Thinking Clearly #4: Effort Justification

I bought a book.”The Art of Thinking Clearly”, by Rolf Dobelli. It’s a good book. It’s filled with 99 chapters, each describing a certain psychological phenomenon that negatively affects us all. I will be randomly picking a chapter, explain how it works, and use an example from my own experience in every blog. Have you got a good example? Leave a comment!

Chapter 60: Effort Justification
“Mark single-handedly restored a rusty old Harley-Davidson. Every weekend and holiday went into getting it up and running. It was a struggle, but finally Mark’s prized possession was road-ready and gleamed in the sunshine. Two years later, Mark desperately needs money. He sells all his possessions – the TV, the car, even his house – but not the bike. Even when a prospect offers double the actual value, Mark does not sell it. (p.184)

Last week, I spoke about cognitive dissonance. This effort justification, as the example above describes, is according to the author a special case of cognitive dissonance. The sweat and tears that Mark has put into his motorcycle lead to him overvaluing the motorcycle. Companies like IKEA play into this effect, letting you build your own cheap furniture which automatically adds value to it in your mind. Hell, this may be even why they make the directions purposefully hard and obfuscate that one particular innocuous but essential screw.

My sister is going to kill me for writing this, but in essence running a charity marathon is a form of effort justification. Last month, she ran the New York Marathon, and of course, she was over the moon with completing the marathon. Now I get that running a marathon is fulfilling in its own right, and running it in New York makes it even more special. However, in order for her to be eligible to run that one particular marathon, she had to get an amount of €5,000 in sponsoring money.  Months and months of campaigning, selling bracelets and advertisements on her blog and planning had to be done in order to obtain the goal of €5,000.  She could have run a marathon in, I don’t know, Tokyo and she would’ve had to put in less effort. To refer to the example above, she would never, ever sell her completion-medal even to a bid a multitude of its actual worth. The amount of intrinsic value is just too high.

Now, is there something I have put an extraordinary amount of effort in to overestimate its value?  That is hard for me to judge. I can think of one mundane example, which is my cooking. I think I’m a great cook. I like to experiment, and the more effort I put into it, the better it’ll taste. Now, someone who might eat my food and hasn’t put in the effort I did might not enjoy the food as much as I do. I’m aware that some recipe’s I come up with might just be rubbish, but it is hard to admit.

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