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‘But don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor. “

John Dickenson – musical 1776  On why colonists are not going to support the revolution despite English taxation and suppression. 

I have an app called Duolingo which is to learn languages. I am learning Spanish and I am reviewing my  German.* The Duolingo app is free; it has a lot of ads one has to consider before moving on to the next lesson. I can live with this. It seems fair: if I am getting lesson for free they have to find some way to pay for it.

However it dawns on me it is playing on my psychology to keep going lest I lose my spot. It sends me daily reminders “I am on a roll” and if I miss even a day it all goes ‘back to zero’.  Curious: if you miss a day and the ‘days in a row’ calendar starts again at ‘0’ you have the option of shelling out five dollars to erase the gap and pretend there was a continuous record. Imagine! Shelling out money to avoid the pain of loss by creating a lie!

I now realize the dastardly app is based on the psychological phenomena called ‘The Sunk Cost Fallacy”. We feel pain and embarrassment if there is loss. We continue something long after it ceases to be worthwhile (or meaningful) simply because to conclude ‘I’ve lost’ is too upsetting to consider. People will shell out more time/energy – and money – in order to keep up something.

I remember years ago a game called FarmVille, which worked on the same concept. I never played it. It was awesome in its lure. I remember friends putting enormous time into keeping up their farm not because it was ‘fun’ but lest it fail.

The more you invest in something the most reluctant you become to abandon it.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is not just about individuals and their pocket money. Communities and governments are no better; they continue things long after they should. The Vietnam war comes to mind.

I see The SCF in my patients who have invested time/energy and money into relationships, a house, careers, etc. they are loath to put it down for it means admitting defeat and a dead end.  I am not criticizing; this is human nature. We all do this.  However it is inimical and costly.

Now that I have connected the dots about Duolingo I think I will purposely not do my lessons this weekend. I want to practice letting go of things and feeling OK to do so. I’ve already stopped reading some books I was continuing just because I’ve read so much of them this far.  There are a few nonrefundable tickets for shows coming up; I’ve decided if I am disinterested at the time or too tired or better entertained I will not go merely out of obligation.  It may feel foolish but I think it will do a world of good.



*Going from Spanish to German and back again is making my mind mate them together into a sort of mutt the type you have never seen.  Mein Hund geht nach la Casa.


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