Monday, December 5, 2011

when less is more: decision-making for the lazy

I had to go to Radio Shack over the weekend, to buy parts to hook up our TV in our recently renovated basement.  We had miles of speaker wire, but for some reason, no sound was coming out of the speakers (and the TV is so old that it has no internal speakers, so no speakers = no sound).  I brought our receiver and a small sample of our speaker wire to Radio Shack, and asked the clerk what I needed to connect the two properly.  Within a few minutes, she produced some red and black ends to attach to the end of the speaker wire so we could plug them in, rather than delicately winding the bare wires around some screws in the back of the receiver.  She then returned to the rack of parts, without saying anything.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Finding you another option."

"Won't those red and black end things work?"

"Yes.  But I wanted to find you another option."

This was totally confusing to me.  The red and black ends cost only a few dollars, and they would work.  Why would I want another option? 

And that is when I remembered, from my Happiness Project reading, that I was a satisficer

I have been reading The Happiness Project book for a few weeks now. I find the blog rather interesting, and the concept intriguing, so when I saw the book on the sale rack at Target just before Thanksgiving, I bought it for the plane ride to San Diego to visit my parents. Only I put it in my checked bag, so I couldn't start it until I got home.  In case you are even mildly interested in the blog, read the book. It's much better. The author, Gretchen Rubin, is very quirky -- weirdly, in many of the same ways I am quirky. Maybe that's why it's such a satisfying read?

So, satisficing.  Basically, this means that I am a type of person who, when faced with a decision, waits until I find something that meets my criteria, then I'm done.  By contrast, a maximizer is a person who wants to explore all the options, and find the best option before reaching a decision.  Clearly, the Radio Shack clerk was used to dealing with maximizers.  Some have argued that satisficers are happier than maximizers, because it's impossible to actually explore all the options before reaching a decision, so the maximizer is stuck in a state of agony, never knowing if they actually found the best choice. 

This reminded me of our trip to the Renaissance Faire, which ended with B in tears, unable to choose a souvenir.  Each time she found something she liked, she declined it, unsure of whether, at just the next shop, there would be something she liked better.  Eventually, it was the end of the day, we had returned to the front gate, and B was empty-handed.  She finally had to go into the very last shop and choose from the available options.  She spent her entire day in the agony of indecision (while A and C happily played with their souvenirs, chosen in the first few minutes -- which freed them up to enjoy the sights and sounds of the day, rather than focusing on the purchase).

I, like Rubin, have often felt a little like there was something wrong with me, because I don't spend much time on most decisions.  Even some relatively big ones, like which car to buy, were made in a day.  I wanted: a car that seats 7 (since we are 5 and often have visitors), that gets relatively good gas mileage for that size car, has low emissions for its class, and is not a Lexus (I have an inexplicable aversion to Lexus).  When I came across a 2007 Acura meeting the requirements, I drove it.  It handled fine.  Sold.  I only test-drove one car, and I did all my research in an hour online.  I have never been unhappy with the decision.  But it was a lot of money, and I had the nagging suspicion I should have tried harder or something, to find the best possible vehicle.  Maybe I should care more?  But I just don't.  Learning the word "satisficer" has freed me up to view my decision-making as efficient, rather than inadequate.

I'm curious - do others find that learning that there is a word for your behavior somehow legitimizes it?  That being able to say  "I'm a satisficer," allows you to reframe the same behavior as efficient, rather than lazy?  What about maximizers out there - do you try to limit your decisions?  When has it served you well to keep investigating options?

Update:  It seems I was not the only one with this topic on my mind today.  A few hours after I posted this, The Happiness Project blog posted this.

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