Have you ever gone shopping for a special outfit? You know the one that just has to be perfect. You try on one after the other yet none of them seem quite right. Or maybe that isn’t the problem. Maybe there are so many to choose from that you just can’t make up your mind. After an entire day of shopping you head home empty-handed.
Now replace the outfit with any decision you’ve agonised over. If you look at it more closely you’ll find that you’re following a simple formula. You’re comparing each of the available options trying to find the one that is most likely to meet your goals. You’re trying to maximise your satisfaction and will spend an inordinate amount of time and effort in making the right decision.
But consider the amount of time and energy you’ve spent doing that. Now multiply it by the number of resource-intensive decisions you make in a day. Was that really the best use of what is a limited store of time and energy? Is every decision important enough to warrant that amount of investment?
The term decision fatigue was first coined by social psychologist Roy F Baumeister. He referred to it as the mental and emotional strain that comes from having a burden of choices. No matter how mentally strong you are, your ability to make the best choices deteriorates because of the sheer volume of decisions you have to make every day. It can leave you feeling stressed, drained and prone to either making poor decisions or avoiding making decisions at all.
So is there a better way to make a decision? To simplify it so that you conserve your limited resources for the ones that truly require it?
The answer’s yes and it’s really quite simple.
If you can answer yes to the following question then your decision is made.
Is this option good enough?
When good enough is enough
Are you a maximiser or a Satisficer?
The idea of satisficing (a merging of the words satisfying and sufficing) was first put forward by Nobel prize winning economist Herbert A. Simon. He defined a satisficer as someone who in making a decision selects not necessarily the best option but the first option that is good enough to meet the goal.
In contrast, a maximiser strives to get the best outcome out of every decision, he selects the option that maximises on all criteria.
The perils of maximising
This of course sounds the better approach after all aren’t we trying to get maximum satisfaction when we make decisions? But maximising poses a number of challenges:
- It may require gathering large quantities of data about all the possible options and sometimes there may be huge costs (time and effort) involved in analysing that data.
- Our brain’s capacity to examine every possible option with a view to making use of it is limited.
- Too many choices could make it difficult to commit to one choice.
- It could lead to analysis paralysis and putting off decision making because of the wide number of possible choices.
- It could bring out perfectionist tendencies and delays in decision-making when we believe we have to make the right decision.
But let’s suppose we were able to make that optimal decision. You’d think that once we did we would be more satisfied after all we’ve made the best decision haven’t we? Yet the research indicates otherwise. In fact, it shows that maximising is less likely to bring happiness after a decision is made. Maximisers were:
- More likely to regret the outcome.
- More likely to second guess themselves and fear that they could have made a better choice.
- More likely to worry about missing out on other better opportunities.
- More prone to comparing themselves to others and their choices in order to figure out whether theirs were the right ones.
If you’re not careful maximising on a decision can leave you dissatisfied and unhappy.
In contrast, satisficers were:
- Less likely to experience regret even if a better option presented itself after a decision had already been made.
- Able to make quick decisions when time was costly or limited.
- More likely to be satisfied with the option they chose even if it was not the best option available.
The bottom line
Wanting the best possible outcome is great, it’s what we usually strive for when making decisions, especially the important ones. It becomes a problem, however, when it stops us from taking action, when it has us focusing on what we could have had or missed out on.
If you find yourself paralysed when you need to make a decision or even second guessing yourself once you have, maybe it’s time to change your approach. Figure out which decisions really need you to find the optimal solution and which ones can do just as well with good enough solutions. Conserve your mental energy by satisficing more.
Wouldn’t it be great sometimes to make quicker decisions and feel happier with the choices you’ve made?
Sometimes good enough is enough.
Now over to you.
Are you a maximiser, satisficer or a bit of both?
Can you see how satisficing more in some decisions can free up your mental energy?
In which areas of your life are you most likely to satisfice or maximise?
Let me know in the comments.