Fear of Loss

Fear of losing what you already have has a bigger impact than fear of failure. Starting a business wouldn’t be nearly as daunting if it didn’t bear the risk that you might not be able to get your old job back when you quit. People stay in broken relationships for fear of not finding anything better.

This fear persists even when it is obvious that staying where you are will result in more pain than changing. Psychologists refer to a similar concept called the “endowment effect”. This is the tendency for people to pay more to keep an item, than to acquire a new item of similar value. In other words, people will spend more energy protecting what they have then they would to get something new.

Fear of Loss and Eating Meat

A few years ago I became a vegetarian after reading books about the health and environmental benefits. A big concern that weighed in my mind before making the switch was of all the foods I was going to give up. In a typical North American diet, meat plays a huge role, eliminating this from your diet seems far too restrictive.

However, after I started the new diet, I added entirely new foods to my diet. Many of these foods I had never eaten before, and I really enjoyed them. In giving up one set of meals, I adopted a completely different set. Although I was no longer eating some foods, the amount of variety in my diet remained virtually the same.

The problem with my initial perspective had been an irrational fear of loss. I thought I would crave meaty dishes. What I didn’t imagine was that I would be adding new dishes that I would also enjoy. I never considered that, by staying a meat-eater, I would be missing the culinary experiences I had never been encouraged to try before.

I’m not using this example to convince you to become a vegetarian. What I am saying is that there is a tendency in human nature to focus on what might be lost from change, but ignoring what might never be experienced when staying where you are.

Fear of Loss and Travel

My younger sister is on a student exchange program in Denmark for one year. Many of her friends warned her that she might miss her home in Canada too much when going away. However, few people expressed the opposite logic, that by not going she may miss the friends and places she never had a chance to visit.

She’s had a great experience and I’m planning a separate foreign exchange in the upcoming year. Although I will miss some things here, if I chose not to go, I would also miss on the experiences of going.

Avoiding Fear of Loss

First, if you don’t have to, don’t make an either-or choice. The way to change your diet isn’t to commit to avoiding all foods of a certain category for the rest of your life. Taking on a thirty day trial, with the option of reverting back, lets you keep a foot in both worlds. My initial commitment to vegetarianism was only one month.

Don’t burn the ships if you don’t have to. While cutting off all escape routes can promote action, more often it promotes procrastination. If you make your decision either-or, you’ll probably just stay put.

If I were going to start a new business, I wouldn’t make an immediate switch from my current full-time pursuit. I’d probably start in my spare time and grow the project until it could support me. Drastic measures like quitting your job, cutting off friendships and salting the earth are generally unnecessary tactics that should only be used in extreme situations.

A few ways you can have a foot in both worlds are:

  • 30 Day Trials. The commitment period is a month. If you hate it after thirty days, you can quit.
  • Gradual commitments. Start with just a small time investment and expand slowly. You don’t have to quit your job and change your life in one day.
  • Invest small amounts. Don’t risk your entire investment in one shot, space it in increments to test new pursuits.

Focus on Opportunity Costs

Because fear of loss is instinctual, you need to combat it consciously with an opposing form of thinking: opportunity costs. An opportunity cost is the price of not taking on an action. If you had the potential to earn $1000, but took a different choice, earning $100, you’ve just paid a hidden $900 opportunity cost. This cost is just as real and significant as if you had paid out $900 in cash from your wallet.

Focus on what might happen if you fail to take the daring step. While fear of loss will happen today, regret will happen for the rest of your life.


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