Tough Choices and Disappointment

When you are confronted with a tough choice, it might be helpful to accept that you have been disappointed. Disclaimer: This post contains ideas about how one could think. I do not claim that reading this article will help with thinking this way.

~4 min • en • 23 December 2021non-techrationality
  • Imagine you are eight years old, and your dad takes you to the bakery. They have all sorts of tasty cakes. You really like the one with chocolate crème, and another one with strawberries looks wonderful, too. You want to have both, but your dad says you can only have one piece of cake. What do you do?
  • Imagine you live on a planet which is hit by a pandemic. Scientists tell you it is pretty dangerous. After a while they make a vaccine which works well. You personally have some risk factors which mean that the virus would be bad for you, but you also can’t be sure that the vaccine causes no problems for you. You get offered the vaccine, and whatever choice you take, you run a risk of complications. What do you do?

Tough Choices

These are two examples of a tough choice. What do I mean with a tough choice? A decision you have to take, where every option has negative consequences, e.g. getting no chocolate cake or risking an infection with a potentially deadly virus. When we think in terms of opportunity costs probably most decisions fall under this definition, but that’s okay. Important is that every option feels like it has a downside. If not getting strawberry cake doesn’t feel like a downside to you, that’s fine. I am sure you know what a tough choice is anyway …

The problem with tough choices is that they are hard to make. (Dough.) We don’t want to decide because it feels that however we decide we do something wrong. We feel like we are worse off after making the decision, and we don’t want to be worse off.

One way I like to think about situations like this is, by trying to tell myself that the damage to your emotions is already done. Choosing an option feels like being worse off, but you actually already lived in a world and a mind where you had to accept some negative consequences.


The German word for disappointment, Enttäuschung, is beautifully literal in my opinion. Because Ent-täuschung, if you try to translate the spirit of the word, means something like dis-deception. You were in a deceived state about the world, but you got some new information which made clear to you that you were wrong. And if you were wrong in a way that you like your new view less than what you previously thought the world is like, you are disappointed … or dis-deceived, if you will.

In our example you thought that you can maybe have two tasty pieces of cake. Turns out you can’t. That’s disappointing. Or you thought you can have a nice few years meeting friends and not getting sick. Turns out it’s not that easy. How disappointing. You have heard there is a vaccine now, but people on the internet say it could be dangerous. Your doctor tells you those people are crazy, but she can’t promise you that there won’t be rare complications. How disappointing.

1. get disappointed 2. decide

The point I am trying to make here is that you already know that your situation sucks. In the moment you realize that you have a tough choice to make you have already been disappointed, and it’s totally understandable if you feel bad about this. But maybe you can find a way to acknowledge this,and now you choose the option which sucks the least. From this perspective deciding what to do doesn‘t make you worse off.

I like to think this way, when I think about the pandemic. When I learned about the fact that a dangerous virus was afoot my live expectancy got adjusted a bit downward. Obviously that’s not how I thought about it really. I was just very disturbed. But it certainly felt disappointing in a way. When I learned there will be an effective vaccine my live expectancy adjusted a bit upward again, most of the way really. Getting a vaccine also includes a little risk, so it technically also means a little reduction in live expectancy, but only compared to a hypothetical world of which I already know that I don’t live in it.

So yeah, getting vaccinated or not might feel like a tough choice, but it might get easier if you accept that you have already been disappointed. Don’t hesitate to act just because every option feels bad. Try to accept that you already know there will be some badness, and choose the least bad option.

Like I said in the disclaimer, I don’t think this is easy, and I am not even sure that trying to think this way would be helpful. But it is how I would like to think.

By the way the answers are obvious: You get the chocolate cake, and you get vaccinated!

Have any feedback? Don‘t hesitate to contact me! (see above)

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