Investing Psychology: The Sunk Cost Trap
Know when to let go.
Begin with the end game.
If you’ve ever met someone who insisted on persisting with something that wasn’t good for them and they knew it and they made excuses for it yet continued with it instead of doing something about it, like take big action that seems so obvious to you then you’ve come face-to-face with one of the most chronic psychological phenomena that leaves many well-intentioned victims in its wake: The Sunk Cost Trap, AKA The Concorde fallacy, referred to from here as SCaT (and we all know what scat is.) You know who I’m talking about. Is it...you? Yes, you’ve fallen for it. We all have a weakness for something, someone, or somewhere that we know just isn’t living up to expectations but you can’t help but give it another chance, because you know there’s a diamond in the rough somewhere in there despite the significant loss you’ve already incurred. Because, it’s just too painful to admit it’s a failure, right? Samson + Delilah = SCaT. That stock that should have gone gangbusters but didn’t and hasn’t and keeps dropping = SCaT. The hard working employee who sticks around for the raise/promotion they never get = SCaT. The shoulda’s, coulda’s and woulda’s = SCaT. Another way of thinking of this is: do you want it/them or do you want success? There is a big difference between the object of attention and the outcome of that object. It could be easy to say that people/investors who fall prey to SCaT just have extreme stick-to-itiveness, but the converse is also true of SCaT.
SCaT: never-finishers, who looks like but are not the same as quitters or procrastinators. Procrastinators never wanted to start to begin with but did anyway. The initial enthusiasm of a procrastinator is usually fueled by need or obligation, not inspiration. SCaT never-finishers often had a great idea, or thought they had a great investment but as time proves them wrong they create excuses as to why it can’t be finished, or performing chronically poorly, as a way of avoiding the pain of the admittance of a failure. The identification of the failure with themselves is too much to bear. A failing venture is not the same as a person who is a failure. The line between objectivity and subjectivity, for the SCaT victim, is blurred. On both ends of the SCaT spectrum lies the investment one feels they have put into the disappointment that never proves otherwise and excuses for why it isn’t working out but will. But, there is a kryptonite for SCaT: end-game thinking (EGT). You may have heard people talking about “deal breakers”, which is a way of engaging in strategic EGT. Sports psychologists use EGT with athletes. The athlete can then “leave it on the field” after the game and look back with objectivity. And, finally, the investor can use EGT by accurately assessing the potential of a property and establishing milestones on a timeline that lead to the ultimate goal for the property and if/then exit-strategies along the way. Set it free.
■ BEGIN WITH THE END GAME ■