Ending a Relationship is like Quitting a Job
Have you ever found yourself stuck in an unhealthy relationship, or working a job you hate? You know that you should move on but the thought is equally as terrifying as it is exciting. Breaking up and quitting are scary because they carry with them a level of uncertainty. In fact, we hate the feeling of uncertainty so much that Psychologist Manfred-Neef includes it in his list of 9 basic human needs.
So, even if you are sure that you need to make a change, your brain will try to talk you out of it. There are 3 dirty tricks your brain will use. They may not be logical, or even in your best interests, but your brain doesn’t really care about any of that.
Your brain is naturally quite stubborn and a little skeptical. Part of its design is an inbuilt bias towards taking a cautious approach (known as the negativity bias). Where possible it tries to reduce and eliminate risk. The greatest risk, in our mind, is the unknown. If we do not know what will happen, our brains take a worst case scenario style approach and come up with an extremely negative and highly unlikely prediction. It is this risk aversion that keeps us living within our comfort zone – the boundaries of which are often defined by what we already know. So, we tend to stick to the well worn path.
Risk aversion makes any deviation from our current path terrifying. It tries to reassure us that, even though we don’t like where we’re heading, the alternative is much worse. That is why we spend so long working jobs we hate and dating people that treat us poorly.
We would often rather accept the certainty of a poor, but measurable outcome than the uncertainty of a potentially good, but unknown one. Your partner or boss might not treat you very well, but your brain believes the old saying, better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
If we feel that we are invested in a relationship we are more inclined to stick with it, even if it’s not working out the way we had planned. This principle is driven by the ‘sunk cost’. Basically, if you have already ‘sunk’ time, money or effort into a cause, it becomes harder to leave because we only actually experience a loss when we give up.
Loss Aversion has people stuck in unhealthy relationships in the same way it has gamblers chasing their losses and people working jobs they hate.
So while it may be logical to end an unhealthy relationship, you get caught up on how much time you have already invested. You hope that things will turn around if you just try a little harder and give it more time. This merry-go-round can continue on forever. The more you invest, the greater your sunk cost and the harder it is to leave.
While most people love the idea of being unique and different, in reality, what we really aspire to be is merely normal, well, a slightly above average version of normal. We gain a sense of safety (another basic human need) by being part of a group, like a society. For us to be accepted as a member of society we need to be seen as a normal member who follows social constructs. By being different we risk being seen as an outsider and being banished from the group.
As weird as it is, even in modern day society there is still a fairly large stigma associated with break-ups and divorce.
You might think to yourself, why do people care if we’re different? When people try to empathize, rather than feeling how we feel, they do the reverse and project their own feelings into our situation. When they project their own risk and loss aversion onto us they feel uncomfortable about the challenges we might face. This is why people try to talk you out of doing things, even when you’re convinced it’s the right thing to do.
However, even if people don’t actively try to talk you out of your major change, you still have a strong internal urge to conform. In a famous series of experiments by Asch in the 1950’s, 30% of people conformed by giving an incorrect answer even when they knew that the answer was incorrect. They did this simply because others had already given that same incorrect answer. They would rather be knowingly wrong than be seen as different.
Grabbing the Wheel
Making a large change in your life is ultimately a decision that only you can make. But, by reading this article you have already taken the first step in understanding your own biases. The next step is to figure out which decision will make you the happiest over the long term. Don’t know what makes you happy? Check out our FREE 17 page eBook The No-Bull Pathway to Happiness to discover the 3 simple, scientifically proven components of long term happiness. I’ll bet that what actually makes you happy is different to what you currently think makes you happy.
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