Reality Check: Do your choices satisfy you?

We make many choices—some consequential; others trivial. Does your choice-making process satisfy you? Or aggravate you? Or does it depend on the choice?
Barry Schwartz needed a pair of jeans. In the big scheme of things, picking out jeans isn’t a hugely consequential decision. But in his book, “The Paradox of Choice,” this shopping experience demonstrates the difficulties that even small choices can create for some people.
Schwartz walked into the store thinking he just wanted “jeans.” He didn’t realize that jeans come in a mind-boggling array of styles, fits, and finishes.
Back in the old days, he would have walked in, picked out a pair, tried them on and bought them. A few minutes spent; the transaction is complete.
Now, there are more decisions. Should I choose the regular fit? Does the slim fit look better? Maybe the easy fit is more comfortable? How about that low-rise style?
So he found himself trying on pair after pair, spending time and angst trying to find the best of the bunch.
Faced with so many choices, the decision-making process can go on and on. But it doesn’t have to.
Schwartz connected his jeans-shopping story to the insights of Nobel prize-winning economist, Dr. Herbert Simon. It’s suggested that different decision-making approaches are used by two different types of people. Two rather odd words distinguish between them: the “maximizer” and the “satisficer.”
A maximizer looks for and accepts only the best. A downside for the maximizer is that it’s extremely difficult to settle on a choice unless they’re certain they’ve made the best possible choice.
Thus, the maximizer won’t be content until they’ve gone to different stores, tried on all the styles, compared the prices, and believe that they have made the best of the possible choices. With on-line shopping, where the world is literally at our keyboards, even a simple purchase could become excruciating.
Even after the purchase, the maximizer isn’t free of doubt. There are still more possibilities. What if they’d looked in one more place? Would they have found even more perfect jeans than what they got? Better keep that receipt!
A satisficer, on the other hand, is prepared to accept a product that’s “good enough.” The word satisficer is a combination of “satisfy” and “suffice;” does the product suffice to satisfy the need?
It’s not that satisficers don’t care about quality, price, or other criteria. They decide the criteria that will meet their needs. The difference is that when the satisficer finds a product that meets their criteria, they stop shopping.
My personal approach is very much “stop shopping.” Once I’ve found what I need, I’m done. Then again, I don’t enjoy shopping, so it’s easy for me to be a satisficer.
Shopping is an easy-to-visualize example to use for discussing choices, but there are other choices we make where this idea might be helpful.
Let’s say you are considering a career choice. Choosing one career necessarily means that we have eliminated other paths. We’ll never know if any of those would have worked out better. A maximizer may continue to second-guess, wondering, “What if”?
Or, look at marriage. Would you prefer a maximizer—someone who tends to keep looking for a more perfect choice or a satisficer, who says, “I’m done now. I’ve stopped shopping”?
Decisions as simple as choosing a vacation, a paint colour, or a meal, all provide the maximizer with the possibility for doubt, “I could have the scallops, but then will I regret not choosing the steak?”
Schwartz offers suggestions on how to reduce the distress that some people experience when trying to maximize so many choices, which I’ll offer in future columns.
Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? How well does that work for you?

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