One of my pet hates is when during a conversation someone will say: “You have two choices, you can do A, or you can do B”. At this point I always think to myself, actually, that’s only one choice. It’s two options or alternatives, but only one choice. By definition, a choice has to be between at least two things or it isn’t a choice at all (or it’s Hobson’s choice, which is frankly nothing more than an invitation to take it or leave it). It’s amazing how often this crops up in conversation and recently it got me thinking about the process of choosing and how we approach making choices in our own lives.
Multiplicity of Choice
We live in a time in which we have an abundance of choice available to us. Our internet-fuelled era delivers everything to us at the press of a button. Every option, every alternative you have ever or never thought of can be presented to you in the split-second return of a Google search. This is seen as a good thing: more choice good, less choice bad. Our culture celebrates, even holds sacred, the availability of choice and the abundance of options as an extension of our human rights. Keeping your options open is presented as sage advice, it’s what we counsel our kids when they’re choosing their subjects to study in school or university, for example.
But what’s behind all this? Well, for most of us it’s probably the fear of regret. We don’t want to make a choice that the fullness of time demonstrates to us was possibly the wrong one. To a degree, this is sensible and has developed through our evolution to encourage us to consider all options before acting. To banish impulsive, over-emotional thinking that we may come to rue in the future. However, living in the era of abundant choice could cause some problems for making progress and finding a way forward through the multiple options available to us.
Cultivating plenty of options is certainly a good thing – no one wants to feel trapped or like their life isn’t offering them alternatives. Discerning between them in an informed intelligent way is important, rather than sticking a pin in a piece of paper, but how can we do that effectively when we have so many options on the table. When we reach an impasse like this, the natural response seems to be to find out yet more information. We’re under the impression that this is what we need to help us make that definitive final decision that we can be happy with. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
More information leads to more paralysis, more indecision, and possibly even an increase in the options you’re aware you have available to you. It’s a vicious circle. Then, when we do make a decision – because we all have to at some point – that’s not the end of the torture. It would be nice to think that after all that research and information-gathering we can be happy that we made the correct choice and could carry on with our lives. However, what seems to happen is that we continue to heft all that weight around with us afterwards, constantly measuring the wisdom of our choice against the carousel of options still whirring round in our heads.
An End to Agonising
There’s a chapter in Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’s book, ‘Designing Your Life: Build a Life That Works for You‘, that looks at this modern day dilemma and offers some pointers as to how to coach ourselves out of this debilitating mindset. They believe we shouldn’t get too hung up on making sure we make the right choice. It’s not helpful to think that the only way to be happy is by making the right choice and they suggest there’s no such thing as a good or bad choice, only good choosing.
If you make the ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ choice, you can rectify the situation without too much trouble and it’s rarely the end of the world. But the process of choosing needs to be rethought as, often, even when we do make a positive choice we still feel like we haven’t taken the correct course and remain haunted by the alternatives that might have delivered better results for us. Burnett and Evans explain the problem:
“You can’t make ‘the best choice’ because you can’t know what the best choice was until all the consequences have played out. Your inability to know that keeps you focused on whether or not you did the right thing, and keeps you rehearsing the alternatives not chosen: this is called agonising… [it] drains satisfaction with the choice you did make and distracts you from getting energetically ahead on the choice you have made.”
This mindset might sound familiar to many of us. The book suggests that good choosing means cutting out agonising and trusting our own insights a little more. Freeing ourselves from the fear of picking the wrong option allows us, once we’ve sensibly weighed up our options, to make a choice and then move on. We can close the door on the constant questioning and get on with our lives.
Choosing with Quadrant
This is a universal situation that we can all relate to, and it applies equally to choices about investments and financial planning. Faced with an abundant array of different ways to handle and manage your investments, it can be understandable to freeze in the face of the choices you’re being asked to make. This is where Quadrant come in.
We use our experience and knowledge of the market to help our clients plan for their financial future over the long-term, to give them the lifestyle that they seek. We take the time to get to know our clients, what makes them tick, and what their aspirations are, and we use this as the basis for building up a solid, trusting relationship with them. By helping them to work out and work through their lifestyle goals we can guide them through the investment choices they will need to make to achieve them. Through constantly monitoring their portfolios and meeting with them regularly to stay up-to-date with their aspirations, we can give them the freedom to look forward with confidence and not back with regret, thereby liberating them to live their life to its fullest potential.
If you would like some help in informing your financial choices, please get in touch – we would be delighted to help.