Over the last year, it seems like we’ve had to make more stressful decisions than ever before (even regarding positive developments, such as which vaccine to get!), so we thought it’d be a good time to ask about decision-making styles. Specifically: Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? In the comments on a post earlier this year, readers had a couple of discussions about this, and we thought it’d make an interesting topic for today — so let’s discuss!
Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? How do you prefer to make decisions? Do you feel like your decision-making style has changed over the years?
Different Decision-Making Styles: Satisficers vs Maximizers
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of satisficer vs. maximizer (I actually first learned about it from those comment threads!), here are a few key points:
1. From “How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are,” The Wall Street Journal:
“Maximizers” like to take their time and weigh a wide range of options — sometimes every possible one — before choosing. “Satisficers” would rather be fast than thorough; they prefer to quickly choose the option that fills the minimum criteria (the word “satisfice” blends “satisfy” and “suffice”).
“Maximizers are people who want the very best. Satisficers are people who want good enough,” says Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and author of The Paradox of Choice.
2. From the abstract of “Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness is a Matter of Choice,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
[Research] revealed negative correlations between maximization and happiness, optimism, self-esteem, and life satisfaction, and positive correlations between maximization and depression, perfectionism, and regret.
3. From “Satisficing vs. Maximizing,” Psychology Today (h/t to commenter Senior Attorney):
Compared to satisficers, maximizers are more likely to experience lower levels of happiness, regret, and self-esteem. They also tend to be perfectionists.
Well, then. Judging from those quoted passages, it sounds like life as a maximizer can be pretty rough. Still, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I adjust my decision-making methods to the situation — acting as a satisficer or a maximizer as appropriate. (On the other hand, I do find myself spending way too much time on relatively unimportant issues, for example, choosing winter boots for my son. With items like that, I try to find the perfect intersection of price and quality — to spend as little as possible without buying a low-quality item — and that can be very time-consuming.)
Another decision-making trap I sometimes fall into, which I’m sure some of you do, too: Put off a decision for so long that either the choice is eventually made for me, or I miss out on both opportunities (“Not to decide is to decide,” as the saying goes…)
A Few Tips on Making Decisions — for All Decision-Making Styles
While I’m not an expert on decision-making (or accepting a decision once you’ve made it), I have some strategies to share:
1. One method I’m trying to rely on more may sound oversimplified but can be a big help: Go with your gut. When you set aside all the pros and cons for a moment, what does your intuition tell you? Which choice has kept rising to the surface during the decision-making process?
Often, when I’ve regretted making a particular choice, I’ve realized I should have gone with my gut feeling. In this article from The Conversation, a neuroscientist explains why it’s “time to stop the witch hunt on intuition.” She believes that we should use both intuitive thinking and analytic thinking and weigh them against each other.
2. Flip a coin. If Option A wins, and you suddenly feel disappointed, Option B could be the winner. This Psychology Today article explains: “One way [a coin toss can help] is by “making us aware of a preliminary decision we may have already made but are not consciously aware of.” (Ummm, I may have first heard about this trick from Friends. Also, I told my 10-year-old about this method and he now uses it.)
3. If you keep second-guessing yourself, focus on this well-known saying: “Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good.'” Similarly, at my undergrad alma mater, we relied on this mantra during final-exam time and beyond: “Done is good.” (Some students make to-do checklists on poster board and hang them in the dorm hallways — like these. You are never too old to be motivated by candy!)
4. The other day, I happened to take a screenshot of an unattributed quote in an Instagram story — Google later revealed it to be an excerpt from Deepak Chopra’s The Book of Secrets. It encourages us to resist seeing decision-making purely as a matter of right and wrong. The excerpt reads:
If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.
5. Don’t automatically start making a big list of pros and cons. This is the classic decision-making advice, of course. For some people, this method makes two options easier to weigh; for others, it just muddies the waters and causes more stress. More thinking can lead to overthinking and analysis paralysis. (I have to say I never make pros/cons lists, for better or worse.)
6. Realize that sometimes all of the research in the world won’t account for everything. It’ll rain on the day you planned to hit the best outdoor market; the refrigerator you painstakingly researched will have a weird part break a year after you buy it; the job you agonized over taking is ruined by the micromanager who joined a month after you did.
Readers, do tell: What is your decision-making style? Do you feel that you’re a satisficer or a maximizer? Does it depend on the type of decision you’re faced with? Did you once handle decisions a certain way and then switched to the other? Do you find it difficult to make decisions in general?
