It’s time for one of my favorite topics surrounding quitting: “wasted” time and money. Let me give you two quick examples. Say you are thinking of leaving a relationship you’ve been in for five years. It’s not going very well and it doesn’t bring you any of the joy it once did. But when you think of leaving, your first thought is “but if I leave I’ve wasted those five years?”
Or say you worked at a company for ten years. You’re miserable and there’s no obvious end in sight to whatever is bothering you about the job, but you stay, because leaving means you would have “wasted” those ten years.
These periods of time spent in an endeavor are what economists refer to as “sunk costs” – they are in the past and you can’t get them back, no matter what you do in the future. The “sunk costs fallacy” refers to the fact that people are often hesitant to quit something they’ve already invested a lot of time or money in, so they’ll continue to sink more time and more money into it.
Let me show you the sunk cost fallacy in action. You go to eat at an expensive restaurant, and halfway through your dinner you are uncomfortably full. You have a decision to make: stop eating or finish the meal. Does finishing the meal get you your money back? NO – you’re in financially the same position you would be had you just stopped eating. You gained nothing but a stomachache and an additional hour at the gym.
So if you can see where the rationale behind finishing the meal is flawed, try to apply that to your current situation. If you spent time and money on, say, graduate school, but you find the classes to be intolerable and not preparing you for a future goal, you can either continue to sink more time and more money into finishing school, OR you can cut your losses, your “sunk costs”, and begin anew.
So please, dump the sunk costs fallacy and make sure the rest of the time and money you spend is spent on something that leads to increased happiness, not continued stress.