Sometimes it’s tough to quit. We’ve all stayed too long in relationships, projects, jobs or investments that weren’t working out as we hoped. Economists call it the “sunk cost fallacy.” A sunk cost is an expense that’s already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Because of an investment already made (whether it be in time, energy or money), we often find it difficult to let go of a losing proposition.
This phenomenon is common, actually. Sunk costs are why managers are reluctant to let go of unproductive employees. Sunk costs are why we continue to watch a bad movie after realizing it’s awful during the first hour. Sunk costs are why so many people stay in romantic relationships long after they’ve ceased being rewarding. And sunk costs are why corporations continue to throw money into R&D or marketing when a product isn’t viable.
From a rational standpoint, it shouldn’t matter how much we’ve already invested our hearts, time or money into something. If we’re unhappy with the results, it’s time to cut bait. It doesn’t make sense to continue throwing valuable resources at something that’s not working. Right? But that’s not human nature: It’s hard to admit that we’re wrong, and it’s even harder to walk away from something where we’ve exerted effort and not gleaned the results we anticipated. We’re biased because of the cost we’ve sunk into something or someone.
In 2014, researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School, found that one 15-minute breathing meditation can help remove this bias (“Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias”). The premise is simple: Meditation brings the mind to the present moment, where internal dialogues cease, the mind clears and we’re able to recognize and let go of the attachments that create the sunk cost fallacy. Meditation is practical, especially if it helps us quit wasting time, money or energy on a lost cause.
Now, do you have some tough decisions to make? We recommend at least a full 15 minutes in the present moment to help clear your perspective.