Recently, listening to a podcast about Tinder, I learned about the Paradox of Choice – a term coined by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. Apparently online daters are being overhelmed by the sheer number of options available on the dating app and instead of feeling empowered, users are either incapable of making any selection (decision paralysis) or else worried there may have been a better option than their eventual swipe-right (decision regret). I’ve never been on Tinder, but it sounds a bit like being on holiday with lots of exciting and competing opportunities clamouring for our attention. Each option sounds equally ideal but rather than rejoicing at our great fortune, we’re left with the niggling anxiety that we might make the wrong choice at the expense of the right one.
Having multiple choices should be a good thing, although it seems that without a strategy for deciding between several same-same-but different options, we can quickly disappear down the rabbit hole of ‘over-choice’. Persuasive marketing manages to disguise minor choices as life-changing decisions, exhausting our ability to distinguish important decisions from insignificant ones. Fortunately psychologists have devised a ‘decision-making spectrum’ to enable us to identify the type of decision-maker we are.
Maximisers are inclined to perfectionism and excellence, and would seem to be able to resist the ‘Fuck-it Factor’
At one end of the scale are ‘Maximisers’: people motivated enough to research, compare and analyse all the options with the objective of making the ‘right’ decision. The greater the number of options, the longer Maximisers spend ensuring his or her choice is optimum. Maximisers are inclined to perfectionism and excellence, and would seem to be able to resist the ‘Fuck-it Factor’ (the moment we exhaust our ability to analyse and agonise, and haphazardly make a snap decision on the spur of the moment) more successfully than those of us at the other end of the scale: the Satisficers.
Satisficers don’t usually agonise about the ‘what if’s’ of making the wrong decision
Satisficers come to a decision just as soon as for their priorities are met. Being closer to this end of the scale myself, I’d suggest that Satisficers are probably lazier than Maximisers – we are prone to accepting ‘good enough’ in place of ‘perfect’. Of course, not all Satisfi cers are as lazy as me. Maybe your list of essentials takes longer to satisfy, but when you’ve ticked must-have boxes, you stop looking because your choice has fulfilled your existing priorities. Satisfi cers don’t usually agonise about the ‘what if’s’ of making the wrong decision. Maximisers on the other hand, despite their extensive preparation – or perhaps because of it – are more inclined to experience postdecision regret, worrying that a diff erent decision could have had a better outcome.
Imagine two companions on a cold day on the mountain; Ms Satisficer and Mr Maximiser pop into a mountain restaurant to refuel. After a quick look at the menu, Ms Satisficer decides hot cheese is what she needs, and happily selects fondue. Job done, she can get on with enjoying being in a restaurant on holiday in the mountains. Mr Maximiser, already worried they should have gone to a diff erent restaurant, considers the menu carefully. There are a lot of choices. Hoping hot cheese is the right decision, next he has to choose between raclette and fondue. After weighing up the pros and cons, he chooses raclette (Ms Satisficer has confirmed she will share her fondue with him). He’s hedged his bets, but secretly hopes his choice is best – it would be nice for Ms Satisificer to envy him for once. His raclette arrives and it looks fabulous. But then Ms Satisficer’s fondue arrives and Mr Maximiser kicks himself because Ms Satisficer looks even more pleased – he should have chosen fondue! After all the eff ort that went into it, Mr Maximiser feels irritated he has made a bad decision. Again. Ms Satisficer is not only entirely content with her zero-stress fondue order (she would have been equally happy with raclette, but fondue was first on the menu), she has also had time to appreciate the mountain scenery and Mr Handsome-Ski- Instructor at the bar.
The repercussions of decisions tempt us to assign ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to choices retrospectively
Given the time and eff ort that goes into their decision making, one might think Maximisers should do better overall. Tragically however, both Mr Maximiser and Barry Schwartz’s research suggests that while Maximisers often do fare better in life in general, their over-analysing tends to render them less satisfied with their greater success. Unfairly, it seems that hard working Maximisers do not consciously reap the benefi ts of their effort, because rather than increasing their confidence in their decision, their research has left them with the fear they’re missing out on something better. Undeserving Satisfi ers, who invest minimal time and eff ort, may do objectively less well than Maximisers, but are nevertheless more contented with their lot.
The repercussions of decisions tempt us to assign ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to choices retrospectively, but if a decision is difficult to make, it’s probably because the options all balance at the time you’re making it. If an option is obviously bad, it is easy to discount. Deciding to ski rather than snowboard is a choice, but neither skiing nor snowboarding are inherently good or bad options. If you choose to ski and damage your knee you might question your decision in hindsight, but which decision would you question? Skiing rather than snowboarding? Doing the last piste where you fell? The wine you had / didn’t have at lunch? Coming to France? Going on holiday? And what if skiing was in fact a blessing – had you snowboarded, perhaps you would have broken your shoulder. Had you stayed at home, perhaps you would have fallen off the pavement and been hit by an articulated lorry.
Kick back, relax, count your blessings and don’t let being spoiled for choice spoil your appreciation of the moment.
Perhaps healthy decision-making comes from remembering that choices are a privilege not everyone has the luxury of, so try not to see them as a burden. If too many options leave you bewildered, remember Ms Satisfi cer! Kick back, relax, count your blessings and don’t let being spoiled for choice spoil your appreciation of the moment.