Ep. 70: Maximizing vs Satisficing

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I’m currently caught in the middle of a fairly common decision: what fun thing do I want to do this weekend? If you have FOMO, you know you can spend some serious energy debating all the options: outdoor music, road trip, camping with friends, and outside of a pandemic, which party/band/event to go to.


Lots of times, when we have a decision to make, we sit and debate because we want to make the “best” choice. But really, sometimes we never know what the “best” choice is until we’ve made the decision and start living it. And lots of times, making that decision is straight-up exhausting because we really really really want to get it right.


Then there are moments where you’re less caught between options and given fewer choices. And these – interestingly – are usually easier.


Barry Schwartz, psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice, talked about living in a culture that assumes more choices is better. What his research shows is that having lots of choices is actually a sort of curse on our happiness!


He divides people into 2 categories: those who, when faced with many choices, try to maximize their gain, and those who satisfice (satisfy + suffice) by accepting the first available option to meet their criteria.


Now, satisficing isn’t a new idea… but it basically means that when presented with a decision to make, someone will first consider what they want to gain/preserve, then evaluate their options to find the solution that meets those needs.


Between the two, maximizing is a form of perfection… and we all know how stressful that can be. There’s even a Maximization Scale that assesses the degree to which people engage in behaviors to try to get the BEST result with the BEST possible option. Research with this scale shows that there are also positive correlations between maximization and depression and regret, too.


Then, after all that stressful work of trying to make the “best” decisions, maximizers are usually less satisfied with purchasing decisions AND are more likely to engage in social comparison. The root of this seems to lie in experiencing regret.


This is true whether maximizers have to make everyday decisions or big decision. Maximizers may be able to narrow down options, but if there are multiple choices that could be great, they freeze and can’t make a decision because… what if it’s wrong? Enter: Analysis paralysis.


The problem with wanting to know it was the “right” decision in advance is that in addition to the fact that we don’t know until we DO the thing, most of us can’t predict the future. So we will never know. After the fact, we still don’t know what all the other options could have brought – even though we like to think our imagination is always right  😉


In contrast to maximizers, we find the satisficers. They aren’t “settling” for less than what they want. They also don’t just pull a choice out of a hat and say LET’S GO! They just approach the decision-making differently.


Why bother with finding out if you maximize or satisfice? Because they relate to your happiness – and happy people tend to satisfice!


Us perfectionists may find this hard to believe, because we think our high-standard obsession will make better decisions, which SHOULD equal happiness. But really, we may miss out on a good opportunity when we keep waiting for a better one. And we usually are not ultimately happier… we just end up more stressd and regretful.


The thing is, regret is a decision! WE get to decide whether we made the right choice. WE get to decide to stop comparing options and wondering, “What if?”


So what’s a maximizer to do? I got into lots of things in the podcast, but some starting points are: 


// Outline your key criteria for success FIRST. What is it you want? Get really clear about this and make sure your criteria are objective so you know if something meets it or not.
// Choose the first option that satisfies that criteria. (gasp! I know, right?!)
// Then once you’ve decided, don’t look back. Don’t waffle. Focus on the positive aspects of the choice, not what “might” have been.


Remember that we all have a limited capacity for decision making on any given day. Don’t overdraw on that decision-making account baalnce, because that diminishes the quality of the decisions you make too.


The bottom line is this: it’s important to change our thinking that when we don’t explore all the options, we will end up settling.


Choosing something that meets your key criteria and the key things you want is not settling.


When you practice satisficing, you can be happier in the long run. You will have more energy and clarity for those big decision-making moments too.


And if you need to, practice satisficing this week with little things then work your way up to bigger decisions.


Remember – regret is a choice. Don’t let it rule your life. Get out there and satisfice!


In this episode you’ll learn:

// The key differences between maximizing and satisficing
// Why too many choices can be a bad thing
// How to make decisions and avoid regret
// Why satisficing ultimately makes you happier than maximizing
// Tips to get started satisficing today



// Check out Episode 69 on Defining what is “enough” for you

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// If you’re interested in finding out more about how to free your mind and free your life, join Freedom School. Enrollment is open, and we are diving DEEP into ways to cultivate clarity and courage so you can create your best life. There are also some sweet bonus courses for you there. It will set you up to live the best version of you in the year to come. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com.