*Note: this post is a condensed version of the Coming Out Gold Podcast Episode 18 found here.

Hey Lovie! I am so excited you are here. I believe by showing up, you are a woman ready to make some changes in your life, ready to shake off the shoulds and start going after your dreams. If I am right in that, then you are at the perfect place. Welcome. Pull up a chair and take your seat at the table because today we are tackling something called sunk energy.

I hadn’t heard of this until I stumbled across it while reading a random article online. This sent me down a research spiral that had me uncovering some new concepts and tearing the veil back over times in my life when I valued the sunk costs more than my sanity and wellbeing. I have lived this out more times than I can count. I believe you are going to recognize it as well so let’s dig in.

riddle me this...

Answer this…Have you ever gone to the store to purchase something and found there was a long line? You get in line and it is taking FOREVER but you really need this thing. You wait for 15 minutes and move up only one spot. Now you start evaluating if you really need this item or can live without it. You wait five more minutes. Now you start asking if you should forget about this item and walk out. But this voice in your head keeps reminding you that you have already sunk 20 minutes into waiting. And so you have to choose – keep waiting because you’ve already spent so much time – even though you have no idea how much longer the wait will be – OR put the item back and leave which will mean you have to return another day to purchase it. So what do you do? Personally, I have found myself doing both depending on the situation but more often than not I stay because I measure the time it took to get to the store, select the item and then wait in line. I have already sunk so much energy into the process that I just keep sinking more. Please tell me this sounds familiar!

Well, this is an example of making a decision based on sunk energy.

From time magazine

I should probably back up a bit to give you the technical definition of this topic. Let me share part of what I read in the Time Magazine article:

“The sunk cost effect is the general tendency for people to continue an endeavor, or continue consuming or pursuing an option if they’ve invested time or money or some resource in it. That effect becomes a fallacy if it’s pushing you to do things that are making you unhappy or worse off.”

The article continues by saying, “If you’ve ever let unworn clothes clutter your closet just because they were expensive, or followed through on plans you were dreading because you already bought tickets, you’re familiar with the sunk cost fallacy.”

To hold or not to hold

A couple of weeks ago I needed to change an address with my insurance, and they require you to call in. The first time I called they said it would be a 30 minute wait. After nearly 20 minutes, the recording thanked me for holding and let me know the expected wait was 33 minutes. I am no math genius, but I don’t think that adds up. I had to weigh whether I would keep sitting on hold or hang up and call another day. After all, I had already sunk 20 minutes of my life waiting.

What I learned in my research is that sunk cost is actually an economics term and should never be considered when making financial decisions. Yet when we apply this concept to time, energy, or resources we have sunk into our lives, we absolutely give it such weight that it tips the scales and typically it goes in the wrong direction. As with my wait on the phone the other day the decision to continue to hold or to hang up wouldn’t buy back the minutes I had already held. We have to stop staying stuck in sunk energy because we forfeit our ability to pivot when we count the costs that have already been spent.

Have you ever?

May ask you a question? Have you ever been in a situation where you questioned whether to stay or go based on the energy you had already sunk into something? Have you found yourself pouring more and more into it in the hopes that all your effort will eventually pay off? I think as women we find ourselves doing this far too often.

You deserve to stop wasting time so you can go after the life you love. This means you will have to get clear on where it is you want to go and create a plan for getting there so you intentionally invest time and energy into what matters most to you.

lessons I have learned

I have been so fortunate to work with some amazing women and here is what I have learned: Women want to invest in what they value. They want to invest in relationships with people they love and champion. They want to BE loved and championed. They want a life spent pouring out their gifts into the world to make it a better place – for themselves, their people, and the world. They want to matter and they want what they DO to matter.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. There are areas we each pour in sunk energy well past the time we should. We believe walking away from what we have already invested time and energy into would mean that our time and energy had been wasted. But we can’t stay stuck in unhealthy circumstances and relationships based solely on the fact that we have already poured so much into them.

real talk: this is hard

I understand. Leaving is hard. Walking away is painful. Feeling like you have wasted minutes or hours or days or even years hurts. Knowing you can’t get that time back can flat break your heart. The worst thing you can do when you know something isn’t working is to spend one more moment standing in that same line, sitting at the same desk, or being shackled to a broken relationship.

