How to Make Happy Choices
Every person wants to have a crystal ball to predict the future. I know I do. You have to be a complete Buddhist with a different definition of time in order to see life as a single point in time that the only guarantee is that it exists in experiencing the "now".
Although everyone would like to see a piece of the future in order to give them strength in the present, the difference between people is how much energy they spend in order to be able to predict the future. Most people would like to be able to tell the future, at least a bit, but some people are tortured by the desire to control the future by analyzing the past in order to improve the prediction of the future. I call them "the fortunetellers".
In coaching, I meet some fortunetellers. I meet amazing people who are tortured by anxiety and are very unhappy. These people struggle with their decision making and find it hard to make decisions. If the average person takes an hour to make a decision, they need 5-10 hours to make the same decision. So they are pretty much time wasters and, being very smart people, they know time is precious, but they constantly feel they do not have enough time. In worse cases, when making a decision, they repeatedly second-guess themselves with “Was this the right/best choice? What if I checked another school/product? Did I check the back label?" Or they keep searching for the product they already bought, just to make sure they have made a good choice.
In psychology, these people are called Maximizers. The other group is called Satisficers. Research on the difference between Maximizers and Satisficers started in 1957, so it is not new science at all. A new research done in Florida in 2011 discovered that Maximizers tend to second-guess their choices and that leads to unhappiness. So if you are a Maximizer, or what I call a "fortuneteller", you have the formula for being unhappy. If happiness is a choice, as I believe, this insight into the decision making mechanism may very well help you make happy choices.
Maximizers aim to find and accept the absolute best. They come up with criteria for making a choice, examine all the possible options and do all they can to pick the best option. Their definition of "best" is very rigid, sometimes to the point of perfectionism. Maximizers also dwell even on small things. For them, everything is important.
Satisficers (a combination of "satisfy" and "suffice") are more action oriented. They have criteria, which can be tough as well, but they aim to make a "good" decision. They have a very good definition of "good enough". Not only are they faster decision makers, which leaves them more time to be happy, they are also satisfied once they have made their decision, which makes them even happier afterwards.
Well, in life, no one is an absolute Maximizer or Satisficer. People fit on a scale and often alternate between them based on the type of decision they have to make and their emotional situation. In some situations, it is better to be a Maximizer. For example, when choosing a partner or buying a house, decisions that are worth spending time on. In other situations, it is better to be a Satisficer. For example, when buying fruit or choosing a movie to watch.
Here is a summary of the two different styles to find out the difference between the two.
- Tend to research for the best option
- Take a long time to make decisions
- Examine endless options and come up even with purely theoretical options
- Although they are high achievers, they have lower self-esteem, less optimism, less satisfaction and less happiness
- Sometimes, they spend more time, attention, money and energy "searching" for the best solution than enjoying their choice
- Are in doubt about their decision-making methods. They are constantly anxious and worried about the possibility that there must be something "better" out there
- Once they have made a decision, they second-guess it
- Avoid making decisions. Sometimes, they wait for the "best" option to appear or they avoid making the decision so as not to make a mistake or to be rejected
- Treat small decisions as big
- Avoid commitment
- Find change difficult to deal with
- Handle stress, due dates and limited time poorly
- Do a limited amount of research
- Have a time limit for making decisions
- Examine several possibilities, but generally think that they cannot think of everything anyway
- Can live with the risk of missing the optimal solution, because they know they will think differently once they make that decision and gather more information
- Have higher self-esteem, more optimism, more satisfaction (hence the name) and more happiness
- Believe that goals can be achieved in more than one way, so they are more focused on their goals than on the way to get them
- Believe that more money, attention and energy will not guarantee the best decision anyway
- Can make commitments better
- Distinguish between big decisions and small and spend a lot less time and effort making small decisions
- Once they have made a decision, they are happy and live with it
- Understand that the cost of gathering extra information is sometimes higher than the cost of making a mistake
- Deal better with change management
- Deal better with stress, due dates and limited time
Are you a Maximizer or a Satisficer?
Emotional intelligence requires people to recognize feelings and manage them. If every decision requires lots of energy, it is obviously not a good way to manage feelings and being a Maximizer is a very poor way to reach happiness.
