Admitting to a mistake

For every good move in chess, there are innumerable bad ones. And like that typo in the email we send to our boss, one often tends to notice one’s mistake only after having made the move on the board.

The natural reaction to making such a mistake is denial. Players think of ways to try their best to make the bad move work. They try to launch an attack based on that move and lean into the mistake rather than away from it. Alas, doing so often amplifies the mistake, and by the time the player realizes it, they have already lost the position and the game.

Chess players slip after making a bad move due to the sunk cost fallacy. This tendency is natural – research suggests that rats and mice fall prey to it too. Sunk costs make us sit through a bad movie because of having paid for it, or pour more resources into a bad project with the hopes of turning it around. Sunk costs work like quick sand. The more we invest in them, the harder it becomes to turn back.

The first step to escaping the vice-grip of sunk costs is to admit that we have made a mistake. Admitting to a mistake is the hardest part, but is often the best course of action. It might hurt to give up some material or space on the chess board after making a mistake, but by avoiding this we only end up losing even more at a later stage. Besides, in a world that is far more unpredictable than a chessboard, mistakes are normal, and shouldn’t weigh as heavily as they do on our conscience.

It takes humility and practice to admit that one is wrong in the face of sunk costs. Doing so is the first step to liberating ourselves from their strangle hold.

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