Stock photo via Stencil.
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I feel like a lot of lawyers are maximizers? Isn’t looking through every possible option and contingency what we get paid for? Maybe this explains some of the unhappiness. I actually find it fun to compare options and do research (particularly when shopping). Curious if there are other industries that correlate like this. Maybe industries that bill by number of projects and not hours are more heavily staffed with satisficers?
Maybe at work but at home I’m solidly a satisfyicer. I don’t want to waste time getting from 90 to 95
I am a maximizer for agonizing weeks, then in a pique of anxiety-fueled impulsiveness, I am a satisficer and make the wrong decision. It’s not awesome.
I think this is sort of common among women lawyers, though.
I feel like this is one of my strong points and I do most of the things listed. I am a Maximizer turned Satisficer and am much happier being a Satisficer. The secret is to own the decision, and if it’s wrong, then change it. Very few decisions are irrevocable and it helps to remember that.
Years and years ago I worked with somebody who paid a ton of money for a house in a very expensive neighborhood. And it turned out their family just really did. not. like. that house. So they said “whoops! we bought the wrong house!” And they sold it and bought a different house and got on with their lives and were happier than if they’d stayed in the wrong house. I love that.
ok, how do i become a Satisficer? I am a Maximizer to the core which i think is driven by my type A personality and i can definitely see it getting in the way.
I have a friend who is a family law judge, and she has really influenced me. She said the people in her court are fighting because they can’t make decisions, so she has to make decisions for them. And even though the decisions may be hard, the job is to make decisions so that’s what she does. And if they’re wrong they can be changed, but in that context it’s almost always better to have a decision made than to keep going on in limbo. And she is highly respected by the bench and bar because unlike some of the other judges, she’s not afraid to make a decision.
And for some reason that really stuck with me, and I thought “if she can make those super-important decisions without agonizing over it forever, then surely I can pick a sofa without agonizing over it forever!” And also I discovered the concept of Satisficers and Maximizers and that really resonated with me, as well. (Plus I was married to a super Maximizer and it drove me completely insane so maybe it was partly a reaction to that…)
thanks! see i find it much easier to make decisions for others, just not for myself
I am for sure a Maximizer because ‘good enough’ is never ever actually good enough. Just look at all the builder grade houses which are only 10 years old and already falling apart. A huge reason why I’m a maximizer is because I don’t want to have to deal with things multiple times and making the right decision the first time prevents that.
I agree with this to some extent. I could spend 2 hours researching something now to save a lot of money and headaches down the line. There have been times when I settled for “good enough” and it was not good at all.
But being a Satisficer doesn’t mean settling for lower quality. It means you set your criteria, whatever they are, and then you stop looking when you find something that fits those criteria. I’m a Satisficer and I’d never buy a builder grade house. But you’d better believe I’d buy the very first house I see that fits my (high) construction standards.
Yeah, and the thing is, even if you’re a maximizer – sometimes things just go wrong. No matter how much effort you put into the right decision, you can’t inoculate yourself against things unexpectedly falling apart or unknown surprises. For me, being a satisficer means setting up some general criteria, making the best choice I can, and then trusting myself to be able to handle whatever happens after that.
The more money you have, the easier it is to be a satisficer. You can afford to simply refuse to buy a builder-grade house, and if something goes wrong with the house you settle on you can always just fix it. I can only afford a builder-grade house, and I can’t afford to fix problems, so I have to ensure that the builder-grade house I choose is the one least likely to have an issue.
Being a satisficer doesn’t mean all decisions are quick or easy. I have the criteria you have, and while I may buy the first thing that fits my criteria, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the first thing I see, or that it’s going to be easy to find. It just means I stop when I find it, rather than continuing to shop so I can make sure I have found the very best possible thing/deal and haven’t left anything better on the table.
I have the criteria *I* have.
Not saying that being a satisfied is easy, just that if you can’t afford to fix problems then you have to pick the very best of all possible options and not just the first thing that meets your specifications.
I am a satisficer, married to an even more extreme satisficer, and it has served us exceedingly well.
My brother-in-law (still single in his 40s) is a maximizer through and through, and it’s infuriating for us when it affects joint decisions such as vacation destinations, group gifts, etc. (Plus I would agree that it likely does not leave him so happy.)
I often will tell myself “there is no bad decision to be made” and it somehow gives permission to just go with something already. Chances are if you’re agonizing, it’s because either path has similar level of pros and cons. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be so hard to decide.
Oh, yes! That reminds me that my former therapist used to say “any decision you make will be the right one!”
