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A Decision Making Hack that'll save you hours of anxiety and regret

Human beings are decision making machines. On a daily basis, we make 100s of conscious decisions and unconscious decisions. From 'what do I wear' to 'what should I eat' to 'What should I say in this email' to 'is this too sensitive a question to ask'. Decisions come in all shapes and sizes. Most large decisions are also a collection of smaller decisions that require a final decision.

It is exhausting to constantly make choices and decisions. Every decision sucks some energy out of you. So much so that a lot of the most productive people in the world eat the same food and wear a version of the same clothes over and over again to use their mental energy more wisely.

When I was at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I took a class with Professor Baba Shiv, a researcher who has studied decision science for eons. In that class, I learned a theory that has simplified my life and the lives of literally everyone I've spoken to about it.

Baba Shiv began this short and immensely valuable class called the 'Frinky Science of the Mind' by explaining to us, that ultimately, what matters most about a decision isn't the decision itself, it is how you feel about the decision. If you make the decision second guessing yourself, you're going to be unhappy with it. If you make the decision convinced that this is the right decision, you'll walk away happy sans regrets. The research has proven this over and over again.

But that's not the framework that was life changing for me. If how you feel about a decision is critical, how can one ensure they feel comfortable with their decisions? Especially when some of these are life changing and the thought of making them leads to analysis paralysis. For example, buying or renting a home, committing to a job, committing to a life partner etc.

And given how much of our mental capacity goes into decision making, even simple decisions, like what to eat for lunch, how might we get back some of that ego that's being depleted by simplifying the time and mental energy these consume?

Herbert Simon, a Nobel laureate and scientist coined the term 'satisfice' in 1956. To satisfice is to strive for adequate vs. extraordinary results. While to some, this may sound like settling, satisficing is incredibly powerful. In The Paradox of Choice, professor and psychologist Barry Schwartz explores the impact of satisficing and maximizing on our happiness.

A Satisficer has a list of criteria or terms that are required to be met to make a choice or decision. While apartment hunting, a Satisficer might say, I want something near the water, within a $500K budget, with 2 beds and 3 baths and an open kitchen. Once the Satisficer finds something that meets their criteria, they make their decision. If a Satisficer realizes after parsing their choices that perhaps there are tradeoffs, they will rank which of these matter the most and adjust their criteria. Satisficers are happier with their decisions, deal with far less regret and make decisions faster.

The opposite of a Satisficer is a Maximizer. Maximizers want the best. They want the best apartment, the best partner, the best item on the menu. They end up objectively better off in terms of what they get but end up being unhappier. What does this mean? The Maximizer might have a nicer apartment than the Satisficer but will likely always wonder 'Should I have taken that other apartment?". A university study found that Maximizers received 20% higher starting compensation than Satisficers however ended up being unhappier with their outcome. This is because Maximizers second guess themselves all the time.

Maximizers deal with a lot more anxiety while making a decision and regret after because 'best' is entirely subjective and relies on comparisons. The problem is, defining best requires to some extent Satisficing, i.e. defining what you want.

Learning about Satisficing vs. Maximizing was eye opening and empowering for me. I'd rather make less than perfect but satisfactory choices often and be happier and less anxious overall than be stressed and anxious chasing the perfect decision, which often doesn't exist.

Are you a Satisficer or a Maximizer? And are the rewards of maximizing worth the trade-offs?

Ultimately, it is your decision =)


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