Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, 7.56.
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.Fellowship of the Ring, p43
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’
You Are Not Behind! Jump in where you are!FlyLady
Last week I talked about the fact that you have it within yourself to grow your character the way you want. Once you have accepted this, what comes next?
One of the things that overwhelmed me at the beginning of my deconstruction was the fact that so many years had gone by. Wasted. I felt like I was starting from scratch, having misspent my adolescence and adult life so far.
As I was deconstructing, I was exposed early to the philosophy of Stoicism. The Marcus Aurelius quotation above was one of the most helpful things that came up during my initial exposure.
The sunk cost fallacy is the idea that time or other resources already spent should not matter when it comes to decision-making. The fact that time has gone and you cannot get it back means there’s nothing you can do about it. In turn, those facts should not be used when making decisions.
A classic example is standing in line: say you’ve been in line for an hour. Sunk cost fallacy says you should keep staying in line.. you don’t want to “waste” the hour you’ve spent. But whether you stay in line or not, that hour is gone. The sunk cost fallacy leads to bad decision making.
If you can get out of line and achieve what you want even faster, that’s what you should do. It’s better to think, “Starting from here and now, what do I have to spend to achieve what I want?” as if you hadn’t spent anything at all yet.
This is a powerful idea to understand. Let’s apply it to our lives.
Marcus is doing what cognitive behavioral therapists call reframing: he’s choosing a helpful new way to view his current situation. All his life so far is sunk, and he can’t get it back. The decisions have been made and are set in stone.
The TV show “Alone” involves people being dropped into a survival situation with limited tools. It doesn’t do them much good to complain about all the tools they don’t have. Instead, what’s important is to figure out what to do with what they have right now.
Frodo wishes he wasn’t in the situation he was in. Gandalf wisely points out that he doesn’t get that choice, but he does get to decide what to do next.
When I look at my life as if it’s a series of successive moments, one event happening after another, I’m free to look at the past as history. It becomes something I can learn from instead of something that has to keep affecting my present life. The past becomes a kind of property, a thing I have–maybe even a thing I was given–rather than a thing I am. I can’t change the past, but I can make decisions that affect my future.
So as you go forward into the rest of your life, working on character, friendships, and all the things that go into a well-lived life, start with this: Begin again.