How to Know if You’re a Maximizer or a Satisficer
Views on Maximizing and Satisficing
“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”
— Tony Robbins
I am a maximizer. That means when it comes to my work, I’m always trying to do better as compared to my previous self. That’s what maximizers try to do in general, they try to optimize outcomes to get the most positive results. That’s the intuitive answer, at least the way I hope economists would define it, which is settling for the best and nothing less.
Satisficing on the other hand is a more recent idea that comes from Nobel Herbert Simon. Simon explores the idea in his 1947 book, Administrative Behaviour. He won the Nobel prize for economics but he was more of a psychologist decision scientist.
The term satisficing follows a strategy that strives for adequacy, rather than optimality. You’re not trying to get the best, or do the best, or choose the best, you’re trying to choose good enough.
When asked, ‘are you the kind of person who settles for good enough?’, every cell in my body says no.
Imagine we’d been working really hard together and we need to get a bite to eat, are you a maximizer or satisficer?
“The perception of potential threats to survival may be much more important in determining behavior than the perceptions of potential profits, so that profit maximization is not really the driving force. It is fear of loss rather than hope of gain that limits our behavior”
I would maximize there. I want to know that within a certain x-block radius, I have chosen the best restaurant including lots of perimeters like price/value for money and I want to know that I ordered the best thing on the menu for me at that time in my life.
I would optimally maximize in a professional setting every single time. It’s not always just in a professional setting, if you’re a parent or a volunteer, you are constantly trying to give your best and I appreciate the urge to maximize but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the value of satisficing. I think that most people are inbetween satisficing and maximizing.
Taking our same example, looking for a place to eat after a long day at work. A satisficer would think about the opportunity cost of maximising , how long they would have to look on their phones to find the place that has an eight of a star higher rating and then debate the merits of yelp versus whatever ratings to see how we can tell the best empirical evidence of this when it is just a meal in which a perfectly good cart could serve chicken on rice and call it a day.
Now, if you’re talking about choosing a life partner or vocation, do some maximizing.
If you’re talking about lunch, it’s okay to satisfice and there are many things in between.
Maximizing and satisficing is a very useful concept. I maximize when it comes to my family but economically, I would consciously want to be a satisficer. It’s a logical bifurcation.
Views on maximizing and satisficing when it comes to satisfaction
Barry Schwartz introduced us to the concepts of “maximizing” and “satisficing.” Schwartz developed a simple test to assess a person’s decision-making orientation. The higher your score, the more of a maximizer you are.
On his scale, he has items like, ‘I never settle for second best, or when I watch tv , I channel surf scanning through available options and not easily settle on one .
I took the test and I realized I am in fact a maximizer but I read the article and it was a little worrisome because it turns out in general, satisficers are happier. They may not have more money but they actually feel okay and satisfied.
So, I guess there are tradeoffs. High standards on objective grounds,things are better but you don’t feel good.
It’s important to note that I didn’t change my mind about being a maximizer. I didn’t think I should be more satisficing . There are some areas where I am a satisficer like exercising because I’m not trying to get better in any athletic domain but just do it to the extent of good enough.
That could be in part because I don’t care about exercising but I do it anyways to stay healthy.
It’s good to deliberate where you are going to be a maximizer because it’s exhausting and time is finite.
"Apply yourself to maximizing each day now that you can"
Moving from satisficing to maximizing
You might be thinking that living life as a maximizer might be exhausting. It sounds like a world of unhappiness but it really isn’t. I find maximising satisfying contrary to studies. If satisficers tried to maximize more, they might find that their satisfaction might also rise by leaving behind satisficing. Try maximizing your choices for a single day and if you don’t like it, you could go back to satisficing.
Moving from maximizing to satisficing
If you’re a maximizer even when it comes to meals like in our example,take one meal a day and try to be a satisficer for that meal and decide, ‘rather than spend time to think about this and optimize, I’m going to eat the first thing that looks decent and see how it feels’.
Maximizers must spend a lot more time and energy to reach a decision, and they’re often anxious about whether they are, in fact, making the best choice. The point of satisficing is to save time and not waste time thinking about choices.
Paradox of choice
Barry Schwartz wrote that people tend to become more satisficing as they get older and believes that’s why we get happier. We start choosing to care less about things that matter less.
He also believed that in so many ways, the idea of having so many choices, maximizing our choices, things that are supposed to lead to happiness, don’t in fact lead to happiness. He illustrated in his ‘paradox of choice experiment’, that having 24 kinds of jam to choose from would be worse than having three kinds of jams to choose from in terms of happiness. Schwartz addresses the study in his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.
When there were 24 jars of jams, shoppers would look more and buy less.
Some research has suggested that satisficing/maximizing and other decision-making strategies, like personality traits, have a strong genetic component and endure over time.
This genetic influence on decision-making behaviors has been found through classical twin studies, in which decision-making tendencies are self-reported by pairs of twins and then compared between monozygotic and dizygotic twins. This implies that people can be categorized into ‘maximizers’ and ‘satisficers’, with some people landing in between.
The distinction between satisficing and maximizing not only differs in the decision-making process, but also in the post-decision evaluation. Maximizers tend to use a more exhaustive approach to their decision-making process: they seek and evaluate more options than satisficers do to achieve greater satisfaction.
However, whereas satisficers tend to be relatively pleased with their decisions, maximizers tend to be less happy with their decision outcomes. This is thought to be due to limited cognitive resources people have when their options are vast, forcing maximizers to not make an optimal choice. Because maximization is unrealistic and usually impossible in everyday life, maximizers often feel regretful in their post-choice evaluation.
While satisificing won’t work for every scenario, it might work a lot more often than you think, depending on what you are optimizing for.
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