|Years ago, a colleague of mine went into a business venture with someone who promised him that they would do great things together. However, when he got on board, his partner suddenly became territorial. My colleague tried everything he could think of for months to get the partnership back on track, but nothing was working and he was getting more and more frustrated. When he told me what was happening, I asked him why he didn’t get out. He said, “Because if he would just stop stonewalling me, we could make something great here.” It took him two more months to finally realize that he was investing in a partnership that was not going to work.
THE FIRST LAW OF HOLES:
When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
One of the most common holes people dig for themselves involves money. I’ve seen and heard more than one account of boat owners with boats needing extensive and costly repairs (true to the colloquial acronym assigned to B.O.A.T: Bust Out Another Thousand). Often, boat owners convince themselves that if they just make a few more repairs (i.e., spend more money) that they can ultimately sell their boat for a nice profit. All too often one expensive repair leads to another even more expensive repair until finally the realization sets in that they are just digging the hole deeper and deeper with no promise of a payout at the end, and that it’s time to stop, and that there is no gold mine at the bottom of the bilge.
The First Law of Holes applies to many different scenarios: relationships that are toxic, projects that are eating up resources, employees that are just never going to work out, lies that will never turn into beneficial truths.
When one of my sons was a young teen, he intuitively understood the Law of Holes. He had told his father and me that he was heading out to work a shift as a lifeguard at the YMCA. During his shift we were in the neighborhood, so we decided to stop by and say hi. He wasn’t there; his manager told us that he wasn’t even on the schedule. We deduced (by strong-arming his sister) that he had spent the day at his girlfriend’s house. When he got home, we asked how his work shift was. He started to tell us a pool story, when he suddenly stopped and said, “Can I just back up and tell the truth?”
It’s almost never too late to stop digging that hole.
Hole-related golf analogies abound. You hit a bad shot into the rough, and now your ball is buried in high grass. But you see an opening in the trees between you and the green. You think, “If I keep this shot low, I can go through that five foot gap between those two tree trunks and under those branches, and I can put this baby onto the green.” Really? If you were that good, you wouldn’t be in the rough in the first place.
When you insist on trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, 9 times out of 10 the result will end up being a lot worse than the situation you are currently in. Smart golfers cut their losses and chip out onto the fairway. They sacrifice one stroke, but they are safely out of trouble.
Being honest with yourself, of course, is the key. You have to be able to admit that something isn’t working, that you are in fact in a hole. Analyze the situation unemotionally, ask for expert advice, and then stop digging.
There’s a phenomenon called The Sunk Cost Fallacy. It goes something like this: you have invested so much time, money, resources, and energy into something that you are reluctant to pull out even when you realize that you’re making no progress.
I once let a business vendor go three months into a six-month contract when I realized clearly that there was nothing of value he could provide for me. “Way to go!” you say. The problem was that I knew he couldn’t produce what was needed after the first month, but I had invested time, money, and energy into the vendor. So what? Did that mean I should waste another three months of time, money, and energy? No.
I was thousands in the hole, but I stopped ‘throwing good money after bad,’ i.e. I stopped digging.
People stay in bad marriages, countries remain in useless wars, and companies stick with business strategies long after they realize that they should never have gotten involved in the first place. But, oh well, since they’ve invested so much, they feel they should see it through. Why?
There’s another aspect to the law that goes, the longer you’ve been in the hole, the harder it is to get out.
There are a number of reasons why this is true, but the primary one is that the longer you’re in, the more you’ve invested. And the more you’ve invested, the harder it is to walk away.
How many relationships go legitimately south after a few months or years, and more months, even years later, the couple is still miserable and together. After extensive time and energy spent trying, it’s hard to pull the plug.
It’s often said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” (By the way, there is no evidence that Albert Einstein ever said that.)
When the money is gone, the love is gone, the strategy has failed, the time has long since been poorly spent: Stop digging.
Stay tuned for The Laws of Holes Two, Three, and Four in upcoming articles.
When you are ready to create your abundant life, it’s time to ask and answer:
What do you actually, truly want?
Where are you lacking abundance?
Where are you taking joy in abundance?
However we define it, we all want an abundant life. The truth is that abundance is within reach for all of us. That’s what motivates me as a strategist: helping people reach new levels of abundance, however they define it.
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To Your Abundance,
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