There are plenty of different adjectives I’d use to describe myself, but decisive isn’t one of them. It’s strange—normally I’m a matter-of-fact, get-things-done sort of person. I like to have a plan of attack and then get moving. But, when it comes to making an actual decision (whether it’s big or small), I often find myself paralyzed.
Why? Well, because I feel the overwhelming need to evaluate all of my options before moving forward—and I mean all of my options.
When my husband and I went hunting for our first home, for example, we toured well over 100 houses (and yes, I thanked our realtor for her patience profusely). I found plenty that I liked, but I still had an issue committing to one. What if there was one out there with a slightly bigger yard or a better kitchen sink or a more spacious bathroom?
Finally, my husband—who was understandably sick of being forced to waltz through home after home—told me, “Kat, you’re never going to be able to see every single house that’s available. So, we just need to pick one we like and make the best of it.”
He was right. And, as it turns out, we fall into two very different and distinct categories when it comes to making decisions: He’s a satisficer and I’m a maximizer.
Satisficer Versus Maximizers
Don’t worry, I had no idea what those terms meant at first either. To put it simply, a satisficer (yes, that’s a real word) is someone who is comfortable moving forward with a decision once his or her criteria are met. Once they find something that checks all of their boxes—be it a job, house, car, or whatever—they take the leap. “That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity,” says author Gretchen Rubin in a blog post, “Their criteria can be very high.”
What about maximizers like me? Well, we’re more focused on making the optimal decision. We want to evaluate every single alternative out there so that we can rest assured that we’ve made the best possible choice.
Once I knew that there was a real term for the way I approached decisions, I realized just how pervasive this mentality is in my career and my life. Yes, it definitely creeps its way into every single choice I make.
When I redesigned my personal website, it took me ages—because I kept trying different things with the color and layout. When I change my LinkedIn photo, I essentially cycle through every single picture I’ve had taken since the age of 15 that clearly shows my face. When I used to get dressed for job interviews, I’d try on nearly every item in my closet. And, when I need to send a prospective client some writing samples, I start back over with digging through almost everything I’ve ever written in order to find the best work to send.
I don’t want to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with this approach. After all, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to care so deeply about decisions that you’re willing to put in the time, effort, and energy to get things right.
However, I also realize that not every single choice requires such a high degree of consideration. And, by obsessing over every available path and option, I’m really only wasting time on something that ultimately won’t matter anyway.
In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz asserts that, while maximizers tend to be more successful, it’s satisficers who are often the happiest. So, moving forward, I’m going to try my best to achieve a happy medium between being a maximizer and a satisficer.
Before falling into my old habits of exploring every available option, I’m first going to consider the severity of the decision. Is this something that warrants such a huge commitment and thorough research? Or, is this one of those instances when finding something that meets my basic needs will more than suffice?
Hopefully that extra step will help me avoid treating every decision like I’m house hunting all over again.
Are you a maximizer or a satisficer? Which do you want to be? Tweet me and let me know!
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author