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Decisions, decisions, decisions

Voltaire famously said, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Though I really do believe (and often repeat!) those words, making a decision—even an imperfect one—is easier said than done. 

There is not a living soul who doesn’t face myriad decisions every day. Many decisions are trivial. Whether to get up now, or hit the snooze button… just one more time. What to wear. What to eat. Whether to hit the gym or settle in for an evening Netflix binge. With those little decisions, most of us tend to do pretty well. Why? Because the consequences are minimal. Then there are those other decisions that have the potential to change your life. What career should you choose (whether it’s your first, second, or third)? Should you buy that house? Relocate? Get divorced? Retire? When it comes to these major choices, it’s easy to get stuck in a no-man’s land of indecision.

Jacqui is a prime example. She had been considering a move to Rancho Mission Viejo for more than a year when an ideal property went on the market. She was certain this was the perfect spot in the perfect over-55 community, and she made the life-changing decision to go for it. 

When we met to review the purchase of her new home and make a plan for selling the home she had lived in for decades, she was fraught with decisions. What realtor should she hire? How should she price the house? Should she make improvements or sell it ‘as-is’? What about staging? What should she keep? What should she toss? She was overwhelmed, and so she did what lots of people do: nothing. The process drew out for months… and months. She was paying two mortgages and straining her cash flow, all because she was overwhelmed with all the decisions that were needed to actually sell her house. 

As you can imagine, part of Jacqui’s challenge was emotional. Selling her family home after so many years was hard. She knew it was the right choice, but she let all the smaller decisions create a barrier to action. I’ve done the same thing in my own life, and I’m guessing you have too. So what’s the answer? What can we all do to make the right decisions faster? 

It all begins with what New York Times writer Tim Herrera calls the ‘Mostly Fine Decision,’ or M.F.D. And it’s a decision that is surprisingly difficult to make. Why? Because most of us (all of us?) suffer from this decision-killer: The Fear of Better Options.

You know what I’m talking about. It happens all the time, and it can stop the decision-making process dead in its tracks—for everything from planning your next vacation to accepting a party invitation to choosing a spouse! What if there’s a better option out there, somewhere, and you just haven’t discovered it yet? What if making a decision now will prevent you from making a better decision later?

In the 2015 Psychology Today article Satisficing vs. Maximizing, Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D. does a wonderful job explaining the phenomenon that is so great at leading us down the road to indecision. Called ‘maximization,’ it is the powerful need to research and dissect every possible path to reveal the ‘best’ option. The problem: it is rarely possible to know every option out there. Plus, studies on the topic (and yes, this is actually an area of some pretty heavy research) show that ‘maximizers’ who tend to explore their options ad nauseam may make better decisions, but they’re often less satisfied in the end because they continue to second-guess their choices. In contrast, ‘satisficers’ research less and are happy to choose the ‘good enough’ option in less time. And because this group tends to focus more on whether a decision will make them happy than whether it is the ‘best’ choice, they tend to be happier with every choice, even if they learn of a better option down the road. 

What does this research teach us? That the key to happiness may be to seek options that are ‘good enough’ instead of obsessing over making the ‘best’ decision every time. 

One of the most important ways I serve my clients is to act as a sounding board for your financial decisions. My goal, always, is to help you make optimal decisions with minimal risk. Should you buy the Tesla Model 3 or splurge on the Model S? By looking at your budget and your needs, we can work together to make a choice that’s truly best for you. Can you ‘afford’ to buy a condo on Maui? That depends on what tradeoffs you’re willing to make. You may have to give up dreams of hopping over to Paris and Greece, but if having your own private spot on the beach is worth it for you, it may be the ‘perfect’ choice for you.

As I’ve written before, Money really can buy happiness!, but the freedom to make choices requires some level of wealth to begin with. As your financial advisor, my goal is to help you accumulate a level of wealth that opens up a multitude of options. And when there are financial decisions to be made, it’s your turn to be a ‘satisficer’—not a ‘maximizer’—so, together, we can make sure ‘perfect’ doesn’t become the enemy of ‘good enough.’