Sunday, July 24, 2016

Make Better Decisions: Know When Satisfice is Good Enough

We've lived in our new house for a year without a couch. We weren't entirely couch-less, there is a couch and a love seat in our living room. But, our family room, one of the most used rooms in our house, has been without adequate seating since we moved in. 

There were a number of reasons for that: the room is oddly proportioned (long but not deep), which made trying to find a sectional tricky; the room adjoins the kitchen, which is first on our To Be Renovated Some Day list; and lastly, when it comes to "big" items, we only like to buy investment pieces. 

Ultimately though, the thing that kept us from buying a couch was my decision paralysis. I didn't feel comfortable sinking my Benjamins into a piece of furniture when I couldn't envision it working for longer than the foreseeable future. But, at the same time, our awkward (or no) seating was undesirable and was keeping us from fully enjoying our home. We needed a couch.  

So we bought one - at Ikea, which is admittedly not the first place that springs to mind when one thinks investment pieces. Here's how that happened. I did a bunch of online couch hunting and found a sectional I liked. We went to the furniture store and put our buns to work testing it out and we got the dimensions. Then we came home and realized that said sectional would engulf the entire room. So we went to another store and tried out couches. But still I dithered.

Then the clouds parted in the form of my husband who said, "Why don't we buy a cheap couch now and when the kids are older buy a much nicer one?" Eureka! The next day we were at Ikea getting a couch (and ice cream cones). Done and done. 

But it wasn't until I read about satisfice that I realized what my issue had been all along: I'd been maximizing the heck out of couch buying. 

Satisficing (a mixture of the word satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making strategy where you search through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met. Maximizing on the other is when you sift through many - or all - available options until you find The Best possible option. 

Once I learned about this concept, a light bulb went on. Most people are a mix of satisficers and maximizers. I tend to be a satisficer about much of daily life, having never been able to understand the person who spends more than say 5 minutes picking out lamp shades (It's a lamp shade, people!). However, when it comes to big decisions, like sizeable purchases and travel, I'm a maximizer to the core. 

Being a maximizer can be to my detriment, causing me to agonize over decisions in the name of being "prudent" and "considered" when I was really being anal and exhausting. 

When we needed to find a preschool for our youngest, the last school he and I toured was the one closest to our house. It's the school I ultimately chose, not just for convenience's sake but also because it was the best fit for our son. I now realize that I deliberately visited it last because I wanted to make sure that I explored every conceivable option before I selected a school, yet he and I both knew it was the right place almost from the moment we walked in the door. 

Another place I'm a maximizer, much to my detriment, is my writing. I will fiddle with words long past editing for clarity or conciseness. I've always thought that this kind of attention to detail was me honing my craft, but, let's face it, Hemingway probably didn't spend as much time as I do trying to decide between "said" and "uttered" (and I'm no Hemingway). 

Being a satisficer isn't about compromising or settling, it's about setting criteria, even discriminating criteria, and then being satisfied once that criteria is met. If you have a decision you're struggling with, ask yourself if you're satisficing or maximizing. Or perhaps, in the words of The Gambler, you should ask yourself if you: "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run." This is, after all, the secret to surviving. 

Find the satisficer/maximizer quiz here

1 comment:

  1. I'm a maximizer (most of the time), and I hate it!! It's why I'm stuck w/ the world's worst kitchen table right now. I think I need to improve my satisficer skills. - K.