“Few things are as important to your quality of life as your choices about how to spend the precious resource of your free time.”
That quote by the science writer, journalist, and best-selling author Winnifred Gallagher encapsulates what is the most vital lesson I’ve learned in my nearly 20 years at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI): the importance of how I choose to spend my time on a daily and weekly basis. (It’s also the most vital lesson I’ve learned in my personal life.)
One of the ways I choose to spend my time is reading on how to make better decisions. I bake such reading into my schedule at least a couple times a week and every Sunday.
The reason I want to know how to make better decisions is that I’m a fallible human being subject to cognitive biases that, when I leave them unattended, screw up my ability to make sound decisions. These biases are too numerous to mention. (Click here for a cheat sheet that lists the most common biases. I have it bookmarked for frequent reference.) Nevertheless, it’s been helpful to learn about the most common ones—those to which I’m most susceptible—and when they’ll lead me astray as I make recommendations for the programs, resources, and services of NFI.
I’ve often relied on my knowledge of the sunk cost fallacy, for example, to recommend we stop testing a new resource that doesn’t meet our partners’ needs. I’ve also used that knowledge to no longer offer a resource that once met our partners’ needs but does so no longer.
The sunk cost fallacy occurs when someone has invested so much in something—they have sunk a lot of cost into it—that they won’t let go of it because of that investment, even when it’s clear that they should let go of it. By not letting go of it, they harm themselves and, possibly, others. While such an investment and the harm it does can certainly be financial, as in an investment that’s losing money, it can also be emotional or spiritual, as in a relationship that needs to end.
If you’re a long-time partner of NFI’s, you might recall that we once offered a program called Why Knot?: A Marriage-Readiness Program for Men. We created this six-session workshop in 2008 because of the research that shows:
- Children who grow up in a home with their married parents have, on average, better economic, physical, social, and emotional outcomes than do children who grow up in single-parent homes.
- Men delay marriage because of myths, misperceptions, and fears about marriage that have contributed to the rising age at first marriage for men. The older men are when they first marry, the greater likelihood they will father a child outside of marriage.
We designed the sessions to address these myths, misperceptions, and fears so that young men would be more open to marriage through greater awareness and knowledge of marriage’s benefits for them and for their future children. We invested:
- A lot of staff time to create it.
- A lot of money to pay a company with expertise in creating interactive journals to develop the “Marriage-Readiness Journal,” which served as the handbook that men used when they participated in the program.
Moreover, we invested a lot of emotion in the program. We believed it was important to help men see the value of marriage.
Sounds like a great program, huh?
We certainly thought so, and the initial, positive reaction of our partners indicated that at least some of them thought so, too.
Unfortunately, only a small portion of our partners eventually acquired the program. No matter how often we touted its value, it became clear to us that it didn’t meet an important enough need of our partners to continue to offer it.
Rather than wallow in self-pity—I recommended we create it and was co-author of it—I ignored the investment—all of our sunk financial and emotional costs—and recommended we no longer offer it. We could never recover the investment. We needed to look ahead to further losses of staff time to promote it and hold inventory. Our staff agreed with my recommendation. We stopped offering it just a few years after its release.
I encourage you to learn about the cognitive biases to which we’re all subject, and how they can negatively affect the decisions you make in serving dads. I know you’ll find value in doing so, as I have. I spend a lot of time reflecting on what might help our partners. I’ve avoided recommending some crappy programs, resources, and services through greater awareness of my biases. If our staff and board knew of some of the truly crappy ideas that had crossed my mind, I might not be president of NFI! (Should I have written that?)
To get you started on learning more about cognitive biases and making sound decisions, subscribe to Farnam Street, my go-to decision-making resource. It’s a weekly blog delivered to your inbox every Sunday. I also recommend that you read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who won a Nobel Prize for his work on cognitive biases.
Are you aware of all the cognitive biases that can negatively affect your decision making?
How can making better decisions improve your service to dads?