An exercise to map your family’s timeline

Family timeline method on BJ Fogg's website
Family timeline method on BJ Fogg’s website

Here’s an exercise that psychologist, innovator and university lecturer BJ Fogg used at a family reunion that I’d love to do with my own family.

The idea was to collectively map their family’s story, starting from his parents’ wedding to the current day.

Each person was given their own post-it note colour and told to write their memories of that year on the post-it. They used 4 x 6 inch post-it notes to allow the writing to be larger and write more.

The post-it notes were then stuck to large boards. Each board was divided into three columns, one column per year.

The exercise led to a lot of sharing, about positive events and negative, both of which have shaped their family’s journey.

You can read more about the Fogg timeline on BJ’s website.

I wish I’d discovered this exercise earlier. Last year we had a huge reunion down in the Scottish Borders where family from California met up with folks here in Scotland, some meeting for the first time. This would have been tremendous fun and a great way to share our stories and see where our lives interacted and if there were any common themes.

Next time, maybe…?

The sunk cost fallacy in action

Man sitting on a pound sign submerged in water, surrounded by sharks.
Source: iStock

Earlier this year I started to plan a major redesign for my website garethjmsaunders.co.uk — most of it hasn’t had a redesign since about 2003; it’s still built around a table layout!

In the process of redesigning the site I learned a really important lesson that in the long run has saved me hours and hours of development. It’s to do with the sunk cost fallacy.

A bridge too far

I’ve completed plenty of site designs in both my personal and professional lives. This was going to be no different. I did some initial research, sketched out the layout and features that I’d like and then looked around for a suitable premium WordPress theme that I could use. I settled on Bridge by Qode, which cost me US $58 (approx. GBP £35).

Bridge seemed to offer the features and flexibility that I was looking for in a theme. But once I had downloaded and installed it on a test site on my local development server I discovered just how complex it was.

At the time it offered around 10 demonstration sites to help you get to grips with all the possible permutations. It now boasts 42 ready-to-use demos.

I spent a good two to three weeks just installing demo sites and trying to reconcile what I was learning hands-on with the documentation. And at the end of that period, to be honest, I really didn’t feel that I was anywhere closer to understanding how I might use the theme. Bridge is a hugely capable theme, however, it simply offered too much for my requirements.

But I felt that I had to persevere, I had spent both time and money on it, after all. Surely it had to get easier if I installed another demo site, and read the documentation just one more time, and… presumably spent another 2–3 weeks trying to understand the minutiae of this theme.

Sunk cost fallacy

It was at that point I realised that I was falling into the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.

In economics, a sunk cost is any cost that has already been paid and cannot now be recovered. So in this example, I had already bought the Bridge theme. I had spent £35 and wouldn’t be able to get a refund.

The fallacy that I was falling into was that I was making decisions about the future of my site based on past expenses. Or as You Are Not So Smart puts it

[y]our decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.

I felt that because I had spent money on something, even though I was finding it too complex and not entirely suitable for the purpose I’d bought it — despite all that — I still felt that I ought to persevere and try to make it fit my needs.

What a divvy!

Divi

Freed by my decision to simply let go of using Bridge for this project, I went shopping again.

When I’d been looking around for themes to start with, I had narrowed it down to two: Bridge and Divi by Elegant Themes. So I bought Divi (USD $89 per year / approx. GBP £55).

In the long run that mistake has cost me money, but the time that it has saved me is immeasurable (or rather, I haven’t actually measured it).

The theme does exactly what I need and in a fraction of the time. I find the theme’s interface really intuitive, and the restrictions it puts on me (by not trying to do everything in every possible way) challenges me to be more creative with what I’ve got. Too much choice is a bad thing, remember.

Conclusion

The sunk cost paradox is certainly something to bear in mind the next time you need to make a decision: don’t necessary let past costs (time or money) influence your decisions about the future.

Lifehack has an interesting article about how the sunk cost fallacy makes you act stupid.