“If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?”
— W. Somerset Maugham, British playwright, novelist and short story writer
“Six thousand dollars?” Peter looked at the man in disbelief. “That’s outrageous!”
“You’re lucky all we have to replace is the tank,” said the man holding the clipboard.
“Yeah, I’m the world’s luckiest guy,” replied Peter. “Only the luck is all bad!”
Some 30 years ago, I had a friend who bought himself an acreage with a mid-1940s two-bedroom home. The price was a bit steep, but his wife loved the location with its mature trees, a small pond nearby and an old hip-roofed barn. Having ignored my advice that he should hire a home inspector before making an offer, he soon found the home in need of new shingles, a new furnace and electrical panel. When he finally hired someone to inspect the septic tank, it was discovered the tank was on the verge of collapse. One day, while complaining bitterly about the latest expense — a recently discovered crack in the foundation — I asked my friend why he didn’t just sell the property instead of sinking more cash into this money pit.
“I’ve spent so much money now that I’ll never get half of it back if I sell.” He shook his head and sighed. “My only hope now is that any future repairs will be minor.”
“You can’t spend your way out of a bad investment,” I counselled.
The other day, I shared the acreage story with an accountant friend, and she used the term “sunk costs.” In economics and business decision-making, sunk costs are money that has already been spent and cannot be recovered to any significant degree.
Explained my friend, “Sunk costs create barriers. A firm that has incurred high sunk costs will have difficulty deciding to exit the market even if it sees a good opportunity.”
Peter’s sunk costs had kept him trapped on his acreage and reluctant to sell.
A short time later, someone asked me why core beliefs — those that have received a huge investment of our time, energy, and faith — were so difficult to change.
After some pondering, I came to the realization that sunk costs could relate to more than just homes or businesses. They can also apply to changing core beliefs.
Let’s say you formed a belief at a young age that you’re not deserving of happiness, abundance or success. What we expect is what we experience, so after a lifetime of investing your faith into this self-defeating notion, you’ve built a solid core belief that now supports a series of perceptions and assertions around personal value, success and possibilities.
Though you recognize that a specific core belief no longer serves your best interest, by the point of recognition, you’re reluctant to let it go. We often see this in relationships where people spend years trying to sustain an unhealthy or failed partnership. The investment or sunk cost cannot be recouped to any significant degree, so they forge on – investing further, hoping someday to recoup the losses. Knocking down a core belief means toppling whatever that belief is supporting. As scary as that sounds, it’s often the only way to create an exit.
I’m not suggesting you start swinging the sledgehammer of awareness indiscriminately. Many core beliefs are vital and bolster healthy aspects of your existence and self-esteem. The core beliefs I’m proposing you target are those that keep you living in fear and protection mode: beliefs in scarcity, lack of deservability, and failure. What’s more, consider the origin of your core beliefs: are they the result of some poor early programming?
“The thing always happens that you really believe in,” wrote American architect and author, Frank Lloyd Wright. “And the belief in a thing makes it happen.” Words to consider.
Murray Furher is a self-esteem expert.