We are primed to fear loss more than we desire gain. Numerous studies have demonstrated that people perceive a loss as more significant than an equivalent gain and will often act conservatively in order to lessen the chances of diminution. One famous example gave the participants $50. One group was given the option of keeping $30 or gambling the $50 with a chance of losing it all or retaining the entire amount. The other group was essentially given the same situation, only their first choice was framed as losing $20. In the first case, framed as a gain, the participants overwhelmingly chose to hold on to their money whereas in the second loss-based scenario, the volunteers were more willing to gamble.
We act to avoid loss.
It makes sense. From an evolutionary standpoint, a loss of food or shelter or territory could be devastating whereas a surplus did not necessarily offer increased benefit (after all, food spoils and you can only use so much land at a time). It is also much more difficult to imagine what life would be like if we suddenly acquired more, but it is much easier to envision a life without the things to which we have become accustomed.
Marketing experts use loss aversion to frame their campaigns, focusing on accentuating any potential losses rather than highlighting gains (rebates and trial periods play right into this). Behavior and motivation experts use this theory to encourage their clients to stick to a new habit (ever heard of those gyms that charge you for missing a workout?). And educators use a fear of loss to influence student behavior and learning (there’s a reason a “-5” on a paper is more influential than a “+95”).
Loss aversion can be a positive trait. It limits risk-taking and promotes a conservative view of resource management. However, like so many of our primal urges, loss aversion often operates separately from rational thought and has the potential to highjack our brain and encourage illogical conclusions and actions (like the sunk cost fallacy, which often leads us to remain in poor relationships long after their expiration date).
In short, all of these situations show that loss hurts. And sometimes that pain can be disproportionate and irrational.
As I’m sure anyone who has experienced the end of a relationship will agree.
But just like how the researchers framed the same payout as a gain of $30 or as a loss of $20, you can reframe the end of your relationship in terms of what you have gained instead of what you have lost.
No, it doesn’t change the reality of what happened.
But it can change your attitude about what happened.
Because when you see the flipside of your losses as gains, it helps to alleviate some of their sting.
I may have lost everything, but I gained a chance at a new life from scratch. There’s something energizing about purging and starting over.
I lost the shared history with my ex, but I gained the desire to reach out and reconnect with other people from my childhood.
I lost the illusion of security I had in my first marriage, but I gained a wisdom and strength that I would not have the trial I endured. And I even found 7 upsides to being betrayed.
I gained perspective, opportunity, awareness and gratitude. I found purpose and pleasure in writing and made more friends and connections than I could have ever imagined.
I gained a new lease on life. And I want to make sure I don’t waste it.
I no longer see my divorce as a loss. I see it as a chance. A course correction.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer