Sunday mornings. Scooters and bikes along the river. Pitstops at every park and playground along the way.
Target destination is the big kid’s playground for the youngest.
Tennis lessons for the eldest.
Street food market for me.
Our arrival is timed to coincide with the last of the Park Run herd migrating from chalked finishing line to coffee shop. Cake and caffeine more than replenishing the calories expended over the 5km course. Fresh air, sunshine and good company providing more benefits than a half-hour jog around the park.
We strolled through the market in the general direction of the roti roll stand.
Grilled chicken pieces marinated overnight in a delicious mixture of yoghurt, lemon juice, ground almonds, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, paprika, and garam masala.
Served over a bed of fresh salad.
Coated with a tangy chilli sauce.
Wrapped up in a fresh chapatti.
Only today there is a minor technical problem.
The roti roll stand is gone.
Its place occupied by a bicycle repair stall.
“Oh no. It’s happened again!” quoted my younger son.
“The sandwich curse” said my older boy, patting me on the shoulder.
The dreaded sandwich curse. A mysterious phenomenon that occurs every time I discover a favourite item of food.
Ruinous recipe changes.
Discontinued product lines.
The shop goes out of business.
I sighed. Outwardly stoic. Taking it like a man.
On the inside I was having the mother of all toddler tantrums.
Cursing the gods. Throwing my toys out of the pram. Wanting to watch the world burn.
The sandwich curse is an example of the inflection points we experience as we progress through life.
Identifying something that we want. A goal.
Striving to attain it.
Achieving the prize.
Discovering that victory is fleeting. Our wants fluid. Contentment is a moving target.
Life holds few certainties.
Self-serving short-sighted politicians.
The Canberra Raiders not winning the premiership.
What we enjoy today is rarely what we dream of having tomorrow.
Decided for us
Our preferred options may no longer be available.
The choice is taken out of our hands by external events, such as the sandwich curse.
Grass is greener
Our tastes may change.
Today’s shiny new toy quickly becomes last year’s model.
The achievements that provide happiness today may fall short tomorrow as we quickly adapt. Our appetites grow.
We may enjoy the company of someone our own age, but we enjoy looking at someone in their prime. Once one and the same, but age catches up with even the fittest of bodies!
Contentment is a feeling, not a trophy. It can’t be captured. Purchased. Or won.
Sometimes we delay gratification. Make big bets. Chase rainbows.
Dreaming of retiring to that sleepy beach town.
Hoping things will magically get better when:
- we get married
- have kids
- buy a house
- pay off the mortgage
- kids leave home
One day. Some day. We hope.
Believing that attaining an arbitrary net worth figure will instantly cure what ails us.
That stressed, impatient, and distant very-busy-person-doing-very-busy-work you will vanish.
In their place will miraculously be a nice relaxed you, who is ever “present in the moment”.
A you that friends and family will genuinely want to invest their time in. Assuming they patiently waited around until your arbitrary number was reached!
The inflection points above are heavily influenced by externalities.
Deadlines. Decisions made by others. Magic numbers.
While the status quo remained, we wouldn’t be making changes.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be.
Let’s play a simple (but potentially troubling) thought experiment.
Knowing what you know now, the day-to-day realities of your existence, if you had your time over would you consciously choose your current:
- social group?
- health, diet and fitness?
An instant, emphatic, unhesitating and unqualified response of YES to any of those questions is a wonderful thing.
Congratulations! In that aspect of your life, you wouldn’t change a thing.
Responding yes to all those questions means you are either the most content person in the history of the world, or you are not being honest with yourself.
Statistically speaking, one is far more likely than the other.
Any question you didn’t answer with a definitive yes is a no.
Sunk cost fallacy
In the investment world there is a concept known as the “sunk cost fallacy”. The continuation of an activity, not because doing so makes sense, but because of valuable resources already invested.
Retaining underperforming investments, whose best days are behind them.
Continuing to live in that expensive school catchment, long after the kids have aged out.
Persisting with an unhappy relationship, a shared past being very different from a rosy future.
We see examples of this behaviour exhibited every day.
People moaning about unsatisfying careers or onerous mortgage payments, yet making no move to improve their circumstance.
Politicians persisting with manifesto pledges past their used by dates, the world having moved on.
Corporates running multi-year change programmes, where the only certainty is that what gets delivered will underwhelm. At best it delivers what the organisation needed years ago rather than today. Often times, not even that.
Retail investors exhibit the sunk cost fallacy more than most, clinging to schools of thought that are demonstrably suboptimal.
- Buying into a cult of personality high fee managed fund.
- Purchasing shares in IPOs rather than the open market, seeking easy stag profits.
- Technical analysis, the art of divining the future from historical stock price charts.
- Selecting a stock that featured in finance magazine puff piece or glowing CEO profile.
- Acting on sponsored stock market tips published in the financial media and brokerage newsletters.
They do it because they have always done it, irrespective of performance. To change would be an admission they had previously been flawed or incorrect in their thinking.
Rationally we know that these behaviours don’t make sense.
Repeating mistakes of the past, hoping for a different outcome, is more a definition of insanity than a roadmap to future riches, happiness, or contentment.
How much does “sunk cost fallacy” play a part in the areas of your life that you are unsatisfied with?
No time like the present
After completing 40+ laps around the sun, there is much I don’t know, and a great deal I’m less certain of than I once was.
One thing I have figured out is that happiness has more to do with expectation than circumstance.
The head of human resources at a past client site once offered this memorable line, before firing an underperforming team:
“You can’t make people change.
You can’t expect that people will change.
The decision we must make is to either accept people as we find them, or to move them on.”
After reflecting on those life questions, we face a dilemma.
We have the option of continuing to plod along leading an existence we have acknowledged we wouldn’t consciously seek out were we given the opportunity for a “do over“.
To assume the financial services industry is correct when they say “past performance is no guarantee of future results“. Hoping that sentiment is sufficient to rescue us from our suboptimal current state, as we continue to do more of the same.
To patiently wait for an externality to force an inflection point upon us.
Alternatively, we can consciously make changes to areas of our lives we find wanting or suboptimal.
To control the timing and form of those changes.
It is within our gift to consciously choose to make those changes. To trigger an inflection point.
- Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985), ‘The psychology of sunk costs’. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, vol. 35
- Behavioural Economics (2015), ‘Sunk cost fallacy‘