loss aversion

Loss aversion – could it explain why we put up with bad situations?

When you consider making significant changes in your life such as changing your job or leaving a relationship, you may well experience a level of anxiety. 

Sometimes this feeling is strong enough to keep you in that bad relationship, that mediocre job, and it’s very important to understand what is happening in order to give yourself the best opportunity to overcome this potentially paralysing behaviour.

Cognitive psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky first identified that the pleasure of gaining and the pain of losing were experienced differently back in 1979 even when the gain and loss was the same $5.

Further tests have shown that we experience roughly twice as much pain in losing as we experience pleasure in gaining. Exactly why this is so isn’t known for sure, but it could be related to the different parts of the brain that experience gains and losses.

Why do we experience more pain than pleasure?

Losses occur in the amygdala, which performs a primary role in processing of emotional responses such as fear and anxiety. These emotional responses kept our ancestors safe, and natural selection ensured those with strong survival traits passed these on to their children; and those children who had strong survival behaviours passed them on until after thousands of generations most of us have extremely strong survival instincts, even though we now live in a far safer world without the dangers that our brains are hard-wired to respond to.

What our brains respond to in the modern day are perceived threats to our well-being and self-esteem.  For example, at work many people resist speaking out against the ideas of a senior, because our primitive brain sees the situation as one of danger, and we enter a fight/flight or freeze state. This state diverts energy and resources away from our intellectual brain and towards our physical bodies resulting in us sometimes acting as cavemen, either attacking others, running away or freezing in the moment.

Do you find you are able to think of a more suitable response later on and wonder why we didn’t respond more appropriately in the moment? The reason is that in the moment you didn’t have the capacity to think coherently. When the danger passes, your intellectual capacity returns to normal and that’s when you think of that brilliant retort!

If you are considering leaving a relationship, you may be able to intellectually understand that by completing your unsatisfactory current relationship you are opening up the possibility for a better relationship. At the same time your emotional response kicks in and fear and anxiety follow. You can dwell on everything you stand to lose, and this can blind you to the opportunities beyond.

In fact, this process can impact on any changes you look to make and is one of the key reasons why coaching is such an effective form of support when you are looking to make changes.

How can coaching help?

What happens in a good coaching relationship is that an environment is created in which you feel safe. So safe that considering change doesn’t trigger the negative emotional states that have held you back in the past.

In this safe space you are able to access your full intellectual capacity, so that you become clear on your purpose and your goals. Your innate creativity comes through to discover solutions to challenges, and your commitment is engaged so that you can take the actions that lead to results.

It’s both the environment we live in and our humanness that stops us achieving all we could be, and it's our humanness that allows us to be all that we can be when we place it in the right environment.

If you are in a situation that you wish to change, reach out to a professional who can support you find your unique solutions and create the life you deserve.