It took me awhile to get to it, but I finally read Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less, which is a fantastic book regarding the psychology of choice. The basic premise is that having more choices actually results in less satisfaction. When we are bombarded with choices, we feel more insecure about our decisions, less willing to commit and more likely to experience “buyer’s remorse.” Ultimately, even if we make good choices, we’re likely to be haunted by the promise and potential of all the choices we didn’t make.
On the whole, we all have more choices than ever before — from the bewildering number of products at the typical supermarket to the multitude of choices of what to do with our free time, to what career to choose or where to live. As the choices continue to proliferate, we spend more and more time making decisions that used to be fairly simple and routine — even figuring out what milk to buy can be a time-consuming decision nowadays. All these choices require more energy but don’t necessary result in a meaningful payout. In fact, all these decisions are actually making people less happy, not more happy.
In order to achieve a higher level of satisfaction, Schwartz says we should strive to be “Satisficers” – Satisficers are thoughtful decision-makers. But when they find something that fits their needs, they lock down on it and then close the door on other options. Consequently, they complete the process and move on. Ultimately they are usually satisfied.
Maximizers are also thoughtful decision-makers. However, they are so thoughtful, they continue searching for the very best, even if there are excellent options already available that suit their needs. Even after making decisions, they continue agonize over the decision they made, questioning whether it was really the right choice. Ultimately they are less satisfied and can’t fully enjoy what they have.
It’s likely that people are not wholly one or the other – and, depending on the circumstances, you could be a Satisficer with regard to certain decisions/topics and a Maximizer with regard to others.
I’ve been thinking about this philosophy across many spectrums of my life – from personal to professional and I think it could be a helpful framework to improve decision-making, save time and achieve higher levels of general satisfaction.
Looking back on past decisions, I can see how the times I acted like a “Satisficer” led to a better outcome than when I acted as a “Maximizer.” For example, for many years I was looking for a car that I thought would “represent” me – whatever that means. I researched all kinds of cars, went on numerous test drives and even negotiated a few times. Each time at the last minute, I bailed out and could not complete the transaction because I was worried that it wasn’t quite right – it wasn’t the right color, didn’t have the exact set of features I needed, didn’t really feel like “me” etc. As a result, for years, I was also less satisfied with the car I already had, because I wasn’t committed to it and was always thinking about getting a new one. Sort of a lose/lose scenario.
Then, one day, I decided my car didn’t need to be a personal expression of anything. I wanted a good quality car that I liked and that was safe, nothing more. So, I did some research within a defined set of models that suited my needs and budget, quickly locked down on one brand and model that seemed best. When the time came, I took a quick test drive, purchased this car and never looked back. Not one moment of buyer’s remorse. Why? Because I had taken all the other options off the table. I was getting a Honda and that was that.
Here’s an example of how this might apply in your personal life:
Say you’re making plans to go out on Saturday night. You find something you want to do, and tell some friends. Then, even though everyone has agreed to it, you continue to search for something even better and you end up spending several more hours working on the plan when you could have been doing something else either more fun or productive. And, worse, ultimately you’re not sure that you chose the exact best plan and you go out still thinking about the other options. You’re less than satisfied.
Solution: Once you find an acceptable plan, take other options off the table and move on.
Here’s an example of how this might apply in your professional life:
You need to hire a social media agency or any vendor. You talk to some people who recommend a few firms. You go out and get three bids — all of the companies sound great and are comparably priced. One of the firms stands out, but only slightly. However, you hesitate and start to wonder if you could do better. After all, there are many more companies to contact and you want the only the very best. So, you decide to continue looking. During that time, your number one choice enters into an agreement with your primary competitor and now there’s a conflict of interest. They are no longer available. Now, you’ll have to pick someone else and you’re less than satisfied because you didn’t get your “first” choice and you’re still insecure that you haven’t explored all the options.
Solution: Since all the companies met your criteria and they all seemed great, you should be satisfied with either of the other two. Don’t look back. You’re wasting time. Pick one of the companies and go!
- Save time and emotional energy by reducing the size of your consideration set.
- Don’t feel obligated to research every possibility – if something meets your criteria, go with it.
- Then enjoy what you have and be happy!
On that note, I’ll stop tweaking my already published post and move on to other things!