Seniors who have more choices when they retire tend to be healthier than those who have only a few or none. Research by Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin shows that autonomy, or the perception of control over the environment, is critical to well-being. Our brains are set up to respond positively to a perception of choice and negatively to the inability to influence outcomes. Rodin discovered that this becomes more important the older we become.

Celebrating autonomy
The concept of autonomy is important for advisors to understand when working with seniors. First, having choices in retirement is an excellent strategy and will resonate with seniors for all of the obvious reasons. But moreover, when people are offered choices, they are more likely to make a positive decision rather than risking a “yes” or “no” if only one is presented. There is actually a bump of the pleasure hormone dopamine in the brain when someone makes a choice on his own rather than having one selected for him. Here are some tips to capitalize on the brain’s craving for choice.

  1. The magic number of options appears to be three. Two feels like an ultimatum, four can create “analysis paralysis” but three seems to be just right.
  2. The order in which you present the options is important. Research shows that when the “luxury” model is presented first, followed by the middle of the pack and lastly the economy model, people have a tendency to choose the middle or luxury. When it’s reversed, people have a tendency to choose the economy or middle. Whatever you offer, make sure all the options are ones that suit your client.
  3. Phrasing is important when presenting options. Ask “Which of these options works best for you?” rather than “Does one of these work for you?” The first question usually gets you a discussion. The second question is set up for a “yes” or “no” answer.

It’s your choice, but it can’t hurt to let seniors know that when they have more options in retirement, it’s about a lot more than which resort to stay at or which account to fund – it’s about longevity and better health.