Our rational mind loves to remind us what we have already invested, and it taints the clarity we have for making the best decision. We can’t allow our future to suffer because we invested time in the wrong thing. So how do we tackle this?

three simple steps

We are going to do this with three steps. First, we will evaluate the relationships and circumstances where we are investing time and energy. Next, we will need to get honest about what is wasting our resources vs. what is bearing fruit. Finally, we will work to end things that don’t make our life better. By following these three easy steps, you will get clear on what you want and create a plan for moving forward, so you invest your time and energy into what you say matters most.

be aware of your why

Awareness is vital here. Identify what you’re experiencing. Be willing to ask yourself why constantly. When you find an area where sunk energy is not making your life better, instead of lamenting this or judging yourself, ask why you continue to pour in more. The truth is so much of this is about perception and is fully subjective. Each answer is personal so be sure not to compare your journey with others. This is your one beautiful life. Take the time to examine how you can make it as awesome as you deserve!

sunk cost fallacy

As usual, I would ask you to pull back the veil and get painfully honest about what you are feeling. Again, awareness is key to moving forward in the right way. In full transparency, I hung on to a marriage that was dying because I believed in the vows I made. I had spent 21 years with this person so there was a lot sunk into the relationship. I believed in what I thought we had. Unfortunately, my perception of that person and this relationship didn’t align with the reality I was experiencing, and over time I had to confess that my desire to cling to my marriage had become rooted in pride. I didn’t want to check the little box that reads “divorce” because to me, it meant failure, and it was a failure all the world would know.

Sunk cost is a fallacy when applied to relationships and often leaves us staying in unhealthy situations far too long. It blurs our ability to make clear decisions and winds up taking a much higher toll on our souls. Please make sure you are fully awake in your life and circumstances.

this isn't about quitting everything

And let me be crystal clear. I am not advocating you begin a practice of quitting everything and everyone in your life. If you have been around a while you know my favorite quote is from Audrey Hepburn and says, “People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw anyone out.” It hangs on a giant banner in my foyer and is a mantra I live my life by. Do not take this as permission to quit on situations or people. You need to ask yourself these hard questions and evaluate the truth of your story. There are some you may need to fight for, and there may be some you need to let go of. Only you can decide what is best for you.

And if you are in an abusive relationship, I beg you to work out an exit strategy that will get you to a place where you can be safe from future abuse. No matter what anyone has spoken over you, there is never a situation where you deserve someone to cause harm to your body, mind, or soul. Never.

The ladder to level up

It is important as we work through this exercise that we pour grace on the table for ourselves. We don’t know what we don’t know. And when we know we can do better. If this concept of sunk energy is as new to you as it is to me, give yourself time to evaluate things. I know as I have been evaluating areas of my life lately, the awareness that has come up around certain circumstances has left me with a choice. I can keep pouring into what is or pivot and move in a new direction. Even a one-degree change can land me in a whole new world. We can all muster the courage to move one degree to move to our next level.

Perhaps this visual will help. Imagine there is a wall before you with several ladders propped up on it. At the top of each ladder is the proverbial next level for your life. We are going to have to ascend a ladder to get there, but we don’t always pick the right one…especially on the first try. We can start up one that makes perfect sense only to realize it didn’t take us where we hoped. So we try another. Maybe on this one you find success as defined by the world – you know, it meets all the expectations others have handed you – but inside you know it isn’t taking you to the next level YOU want. Move one to another ladder – with no guilt or shame. Just a new awareness that there is a more aligned ladder waiting for you. As long as you keep trying you will get there eventually.

sometimes it takes a village...of ladders

Have you ever noticed how ironic it is that the world little kids they can be anything they want but when the kid gets older and picks something outside what society says is good, they are told they can’t do that because it doesn’t pay the bills or isn’t an actual job? Every time I think of this I am reminded of the artist Jeremy Cowart. From childhood, he wanted to be an abstract artist but then was told that wasn’t practical. He decided to try graphic design…then web design…then found tremendous success as a photographer. (Side note: his book on war photography is incredible and he has shot more celebrities than you can imagine!) He had “arrived” as many would say but in his heart, he still wanted to be an abstract artist. Enter a pandemic and he had time on his hands to pour into his heart’s desire. He begins piecing together all the different genres he has worked in layering them together in very abstract art that is breathtaking. Last week he released his first abstract art collection via NFTs and they sold out in TWO SECONDS. He is on the right ladder now and he used what he learned from all the wrong ladders. Nothing was wasted.

And that is how we have to choose to see places where we have sunk too much time and energy. Don’t walk away feeling defeated and frustrated or like you wasted time. Just admit what is. Try to understand why it happened. Then forgive yourself for any missteps. I have no doubt you were doing the best you could with the information you had, and now that you have better information, you can move to another ladder.

final thoughts

My final thought on this would be a word of encouragement to you. If I can walk away from a dysfunctional 20-year marriage and come out the other side more sure of who I am and what I deserve, you can walk away from whatever it is you have sunk energy into that isn’t bearing fruit. And you will be better, stronger, and more powerful for doing so.

To help you work through this process I made a freebie for you to download with several journal prompts (or questions to think on if you aren’t a journal fan). You will find that below. I hope you will spend time permitting yourself to tell the truth about some areas you may have already sunk more than enough energy.

If you need help, please reach out. It would be my pleasure to walk with you through that journey and coach you up the ladder to your next level. I am certain you deserve to level up, and I want you to be sure of the same! You can do this, Lovie!

 Until next time, remember, I am in it WITH you, always,
Coach Tammy


Tired of spending time on relationships or situations that don't bear fruit?

Use the link below to download journal prompts to help you end sunk energy

and start giving your time end energy to what you value.