[PF|PD] The Idea of Sunk Cost & Letting Go

Sunk cost is a most important idea I learned in a Decision Analysis class. In “technical” terms, sunk costs are costs that had already been incurred that is irrecoverable.

Why is this so important?

Sunk cost is an indispensable idea that enables you to have rational thinking and to make rational decision, and rational thinking and rational decision are what you need to prevail in many areas in life, such as investing, making business decision, deciding the next move in relationship/career/life, etc.

In a practical example of whether to sell your car, you can:

  1. Compare current selling price with how much you paid for the car and think about the loss (the difference) if you sell the car now. If the loss is too big, you keep the car.
  2. Think about how much you gain by selling (maybe use that toward a more fuel-economical car) and/or the maintenance and insurance you DON’T have to pay later, which will lead to more saving. And if those gain and savings do not provide more value than not selling, you will keep the car.

Now I didn’t cover every aspects and parameters involved in the decision of car-selling in real-life, but you get the idea.
Which do you think is a rational decision?

In the 1st scenario, you let something that has already happened in the past to drive your decision.
In the 2nd scenario, you consider all future potentials and base you decision upon those.
Pretty obvious.

The price you paid for the car is no longer relevant. However, you can imagine how people will choose not to sell like in the 1st scenario in real life.

Quickly, we can translate the same idea into making decisions in a business project and a personal relationship setting.

Instead of deciding whether a project should be continued with focus on how much money and human resources had been invested, you need to focus on how much potential investment return if the project is to be finished, the probability of the project failing, and how much more cost will be incurred, etc. You do not focus on those “wasted” resources because they are already sunk cost.

Now in terms of personal relationship, instead of deciding if you should stay with somebody based on the amount of time and effort spent, you evaluate about the current trust/confidence/comfort level you have with this person (that is a result of past experience, but NOT the past experience), the potential amount of happiness/sadness, whether he/she can change bad habits or if you can endure them, and many many other aspects involved in a intimate relationship looking into the future.

Those are just some very generic examples. But to put in more generic term of how sunk cost assist you to be more rational is that “what happened has happened and you should not let yourself get dragged down by the past”. I’m am not urging you to be completely rational and throw away the past, but it’s age-old wisdom that you do not let the past becomes the burden of future, especially the mistakes and bad experience. This is the same idea as we tell each other to “let go”.

Look into the future and based your decisions on those visions, my friends.

To have all the details and technicality on the idea of sunk cost, visit here.

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