Reality Check: Strategies for Choice

Previously, I discussed a theory popularized by Barry Schwartz in, “The Paradox of Choice” that there are two choice-making approaches. Some people are maximizers; intent on making the absolute best choices they possibly can. Others are satisficers, who stop looking after they’ve found a choice that fits their criteria.
In this world of seemingly unlimited choices, satisficers have an easier time. They’re not so troubled by the fact that there are many options or whether they’ve made the perfect choice. They make a choice that works for them; stop looking and move on.
The maximizer’s concern is, “It’s important to make the best decision out of all the available options.” At first glance, that sounds reasonable. However, rigidly sticking to that mindset can lead to stress, indecision, and regret about choices.
For example, “Oh no! I bought lawn mower X; my neighbour bought lawn mower Y. He’s so happy with his; maybe I should have chosen Y instead.”
How can a maximizer be sure they’ve made the best choice? There’s always one more place to look; one more person to talk to; one more hour, day, or month of research they could do. Can one ever be certain?
You probably know whether you are a maximizer or satisficer. If you’re not sure, there are on-line quizzes available to help you decide.
But what, if anything, can you do about it? Can you change your choice-making approach to work more effectively for you? Fortunately, Schwartz didn’t just discuss difficulties; he also offered some strategies.
Perhaps his most important strategy is, “Choose when to choose.” Essentially, pick your battles when making choices.
Some choices matter very much; others don’t. It costs us to agonize over a choice, especially if we still feel bad about our decision in the end. Is the agony worth the cost?
Schwartz suggests analyzing a few recent decisions. Look at the effort, the research, the anxiety, the time. Then consider how much benefit you got from that work and emotional expenditure. Was it worth it? Ultimately, did you make a better decision? Are you happier because of it?
Another practical strategy is to set a “two-options limit.” Having many, many choices has a downside. Setting your own personal limit on the number of choices you’ll consider is an artificial, but potentially effective way to manage your options, especially for small decisions.
Going out to dinner? Pick two restaurants. Buying furniture? Pick two stores. Going on vacation? Pick two locations. Picking two, and only two, options to choose between allows for some freedom but can reduce the overall energy you’ll expend on choice-making.
Another Schwartz strategy is “Learn to love constraints.” While not as elegant, I’d rephrase that as, “Make and follow rules for routines.” That is, eliminate many tiny choices by turning them into habits. For example, always pay bills on Saturday morning; always exercise at 7am, and so on.
Creating your own constraints can also eliminate sometimes awkward choices. If you have a rule that you don’t drink alcohol during the day, then there’s no need to be pressured into having a beer at lunchtime with the gang. Likewise, if you designate meal time as family time, then there’s no question of whether to respond to a text at that moment.
If we can eliminate unimportant choices through routines, then we make room for the important choices; those that really matter to our purpose and our lives. Consider independently what gives your life meaning; what makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be the same for you as for others.
If you’d like a link to a quiz to determine just how much of a maximizer or satisficer you are, send me an email.
Do any of these strategies sound good to you?

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