The Sunk Cost of Believing, Feeling and Behaving

The Sunk Cost of Believing, Feeling and Behaving

“What’s in the box?!”
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

– Hey, I know you were asking for a hammer for your birthday. Here. It’s the top of the line. And because you’re so special, I didn’t want to just wrap it in an ordinary gift paper. Instead, I buried it somewhere in this terrarium along with ten funnel web spiders in it. Because I thought you’d like to have them, too.

– Gee. Thanks.

As Seth Godin puts it so eloquently, sunk costs are gifts from our past selves. They are the results of decisions and actions that our previous selves made with the knowledge they had at the time.

And now the well-meaning, but misinformed past selves want to give our current wiser selves those sunk costs as gifts. But these are gifts that we need not to accept. Especially when they no longer serve who we’ve become, or a want to become.

Sunk cost… of belief.

Forcing ourselves to finish all the food on our plate*. Even if we were full five spoonfuls ago. Only because we don’t want to waste the time and ingredients that went into cooking this dish.

Maybe it’s because of how we grew up. The important values our parents were trying to instil. To never waste. Maybe money was tight. Maybe we feel guilty that we have so much when some people have none.

And so we keep shovelling food in with the goal of cleaning up the last piece of elbow pasta. Reliving our daily moment of gluttony. Hoping that avoiding the garbage bin will somehow make it worth it.

Maybe the more helpful narrative is to acknowledge that whether the rest goes in the bin or into our stretched stomach, it is already wasted. We can’t get it back.

To admit our mistake of making too much. To learn from it. To buy less. To cook less. And as a result, to serve less next time.

…of feeling.

Being angry because we feel mistreated. Maybe it happened five years ago with someone close to us. Or maybe it happened five minutes ago when a driver in a blue Jeep cut us off on the Harbour Bridge. Making us miss the York Street exit.

And so we carry a gift of resentment and anger. Only because we can’t let go. It ruins our day. Maybe the week. And unfortunately for some people, their life.

If the feeling doesn’t serve us, maybe it’s worth asking if we should keep accepting this gift. If we can’t change the past, could we change our thoughts about it?

…of behaviour.

We reach for our phone for comfort. To get distracted. To seek answers. To ask others. Hoping that Google and social media will save us.

Because that’s what we’ve always done. It gives us a relief from the present. Maybe it’s a phone. But it might be a cookie jar. Or that vending machine in the hallway. A glass of wine when we get home. It doesn’t matter. The reason for it stays the same. An ingrained habit to move away from what’s bothering us.

Maybe it would be helpful to learn to change a specific behaviour. To learn what’s triggering us into an unproductive action.

Maybe it all starts by accepting that these gifts of past beliefs, feelings or behaviours are weighing us down.


*Or our kid’s plate. Or our partners. Or those vegan nuggets that a guy three tables over is about to throw in the bin.

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