The Power of Sunk Cost Bias in Decision-Making

Wandering Aimfully Through Creative Business

The Power of Sunk Cost Bias in Decision-Making

Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

I sat staring at my laptop, eyes glazed over and on the verge of pulling my hair out. I was going on four solid hours of trying to fix a monumental issue between my website (on Squarespace) and my email list (on Mailchimp).

My website forms weren’t collecting properly (a fact I had just found out about a week prior), and after finally finding a workaround to fix that issue, like a hydra, three more had popped up.

I was deeply concentrating, trying to make sense of the complicated system I was patching together — this form to this Google Sheet to Zapier and back to Mailchimp — just desperately trying to manufacture an efficient system that would work properly AND make sure I was sending you guys the emails you wanted to get. Finally, amidst the intense focus, I had the good sense to take a step back and look at what I was doing.

I knew that a solution to my exact problem existed because it was a solution I’d known about for months. My friend Nathan Barry had been telling me about his software service ConvertKit for so long and how it’s built specifically to organize subscribers and send emails for bloggers.

So, the question is, if I knew a solution to my problem existed, why was I practically beating my head against a wall rather than simply signing up for ConvertKit?

Well, for one thing, I had been using Mailchimp since I started my business over two years ago and I’d invested an unspeakable number of hours learning how to use it effectively. I knew how to segment my list and customize my template and check out my stats like a pro. So every time I encountered a problem with Mailchimp and even considered switching, my brain would think of all the time and effort and energy I had already spent. Switching providers would feel like all that work was for nothing, a feeling I wasn’t prepared to confront.

On this particular Sunday though, finally I decided I’d had enough. I popped over to ConvertKit and signed up for an account, telling myself I would just give things a test run and poke around. Within the first few moments, I experienced complete relief from the problem I had just spent hours troubleshooting. The deeper I dove, the more I was kicking myself for not switching over sooner.

That’s when I realized I was the only one responsible for keeping myself in a frustrated and confused state, stubbornly refusing to jump ship on a system that clearly wasn’t working for me. And it was all because of a little thing called sunk cost bias.

Which brings me to what I want to talk to you about this week — how sunk costs can cloud our judgment and keep us fixated on things that simply aren’t working for us.

But first, what exactly is sunk cost bias?

Sunk cost bias is just a fancy psychology term to describe our tendency to keep going with something we’ve invested our time or money or energy in, even if that something is a losing proposition. It’s a way of justifying our efforts when we’ve taken on a cost that we can’t possibly get back (hence the term a sunk cost.)

Essentially, the more we invest in something — the deeper we see it through, the more money we throw at it, etc. — the harder it is for us to walk away.

Now let’s talk about how this can show up in our daily lives. Think about how many times in life we make decisions based on a sunk cost we’ve already put in to something:

A friendship turns toxic but you won’t distance yourself because you’ve “known each other forever.” It becomes clear that a relationship won’t end well, but you avoid breaking up because you don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted months or years of time on it. You keep throwing money toward a bad investment like a junky car that keeps breaking down on you.

Heck, I even know people that are lawyers and hate it but they refuse to quit because of how much money they’ve spent on law school! Can you imagine working at a career you loathe simply to justify an expense that is already long gone?

That’s exactly why acknowledging our sunk cost bias is extremely important.

Decision-making is one of the most essential tools to living our brightest, most vibrant lives. We need to be clear-minded when we’re evaluating which projects to take on, what activities to spend our time on, what relationships to invest in, etc. Part of that sound decision making means recognize our bias and then having the strength to overcome it and discard or disrupt a course of action when it’s no longer serving us.

It comes down to this:

“Don’t let poor investments in the past sabotage the right decisions in the future.”

My challenge to you this week is to identify three ways your sunk cost bias has played into your decision making recently.

Has it stopped you from quitting the job you don’t like? Or scrapping the website you hate but that you’ve paid someone good money to design? Or is it even smaller than that — Have you been using the same terrible vacuum for years because you invested in the expensive attachments?

And when you encounter a decision in the future, I challenge you to ask yourself: Would I still choose this route if I hadn’t invested any time or energy into it at all?

If not, that’s your cue that sunk cost bias is swaying your vote.

I’m still working on the kinks in my new ConvertKit system, but I’m so glad I finally made the switch! Hopefully it means less headaches for me and more quality email content for you!

Wishing you a motivated and happy week filled with decisions that are conducive to living as your best and brightest self!

The Power of Sunk Cost Bias in Decision-Making

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This article written by

Caroline Zook

Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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