costs. One never simply HAS to stick with a path EVEN IF they’ve invested significant resources in it. Moreover, if that path is less profitable than the alternatives, then sticking to it is the LEAST responsible thing one could do.
Evaluating possibilities merely in terms of what’s already been spent, without regard for what is currently the best investment opportunity, is a slippery slope that typically leads to deeper debt and greater dissatisfaction.
The antidote to this most pernicious and pervasive form of self-defeating thinking comes from the sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois:
“The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”
The value of your present options aren’t determined by how much of your life you’ve sacrificed in the past, but by your capacity to invest in the kind of future you truly want to create.
You can’t recover lost time, but you can interrupt the pattern of holding yourself back from the things you really want to do.
At least that’s the way I see it.