Exactly, because even if it’s the “wrong” choice in the long run, it has at least taught you something that you didn’t know before you made the choice.
I really feel this depends on what the item is – for instance, car stuff (tires, etc.) I just want something that works so I don’t have to think about it.
For items that I’ll hold onto forever and mean a lot to me (high-quality cookware, furniture) I’m definitely a maximizer. I’ll shop online forever till I find exactly what I want.
Maybe this is connected to what kinds of shopping give me anxiety, vs the ones that give me joy? Hmn…
I also often say (I didn’t come up with this myself, but I can’t remember where I heard it), “you can’t steer a parked car.” Just make A Decision, Any Decision to start with. Then you’ll be able to finetune from there. I used this when my husband and I were trying to buy a mattress together at the beginning of our marriage, and I used it a week ago when he and my SIL were discussing career paths after her impending graduation and she expressed her fear of choosing the wrong one.
Anyone else irritated by “satisficer?” It sounds bad rolling off the tongue. Either way, I’m somewhere in the middle, but leaning towards maximizer. It’s saved me a ton of money over the years, but sometimes I wish I could make decisions faster.
Satisficer for sure. It is hard when I am making a decision with a Maximizer. I do like to get all the facts, review them properly but not intensely, and then make the decision! You can rarely make a perfect decision, and I at least can’t see in the future, so I just appraise the facts at hand and decide. And if its wrong, oh well, I also don’t have a time machine to change a past decision, so don’t dwell on that and just move on.
Love the story about changing houses above!
Used to be a maximizer for everything, now that I have 1,000 times more decisions to make I am much more of a satisficer for most things.
I’m a maximizer but trying to become more of a satisficer. One thing I like about my maximizer tendencies is that I literally never second guess my decisions. I know that past-me brought structure, logic, and research to a decision so there’s no reason to not trust the decision. That said, I’m definitely a perfectionist and that creates some anxiety I am trying to break, hence the effort to become more satisficer. What I’m finding works is for decisions that are broadly relevant across people (i.e., what TV should I buy), I ask ~3 trusted friends or family members what they went with, and then just choose within that subset and rely on the chance that they at least a little bit of a similar research process to what I would have done if I lived out my maximizer tendencies. It has been working relatively well.
Satsificer!! As has already been mentioned, most decisions can be changed if they are wrong and I experience varying types of privilege that allow me to not have to think really hard about making a decision. Can I afford this car and is basically what I want? Done. Is this house good enough and am I sick of looking? Done. Will this expensive piece of art make me happy daily? Cool, done!
I actually tend to more freely make decisions with big ticket items, which seems really backwards. haha
I’m kind of the same way with big ticket items. I did that with my car (browsed all the ones at the car show, decided which one I liked, only test drove that one), a major (to me) art purchase (saw it in the gallery, went and ate lunch, went back and purchased), several pieces of furniture, etc. But then I researched coffee tables to death ($150 purchase), same for area rugs (under $200), and certain clothing items (dress for a cousin’s wedding).
Honestly this annoys me. I can be a perfectionist when warranted; however, I’m an adult who understands that indecision is a COSTLY decision.
I remember being in college and watching my friends literally take so long to decide where to eat dinner that half the places were closed (and everyone was hangry) by the time a decision was reached. I’ve had to say things like, “If we cannot come to a consensus on this fundraiser three weeks before the planned event, we will not have enough time to contact our supporters and will lose money. In that case, the best thing for our org is to not host this fundraiser.” Suddenly the hand-wringing about 11 am versus noon, or surf and turf versus shrimp and chicken, turns into a vote and Board approval.
Maybe it’s too much time on the campaign trail, when the best voter outreach is that which happens before Election Day. TV ads, campaign literature, website, social media: if it does not happen in time to reach voters, or sucks up incredibly limited campaign resources, it is a net negative.
Oh man, my mom is like this with food. Once she gets hangry it is impossible for her to make a decision about where to eat. You have to make the decision for her, and inevitably she’s not going to be happy with the decision, but if zero decision is made she’s going to get even hangrier and everyone else will be even more miserable. I’ve realized that I need to do a better job of foreseeing when the hangriness is likely to happen and make a plan before that sets in. It seems to happen mostly when there’s some kind of travel or event involved and the typical schedule of meals just won’t work or didn’t happen.
I am a maximizer married to a satisficer. Not fun.
I daresay it’s even less fun for your spouse. ;)
Oh, I feel your pain.