Effort Justification, a Common Form of Self-Deception
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” ~ John Ruskin
Effort justification is a cognitive dissonance that makes us value much more those things in which we have put great effort, regardless the fact that the outcome may be more or less valuable.
When we make big sacrifices in order to achieve a goal—it can be physical or mental effort, economic cost or even embarrassment—, then that goal becomes much more attractive and the result achieved much more valuable. For example, we tend to value more a cheap piece of furniture that we assemble ourselves than an expensive piece of design (IKEA effect).
This dissonance, very common in different aspects of daily life, can lead us to make big mistakes. A company director can continue with a strategy that is a disaster just because he has spent many hours developing it and putting it into practice. Even some have used this phenomenon to explain the duration of the war in Vietnam.
Product developers are especially susceptible to fall under this type of deception. We tend to value our creations in terms of the effort employed, instead of the generated value or utility to users.
Human brain doesn’t like dissonances and, as a consequence, we alter the value of the result we obtain to equate it with the effort we have made. If it wouldn’t be like this, we would have to think that we have been wasting our time and that we are kind of stupid for having worked so much to produce so little.
This dissonance has been traditionally used by different groups to win the loyalty of their members. Humiliation and big effort that University fraternities and other gang’s initiation rituals require have the goal of achieving that those who overcome the trial, value enormously the fact that they belong to that group. Also, a high economic cost will make you feel proud of belonging to a specific club.
From a personal productivity perspective, you can use this cognitive bias in your favor to avoid procrastinating projects that you don’t like too much. If you start them and invest some time on them, the project will become more attractive over time. Effort not always turns a task into something precious. In order for you to justify the effort you put into any work, the pending task has to be perceived as something you have chosen freely.
In any case, you should be careful and avoid deceiving yourself. Try to see those things in which you have worked from some distance and always evaluate the result regardless of the effort involved. What real value has got whatever you’ve done?