Fear and the Fork in the Road: Don’t Let Potentially Negative Outcomes Paralyze Your Decision-Making

By Lloyd Yamada, CFP®

The biggest obstacle to getting things done is fear. This includes both financial and non-financial obstacles. I’m sure you can think of a situation where you hesitated, procrastinated, or plain gave up getting a project done or finishing a blog, as I’m trying to do now.

As a financial planner, I’m most interested in educating people to make good financial decisions. If you make good decisions, good things will likely happen over the long term, and you will achieve most, if not all, of your goals.

The rub is that most of us, when faced with a decision, have difficulty in doing as Yogi Berra famously said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Yes, you need to educate yourself to make a good decision, but you also need to decide.

A proverb from an unknown Japanese source says: “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Having to make many decisions in both my business and personal life, I can say without equivocation that deciding, in most cases, is hindered not by a lack of knowledge but by a fear of making a mistake.

I believe it’s perfectly human to talk one’s self into indecision to avoid a negative outcome. I can’t tell you how many times I delayed a decision only to have it made for me. If the outcome was a good one, I congratulated myself, and if not, I sulked and told myself I’d never make that mistake again.

Success in any endeavor, and particularly in financial planning, is predicated on making good, sound decisions. You can be wrong sometimes, just not every time. Don’t let the fear of a potential outcome cause you to delay a decision. Use the resources you have available to you to put yourself in a position to make an educated decision. Then take the fork in the road and accept whatever consequences follow, good or bad.

If bad, learn from the mistake and move forward with confidence. Bad decisions are not good, but they aren’t all bad if we learn from them. The only bad decision is to allow fear to paralyze you from making a decision.

I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotations: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed” and “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

The first quotation is from Teddy Roosevelt, and the second, from Winston Churchill. Whenever I come to a fork in the road, I think about the decisions faced by these two men and I take the fork.