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Maximizers – