Choice as

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing
— Theodore Roosevelt

But how do I make the best decision Mr Roosevelt?

Theodore Roosevelt’s quote is not about always making the best choices. This is more relevant today than ever. I have touched on the growing number of choices we must make every day here and here.

With so many options we can’t always make the best choice. It would require far too much time and effort deliberating even the smallest decisions and then when we make the wrong decision we will beat ourselves up over it. Once we have finished giving ourselves the uppercut then next time we may be too scared to even make a decision at all in fear of getting the bash again.  

That is the worst thing we can do, as getting ahead with our finances requires us to make decisions. Decisions on where we invest our money, what house we buy or rent, what type of mortgage to get and so on. If we don’t make these decisions then we don’t have any money in the game. The game we are not involved in we will lose 100% of the time.

We need to stop seeking the best of everything and appreciate that good enough will do just fine.


How do we filter through all the options?

1/. Goal Setting
As with all my other advice, goal setting is always number one priority when starting out on your financial blueprint. Knowing and understanding your goals will allow you to make slower, more deliberate decisions on the things that are important to you. Then you can make quick decisions on things that are not important to you because the consequences are not as pivotal. I only eat free range chicken for example, as it aligns with one of my goals of healthy eating. This limits my chicken choices drastically and allows me to make good, quick chicken-related decisions!


2/. Become knowledgeable
Once you have determined what is important to you, then you can educate yourself on all things that impact on you getting to where you need to go. If I wanted to invest some money in shares then I would go to the library and read up on terminology, tactics and strategies. Then I would research companies and investment firms. We are spoiled for educational sources with the internet and libraries. Yes, this requires a lot of start-up time, but the future time and cost savings are great. If you do not want to spend all this time upskilling then you can always pay a financial expert to do this for you.


3/. Habits and heuristics
Heuristics are mental shortcuts we use to make quick decisions. To read up more on these biases that can impact us making good decisions click here. If we can form good habits and decision-making techniques that align with our goals then we can make quick and informed decisions that will turn out to be good enough most of the time.


We are not perfect

Even after making these behavioural changes we will still get some things wrong. Please don’t beat yourself up!

It is important to understand that with all the options we have available to us there will always be good options that we chose not to take. That’s ok. There are always trade-offs. The fact you made a decision at all already puts you ahead of the game.

It is difficult not to feel regret of what we didn’t choose because we always place greater emphasis on our losses than we do on gains. Most people would feel worse about losing $500 than they would feel better about gaining $500. All the options we didn’t choose doesn’t help with this feeling.

By having strong, well established goals, knowledge and habits then we will be able to limit the number of options, as I do with chicken, which will limit the attractiveness of all the alternatives, which will reduce our regret.


The need to avoid regrets

Most common regrets of the older generation are not wrong decisions that we made, but rather decisions we didn’t make at all.

When there are not many choices available to us then it is easy to blame the outcome on the lack of options. With many options, then the onus is on us to make a good decision. This is pressure that many of us don’t want to deal with. We regret the decisions we are responsible for, which is what will lead to the inaction.

Regret is an emotion and it is not often rational.

If I asked you whether a silver or bronze medal was better, the rational answer would be silver. In reality though, bronze medalists often appear on the podium much happier than the silver medalist. The key distinction is that the silver medalist will be thinking how close they came to gold, yet the bronze medalist will be thinking how close they came to nothing at all. Just be aware of these mental tricks our brain can play on us.

Your choices should not be based on avoiding regret, or your decisions will be risk averse decisions. Yet some of the best outcomes entail some risk. Not wanting to take risks is the reason so many of us follow the herd. If a wrong decision is made, then it is made by everyone which doesn’t make us feel so bad. Regret is not always rational.


The upside of regrets

The possibility of experiencing regret does help us to take important decisions seriously. This is because we can see potential consequences of a decision that we may not have seen otherwise because we are looking harder. This is a good thing because if we think there is a possibility of regret then that means the decision is an important one to us and we should take our time on it.

After we experience regret we can go one of two ways. Not to make risky decisions ever again or learn from our mistake so we don’t do the same thing again when we must make a similar decision. Life’s biggest learning can occur from mistakes and regrets.


The role of expectations in experiencing regret

If the results of the decision to invest fall short of Investor A’s expectations then they will most definitely feel regret and wonder what if they went with another choice. But this same investment may have been above Investor B’s expectations. See how the same outcome can result in a positive experience for one and a negative experience (regret) for another.

Investor B may also feel regret though. If another investment that he originally considered but chose not to use went up in value more than his chosen investment, then they could also be dissatisfied with their decision. Even though their expectations were exceeded they still felt regret.

Blind taste tests also prove to show how our expectations alter our experience. If I gave you 5 wines to drink ranging from a $15 bottle to a $90 bottle you would be drunk. But more importantly, in most cases you would say the $90 wine tasted the best. This is because you expected it to taste the best before even tasting it. In a blind taste test of the same 5 wines the results would be a lot more varied with some even rating the $15 bottle as nicer than the $90 bottle. Or if the $15 wine was poured into the $90 bottle then even more would react more favourably to the $15 wine.

A personal example for me is black pudding. I ate black pudding as a kid and loved it. I did not know what ingredients were in it until I was much older. Now that I know, I still eat it. BUT….if I knew what was in black pudding before I ever ate it, then I highly doubt it would be a food that I would have even tried once.

The lesson here is just to be mindful of our perceptions. 100% true objectivity is impossible. Our memories, expectations and emotions will taint all new experiences we have. But if we are at least aware of this then we can interpret the experience so that it is more in line with reality.


Final Thoughts

We know we should be saving for retirement but we spend too much. We know we should be eating healthy but we gorge into succulent deserts. We are great procrastinators. We often choose what will benefit us now, rather than later. Or we don’t choose at all.

Regrets are the main reason we don’t make decisions on important life matters. We feel like if we don’t make the decision at all, then we will have nothing to regret. More options mean more potential mistakes so we avoid them altogether. With no risk though, life has no reward.

If we can keep emotions at bay as best we can, are well educated, are aware of our limitations and make choices that are aligned to our financial goals then we will make many more good choices than bad ones.

The challenge is to keep our expectations modest and not to always expect the best. This is difficult in today’s reality with all the options available to us with new technologies coming out every year. Our experiences are getting better so we naturally want to expect more. If we can keep our expectations down and be grateful for what we have, then we are less likely to feel regret. 

Regret is a negative emotion that no one likes to feel but sometimes it is ok. We will make mistakes that we regret. No one is immune to this. As long as we are aware of this then we can anticipate its effects in advance, leaving us feeling less disappointed when it comes. There is no point sweating over the small stuff either. Regret should only rear its head for things that are important to you so you can learn.

Time should only be spent on choices that are important to us. This frees up our time and our mental capacity to experience life and the things that really matter.

Stop comparing yourself to others and be happy with YOUR own life and YOUR own choices. It is hard to be grateful as our brains are wired to think what is wrong. But this is the one thing I cannot recommend enough. Flick the switch in your mind to start thinking what is right in your life. The grass is always greener mentality is really unhealthy and is not helped by the likes of Facebook and Instagram where we only get to see the ‘best of’ version of people’s lives. The best is overrated anyway.



The information contained on this site is the opinion of the individual author(s) based on their personal opinions, observation, research, and years of experience. The information offered by this website is general education only and is not meant to be taken as individualised financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, or any other kind of advice. You can read more of my disclaimer here


I welcome your thoughts below. Do you have any regrets of non-decisions? Do you avoid difficult decisions?