Maximizers have challenges not only with themselves, but also with others, because they can be exhausting to deal with. Imagine having a relationship as a partner, child, parent, sibling, colleague or friend of someone who finds everything just as important. This person can take a long time to make decisions, complain about or criticize small things and generally make a big mountain out of every molehill.
Well, it is probably a formula for disaster.
If you want to choose happiness and adopt a Satisficer point of view, try the following exercise.
Look at your different areas of life: relationships partner, family, children, friends, work, health, wealth and fun (hobbies, holidays and time off) and record the biggest decisions of your life. Ask yourself, "Did I use a Maximizing or Satisficing strategy?"
Bear in mind that we make decisions every second in life and the quality of our life depends highly on the decisions we make. Try not to consider the decisions to make tea or coffee, only those that drain energy from you. Every one of them you change in priority and rating gives you more space, energy and time to think, love and be happy in life.
How to be a Satisficer
- Limit the number of alternatives you examine. For example, when you want to buy something, make sure to come up with 3 options and pick the one that seems the best at that point.
- Eliminate "the right decision" from your vocabulary. Every decision is right in the context in which you have made it. There is never the right time, right circumstances, right measure, right people, right feeling or right job. Nothing has to be absolutely right, it only needs to be beneficial at the moment of making the decision and it does not have to stand the test of time.
- Limit the time it takes to make a decision and pick your own due dates for making decisions. For example, say, "I will gather information for a week and then, based on what I found, I will make a decision".
- When making a decision, focus on "good enough". It can still be high quality and it does not mean you are average or slack, it only needs to meet the core requirements. Good enough is a great place to be. Remember, you are good enough!
- Have a rating system for big decisions and small decisions. Ask yourself, "On a scale of 1-10 (or 1-100), how important it this?" and work on the big things first. Much like putting the heavy stones in the jug first, pebbles later and sand last. Don't sweat the small stuff.
- When thinking of options, do not linger on the attractive features of the option you reject. When you do that, your brain hangs on to it and you remain confused.
- When making a decision, celebrate it. Ask yourself, "What was good about this decision?" The brain usually does that automatically - we tend to justify the decisions we make to ourselves, which is a very healthy emotional mechanism, but Maximizers do not take advantage of this function. Practice celebrating consciously and it will become a second habit.
- When making a decision, think of how much time you have saved. Time is very precious and making decisions quickly (not hastily) can give you more time to enjoy the reason you make your choices - good life.
- Once you have made a decision, do not question it, do not second-guess it and do not doubt it. Try NEXTing. Move on, it is done and there is no way of going to the past and changing it anymore. If someone next to you is a Maximizer and puts doubts in your mind by questioning your decision, say, "It's done. I can only do something different next time".
- When you find yourself procrastinating, switch to action mode. Ask yourself, "How can I do a small thing that will make me move forward even a little bit?" then make a list and work it. Remember, small steps, baby steps, can walk a long way.
- When you make a decision that did not work as you expected, rather than focusing on what you have lost, focus on what you have gained. Ask yourself, "What was good about this?" You will always find something.
- Avoid social comparison. People tend to measure the quality of their experiences compared to others. This is so subjective that you do not have a chance to have similar ratings and there is always likely to be someone with a better experience. Your decisions are good enough for you.
- People get used to good things and sometimes, these things lose their effect when they happen over and over. If something works, do not search for a new decision just because the old one is old. If it is good, stick to it.
- Learn to see opportunities in change. When something unexpected happens, you can always gain something from it. Change is good. Change is healthy. Welcome change! If you are not very good with changes, create artificial change to get yourself used to it. In my work with children, I discovered that changing the furniture in the room from time to time was a good way to help them deal with changes. Maximizer kids freak out the first time, but after the third time, they actually help and suggest ways to change the room. It is easy to practice.
The best choice you can make in life is to be happy. It is not something you gain, it is a state of mind and a choice you make in your daily life when choosing the appropriate approach to handle a situation. Choose to be a Satisficer. Everyone can be. We only need to practice it.
And if you need help in making better choices, you can read some of the strategies in our newsletters and posts and if reading is not enough for you to make happy choices, you always have the choice to contact us and we will be happy to help you.
Until next time, be happy!