Continuing in the wrong direction?

 
Recently I was talking to a friend who wants to leave her husband, but she won’t, primarily out of fear of the unknown – how she will survive financially and emotionally, whether she’ll ever be able to have children and so on. She asked for my advice about what to do, and I used the analogy that it was like wanting to walk from our part of town (Tooting) to another (Clapham Junction). If you want to go somewhere, but discover you’re walking in the wrong direction, what do you do? Do you knowingly continue in the wrong direction, towards somewhere else unknown, or do you stop and correct your course? I used the same analogy when talking to someone else about their eating habits – do you continue with the pattern that you’ve followed all your life, even though you know it’s got you where you are now (overweight and unhealthy), or do you stop it, and start steering yourself in a better direction?
 
It turns out that there’s a name for this phenomenon – the “Sunk Cost Fallacy”. Basically it states that people have strong misgivings about stopping behaviour that they have invested a lot of time and energy into, even if they no longer get any value from it. Economists apparently consider this behaviour highly irrational, which of course it is when you think about it.
 
The thing that made me think of this was the story relayed by the author of the excellent Lean Gains blog, who for years stubbornly stuck to a style of diet that didn’t get the results he wanted. It was desperation that forced him to finally let go of his old habits and move onto a path that reaped the rewards he wanted.
 
He shares five lessons on embracing the need to change:
 
1. Never wait until you’re at your wits’ end, before a much needed change in your course of action comes – because if you do, it will come more by force, and not conscious will.
 
2. Be a pragmatist – not a fundamentalist. Never commit to an idea, only to progress and results.
 
3. Always be prepared to change your ways rapidly and dramatically, if required. Adaptability is the key. Rigidity is the killer.
 
4. Forget the past and don’t try to save a sinking ship; the faster you abandon it, the better.
 
5. Cultivate a sense of suspiciousness towards yourself, your mind, and your actions. Wipe out irrational behaviours and counterproductive patterns quickly and ruthlessly – show no mercy or leniency.
 
Of course it’s much easier to talk about this stuff than do it, but with knowledge of your motivation and a little mindfulness, it gets a bit easier.

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