Well, you might need it later…

Yeah, I might, but if I haven’t used it in six years, then what makes you think I’ll need it tomorrow?

Sunk-cost fallacy. That’s what. It’s an erroneous albeit alluring way to make decisions based only on how much time is being invested into something. The error of sunk-cost is its assumption that things are valuable only to the degree that they’ve been exposed to the dimension of time. The allure, the allure I find ridiculously annoying, is that fallaciously judging an object’s value based only on time is like saying there is indeed a probability that Jupiter will explode tomorrow. Indeed. Jupiter might explode tomorrow. But the probability that Jupiter will explode tomorrow is so low that it’s stupid to even use it as an example to illustrate a point.

The sunk-cost fallacy is always correct. Jupiter might explode. You might need that old sweater. Might is right, right? Being correct is a way to wield authority. Wielding authority means that our subordinates treat our rules and thoughts and decisions and judgments as immutable as gravity. This is the way we’ve always done it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (That last one is most applied to minds locked shut.)

Thanks. You’re right. I might need this. But the probability that I’ll need it decreases with each day. I’ve kept this thing for 8 years now. The probability that I’ll need it now is zero. I don’t need this anymore. Let’s get rid of it. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of our habit of assuming that we’ll one day perk up and need that thing, that dusty little thing sitting in our closet collecting undocumented strains of dust.

The perniciousness of sunk-cost thinking doesn’t stop at knick knacks and hand-me-downs. Our daily habits are no safe haven from the pitfalls of human reasoning. Every sixth shot of espresso downed increases the chances of a sixth shot of espresso downed tomorrow. Anti-habits, the habit of not having good habits, are exemplars of the sunk-cost fallacy. “I’ve been pretty good at not drinking water for the last 3 days. Might as well keep the streak going.”

We fall for the sunk-cost fallacy because we love streaks. We love momentum. We love Keeping-it-up. Therein lies the damaging error in sunk-cost thinking. We stick with habits and things that aren’t meaningful to us anymore, and reward ourselves for it. We don’t like to abandon our pursuits, old clothes, furniture, and identities because abandonment implies failure and failure is what we seek to avoid. It just isn’t fun to admit that you don’t to be a doctor anymore after being one for 8 years. Getting rid of that weird polo shirt you bought on vacation that one summer hurts because now you need to admit that you don’t have any fashion sense. Or, and I’m willing to take the fight against sunk-cost fallacy as far as it could go, now you need to admit that you don’t have any sense whatsoever about what it is you want out of life. “I thought I wanted this polo shirt,” “I thought I wanted to be a doctor,” “I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with them,” are all saying the same thing: I thought that I wanted this. That was back then. This is today, this is the present, this is now. Now, I don’t. Now, I want something else, want to do something else, want to be someone else. The reason for why you want something else could come from your habit of asking yourself what it is you want and why. That’s a very good habit to have. A habit I really think you should keep. You never know. You might need it later.

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