Audio Version (08:02)
Many of us find ourselves in situations that are far from ideal, whether it’s a job we’ve outgrown or a relationship that’s no longer fulfilling.
Interestingly, we often persist in these circumstances longer than we should, despite knowing deep down that a change is necessary.
In today’s article, we will explore three common psychological reasons why we stay in a job or relationship for too long.
In the extended video version of this article, I discuss ways of addressing each of the three reasons. Click here to watch.
Fear is a potent emotion that can keep us firmly anchored in situations that no longer serve us. Whether it’s the fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, or even fear of success, these anxieties can act as powerful obstacles to change.
Fear can manifest in various ways in the context of a job or a relationship, and it often stops us from taking the necessary steps to move forward.
Fear of the Unknown: The unknown can be daunting. Leaving a job or a relationship that we’ve grown accustomed to means venturing into uncharted territory. We may fear the uncertainties that come with change, such as financial instability or being alone.
Fear of Failure: We’re often afraid of the potential negative outcomes associated with leaving a familiar situation. This fear can paralyse us, causing us to stick with the status quo, even if it’s causing unhappiness.
Fear of Rejection or Judgment: Leaving a job or relationship can sometimes invite criticism or judgment from others. This fear of what people might think can make us hesitate to make the necessary changes in our lives.
Fear of Success: That seems like a weird one. Why would you be scared of something you want? Again, it’s about uncertainty. If you’re successful, it means things will change, and you don’t necessarily know what that looks like! People’s perceptions of you might change; you may need to do something you don’t want to or hadn’t anticipated.
2. Sunk Cost Fallacy
The sunk cost fallacy, also known as the sunk cost effect, is a cognitive bias that occurs when we continue investing time, money, or effort into a project or decision because we have already invested significant resources, even when it’s clear that the additional investments are unlikely to yield a positive return or benefit.
In other words, we make decisions based on what we have already “sunk” into a situation rather than evaluating the situation objectively and based on future potential outcomes.
This fallacy is rooted in the idea that we tend to avoid feeling that our initial investment was a waste, so we persist in our current course of action to justify or rationalise our prior commitments and poor choices/decisions.
However, this irrational behaviour can lead to poor decision-making, disregarding the present and future costs and benefits.
For example, we’ve invested a substantial amount of time (maybe decades) into a company or relationship. Instead of cutting our losses and moving on to more promising opportunities, we continue to stay because we can’t accept that our initial ‘investment’ hasn’t worked out.
Psychological Commitment: The more we invest in a job or relationship, the more psychologically committed we become to that investment. We may convince ourselves that we can’t leave because of all the time and effort we’ve put in.
Emotional Attachment: Over time, we develop emotional attachments to our investments. This emotional investment can make us feel obligated to stay in a situation, even when it’s no longer fulfilling.
Regret Aversion: We may fear the regret of acknowledging that we’ve “wasted” time or energy on a job or relationship that hasn’t worked out, which can lead to staying in it longer than necessary.
3. Status Quo Bias
The status quo bias is a cognitive bias that makes us prefer maintaining our current situation, even if it’s suboptimal, rather than embracing change. We are naturally inclined to stick with what’s familiar, as it requires less mental effort and perceived risk.
One of my favourite sayings you’re probably getting tired of hearing by now is:
Our brain would prefer to keep us in known pain rather than move us towards potential pleasure.
Comfort in Routine: Familiarity often equates to comfort. We are naturally drawn to the predictability and routine of our current job or relationship, even if it’s unsatisfying.
Cognitive Effort: Embracing change, such as searching for a new job or ending a long-term relationship, requires significant cognitive effort. The status quo bias makes us resist such change in favour of the mental ease that comes with the familiar.
Avoidance of Risk: The unknown carries perceived risks, and the status quo bias makes us more risk-averse. Despite its shortcomings, we may stay in a job or relationship because we believe it’s the safer option.
The Wrap Up
Staying in a job or relationship for too long, even when it’s no longer serving us, is a common human experience. Fear, sunk costs, and status quo bias can create powerful psychological barriers to change.
However, recognising these factors is the first step toward breaking free from their influence and taking control of our lives.
Embracing change, even when difficult or uncertain, can lead to personal growth, happiness, and a more fulfilling future. It’s never too late to take a step in a new direction, and doing so can be incredibly empowering.
FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY!
To find out how to deal with each of these three reasons, watch the extended click here to watch the extended video version.
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