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What's a phrase that describes a person who keeps making repeated attempts that they know are doomed to fail because they don't want all of their previous effort to have been for nothing?

They feel like they can't give up at this point because they've already put so much of their time/money/effort/etc into accomplishing it.

At this point they probably regret having even tried in the first place, but now that they've dug themselves such a deep hole they feel pressured to just keep digging —

— almost as if the hole they've dug is already too deep to climb out of, but they've convinced themselves that if they just keep digging eventually they'll reach the other side and pop out in China or something.

For example:

A gambler who has bet and lost thousands but continues to throw more money away so that the money they have previously bet would not have been for nothing.

Someone who keeps on buying lottery tickets so their previous purchases won't have been a waste if they could just win one time.

Someone who tries to build something over and over and over again, and every time it fails — and at this point they've realized that it's probably never going to work but they feel like they can't give up because then all of the time and effort that they have already put into it would have all been for nothing.

To be clear: This person does not want or need to commit to this course of action — in fact, it'd be much better for them if they were to stop before they make their situation any worse — but they feel pressured to keep going anyway, desperately hoping that it will eventually pay off even though they know at this point that it undoubtedly won't.

Thank you so much for your help!

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    The answers to the duplicate question do not mention chasing losses, which is is entirely appropriate, especially for the gambler throwing good money after bad. And another alternative, sunk costs, is mentioned only in a comment on that other Q&A. Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 10:42
  • @HighPerformanceMark The answers there do not really address the nuances in this question. Here there are elements of denial and desperation and a refusal to accept failure.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 10:51
  • @EdwinAshworth OP seems to want a word that describes the person, what's motivating them, not the action. Something like "pot-committed" from that answer, but broader, since gambling is only one example OP gave.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 14:33
  • He was so invested in the approach that he would not -- could not-- entertain the notion of abandoning it.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 14:36

5 Answers 5

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Behavioral economics provides us with a laundry list of possible cognitive biases and heuristics underlying doomed to fail.

https://thedecisionlab.com/biases

The Sunk Cost Fallacy (already noted) https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/the-sunk-cost-fallacy The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

Gambler's fallacy https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/gamblers-fallacy also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy or the fallacy of the maturity of chances, is the incorrect belief that, if a particular event occurs more frequently than normal during the past, it is less likely to happen in the future (or vice versa). The fallacy is commonly associated with gambling, where it may be believed, for example, that the next dice roll is more than usually likely to be six because there have recently been fewer than the expected number of sixes.

The Ostrich Effect https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/ostrich-effect The ostrich effect, also known as the ostrich problem, is a cognitive bias that describes how people often avoid negative information, including feedback that could help them monitor their goal progress.

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    Although the question contains two examples that involve gambling, it is crucial to both of them that the person keeps gambling so that 'the money they have previously bet would not have been for nothing' or that the previous losses 'won't have been a waste'. That suggests that the fallacy is one of sunk cost, rather than a gambler's fallacy, which involves the mistaken belief that a certain number must be the wining number next time because it hasn't come up recently. The gambler's fallacy does not depend on whether one has actually had any losses oneself.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 18:58
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Idiomatically this is throwing good money after bad.

a situation in which someone appears to be wasting money on a losing proposition

Generally used when what is wasted is money

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As has already been pointed out by High Peformance Mark in a comment, the people described in this question commit the fallacy of sunk cost. While the fallacy itself has this well established name, there is no special term for somebody who commits it.

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  • Actually, I'd rather be associated with the use of chasing losses, it's the better choice, grammar wise, to fit OP's requirements. Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 17:57
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This trope is sometimes described with the words:

"I've Come Too Far..."

The TV Tropes website (linked above) makes the following points:

In a moment of crisis, a hero or a villain might look back and declare: "I've come too far..." to stop now. This is a desperate kind of determination. A common variant on the phrase is, "We haven't come this far just to give up now!"

[...]

This is occasionally a case of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, in which you reason that everything you sacrificed was for nothing unless you sacrifice even more to reach your goal. If you've come so far that reaching your goal requires only a tiny push, it's "more economical", so to speak, to go through with it.

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This sounds like Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts ("obsessions") and/or behaviors ("compulsions") that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.OCD

It also sounds like an addiction. Addiction

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