Why most people get more stubborn as they grow older

Being “set in your ways” isn’t just a cliché.  It’s a pretty accurate observation.

The same thing that applies to business applies to long held personal beliefs:

This is the idea of sunk cost.

In business, a project that exposes itself as a money loser will take much longer to be cancelled if a large sum of time and money had already been spent in development and support of it.

Once a project proves irredeemable unprofitable, the amount of money sunk thus far into it should have zero influence on to the decision to cancel it.  None.

This is not how it works in the real world.

There are egos at stake.  People are hesitant to accept responsibility for bad outcomes.  The more money wasted, the less likely people will be willing to accept this responsibility.  Bad projects then become zombies, feasting on, and often killing, the good projects supporting them.

The amount of money spent should not matter.  If you’re 3 years and $10,000,000 in the hole for development and now losing $60,000 per week selling it, you’re losing $60,000 a week.  If you spent nothing and are now losing $60,000 per week selling it, you’re losing $60,000 a week.

The former project is likely to drag on for years.  The latter would be cancelled immediately.

It should not be this way – but it is.

The same goes for why old people are so obstinate:

If you’ve believed something for a few minutes or a few days, your opinion could easily be changed by even plausible evidence to the contrary.

However, if you’ve believed something for years, for decades, or even large fractions of a century, your mind may (and often does) ignore even overwhelming evidence to the contrary because of what this means to your ego:

It means you believed something that was (in retrospect) really stupid, for the majority of your pathetic life.  Yes – I’ve been there.  It is a painful realization.

Many egos can’t take this – so they don’t.  Evidence is ignored.  Rationalizations take hold.  Circles of friends shrink if the newly excluded friends hold the opinion you can’t accept.  Your mind says it can’t be right – so you mind makes sure that it isn’t.  You’ve got enough problems without also having been a sucker for decades, right?

Kids will believe anything you tell them.  If you’re not nice, Santa will not bring you presents.

However, when kids hear there is no Santa Claus, they do eventually accept this.  There is, after all, plenty of plausible evidence to the contrary.

However, when candidate A says candidate B is going to raid your Social Security trust fund, the oldsters will come out in droves to crucify candidate B.

Team red and team blue don’t dare touch this subject.  This is not the elephant in the room.  It is the monster that snacks on elephants in the room.

Kids:  There is no Santa Claus.  No link necessary I trust.

Oldsters:  There is no Social Security trust fund.  There never has been.  The FICA withholdings from your kids’ and grandkids’ paychecks are actually financing your retirement.

I’ve been wrong about more stuff that I’ve been right about.   Also – almost everybody knows something I don’t.

If you think you are so smart you can’t learn anything from anybody, you will die bitter and lonely.  I don’t recommend it.

The likelihood of you changing your mind when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary should not be inversely proportional to how long you’ve believed the specific falsehood.

The amount of time and energy you’ve sunk into a belief should have no bearing on your willingness to change it.  However, this is almost never true.

See also:  What you want to believe should have no bearing on what you should believe.

The monster is real, and it still plans to eat you.  This is still true no matter how tightly you close your eyes.



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