Mental Health

The Stress Cost Fallacy

It seems that with each new level of education we reach, we are told that the worse is still to come. The transition from High School to CEGEP was about becoming independent, bringing about a brand-new set of challenges and responsibilities. The transition from CEGEP to University, we are told, is another level of independence that we will have to adapt to. It only get worse from here: that is the message that we are bombarded with by teachers, parents, and older students. It is inevitable that this mentality of incessant effort leading to more incessant effort is a major stressor for any student, whether that pressure comes from internal or external factors. Combined with the need to adapt to a new environment, another major stressor that can be traced as deeply as human biology, the transition for many second years coming in Fall 2017 will not be an easy one. In this highly optimistic mindset, we should ask ourselves: How can we improve the way we deal with stress?


The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Every stressor is inevitable, but not every stressor is an obligation. Surprisingly, a potentially healthy way to deal with stress is simply to quit.

In economics, there exists the concept of the sunk cost fallacy, which very plainly means that humans hate ‘wasting’ resources. For example, you have been working all summer and acquired a relatively good sum of money so you decide to treat yourself and start off the new semester by buying an especially costly pair of shoes. You wear them uncomfortably for the first few days, hoping to break them in, but as the days turn into weeks you discover the shoes are not becoming more comfortable, that they create blisters on your feet and seem to be too small. The rational way of reacting to this situation would be to immediately throw them out and buy a new pair, this time making sure that the criteria of comfort holds a higher place on your list than appearance. However, as many behavioral economists have proven, you are much more likely to keep wearing them, trying to fit into something where you don’t belong and enduring the blisters. Remember: humans hate wasting resources; most of us are hiding behind the logic that you should get your ‘money’s worth’. The fallacy here is that the money you spent in that pair of shoes is not going to reappear magically by wearing them. The money you spent is long gone and there is no logical reason for you to keep wearing the shoes.


The same goes for many jobs, habits, or extracurricular activities we partake in during our life as students, or even our lifetime in general. Instead of money, we spend time, energy, and effort, and dedicate ourselves to a certain goal or project we initially found appealing. Realistically, as time goes by our expectations, and even our personalities and preferences, change. We can find that we no longer fit within that group or role, that the work associated to it creates new stressors, or that the initial discomfort never truly left, just like the pair of shoes. Because of the sunk costs, our time and our dedicated energy, quitting can be extremely hard, especially for people that have issues with overinflated pride. It seems we prefer ‘suffering’ in those circumstances than to feel like we have ‘wasted’ resources.

Knowing this, I challenge you to quit something that brings you more negativity than positivity in your life. It doesn’t need to be a big thing, like being a part of a club, work or even a bad relationship, but quitting small habits and routines is a good place to start. The act of quitting will certainly bring on stress of its own, but those stressors are temporary in comparison with the stress brought on by responsibilities you no longer enjoy.

This is what I meant by every stressor is inevitable, but not every stressor is an obligation. The inevitability comes from the fact that you will be faced with a choice for every stressor: quit or keep going. I do not advocate for quitting in every circumstance, as we can also be stressed by something we like. In fact, some people find themselves quitting jobs or responsibilities, only to discover that the absence of that aspect of their life is a loss they just can’t bear. But even in this case, you could say that giving up can put things into perspective.a-simple-path-to-letting-go

In conclusion, do not be afraid to quit if you feel like that is the solution that would be the best for you as an individual. You will not get back all the time, effort and dedication you put into it, but you will avoid being unhappy for an extended period of time. Quitting is a long process, it demands time and reflection, and I strongly believe it shouldn’t be an impulse decision. However, if this is something that had been in the back of your mind for a while, it most likely deserves real consideration.

Because quitters are sometimes winners.


Written by MWR writer Laurence Doucet, edited by MWR executive Véronique Leblanc


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