Monday, January 21, 2013

Why Good-Enough is Good for You

There are those for whom making a decision becomes analogous to running a marathon.  It is not something that you can just simply step out and do, it involves endless preparation, training, planning and research.  For these individuals, known as Maximizers, making a decision requires work and effort.  They want to make the best decision they possibly can, about anything, and that means often spending months researching and learning as much about the item as possible to make as informed a decision as possible.

Take my friend Mary for example.  She wanted to purchase a new couch.  For some of us, this requires measuring the space we have available, going to the store, seeing something we like, checking it will fit and... buying it.  For Mary though, this wouldn't be enough.  Before even beginning to 'shop', Mary begins her research.  By the time she is done, she knows all about how a 'good' couch should be constructed.  Not just whether ropes or springs are better but what kind of ropes, what kind of springs, what kind of batting or foam, what the density is and on and on.  Certainly all of this research takes place prior to making the purchase but continues after the actual purchase is made to ensure that she did, indeed, make the best decision.

This level of investigation makes Mary an 'expert' in many different product areas.  If you're looking for a new couch you might just want to tap into her knowledge-base prior to setting out.  However, it can turn seemingly small decisions into larger, stress-making, time-gobbling activities, leaving her with little energy or time to spend engaging with others in more positive or 'fun' ways.

On the other side of the decision equation we have Satisficers (think of Satisfying + Sufficing). These are individuals that make Good-Enough decisions... and then move on.  They do not look at each decision requiring a huge investment of their time or life.  They decide and move on. This does not mean that they trivialize important decisions but, rather, that they don't give the relatively trivial more importance than it merits.

In general, you will find that Maximizers tend to be unhappy with the choices they make in life, feeling always that it could have been 'better' somehow, if they had only had more time, more information.  Additionally, they are more prone to suffer from Decision Fatigue, the mental/emotional/physical drain we feel when we have been faced with too many decisions.  We all suffer from this periodically, Maximizers much more frequently.  The problem with Decision Fatigue though is that researchers have found that when we are suffering from it our willpower is at 'low' point, leaving us more susceptible to making poor choices like over-eating or over-spending.

Satisficing allows us to make faster, easier decisions that do not deplete our energy, thus conserving those willpower units for a time later in the day that we may need them.  For a Maximizer, learning to switch to Satisficing mode, they need to ask themselves, early in the decision-making process, What is the cost to me of making a bad decision here?

When the perceived cost is high and is important to your life, goals, family... go for broke.  Here the costs to you and your family have much bigger ramifications and therefore they are worth your investment of time.  Give reign to your Maximizing needs and assure yourself of making the best decision you could.  You'll sleep easier when you do.

Most of our decisions though involve a relatively low cost and therefore lend themselves well to going for Good-Enough.  The paint colour for the bedroom, which Bran cereal to try, a play to see.  When the cost of making a bad decision is low there is no true advantage in spending too much energy on trying to ensure that you make the 'best' decision, Satisficing is the way to go.  An investment of any more time than what is required by Satisficing will not net you a more positive result or bigger gain. Save your energy and willpower units for something else.

As research is now showing us, not only are there times where Good-Enough truly is Good-enough, we're finding that learning to practice the principle may also be a healthier option,  proving that Good-Enough is also Good for you.

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