I feel like people really often do things just because they've​ already started doing it.

One example could be the Electronic Evidence of Sales just established in Czechia. It's a system monitoring all the sales in the country by receiving electronic bills. Now, in order to launch it, every shop in the country had to buy a special cash register so we already invested a lot in it but some say it's ineffective so we should cancel it. And, of course, everyone says that would be dumb once we're using it but they don't realise that our past decisions are irrelevant for what we choose now, that is, a system with less effectivity. Note this story is just an example of a bad argument and might not be true.

The closest phenomenon I could find is the naturalistic fallacy and appeal to tradition fallacy. Among friends, I call it "the finishing syndrome", isn't there a more widely used term?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Sunk cost $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ There is the Zeigarnik effect, to explain why you feel so compelled. $\endgroup$
    – Jilana
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ In addition to sunk costs, terms such as escalation of commitment and concorde fallacy are also used. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


There are many words, it depends on the case, one is inertia.


This term is also used when a phenomenon simply develops even if it is somewhat useless.

In bets or game theory cognitive biases.


Although Cognitive Inertia (as mentioned by hexadecimal) is a nice, broad way to point to the phenomenon, people have also studied it from other points of view. Two of them are from economic and cognitive angles.

From an economic level, what you are referring to is called the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Here is an example from Wikipedia that explains it from a business perspective:

In business, an example of sunk costs may be investment into a factory or research that now has a lower value or no value whatsoever. For example, \$20 million has been spent on building a power plant; the value at present is zero because it is incomplete (and no sale or recovery is feasible). The plant can be completed for an additional \$10 million, or abandoned and a different but equally valuable facility built for \$5 million. It should be obvious that abandonment and construction of the alternative facility is the more rational decision, even though it represents a total loss of the original expenditure—the original sum invested is a sunk cost. If decision-makers are irrational or have the wrong incentives, the completion of the project may be chosen. For example, politicians or managers may have more incentive to avoid the appearance of a total loss.

On a more personal level, this can be generally explained as the Zeigarnik effect, which states that "people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks".

Although there are some issues with the reliability of the effect, it is generally extrapolated to say that the phenomenon "compels humans to finish a task that they've already started, and that when we don't finish a task we experience discomfort and intrusive thoughts about it." (from an AsapSCIENCE video on "The science of Productivity")

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Much more relevant than cognitive inertia in my opinion! Thank you for the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 13:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.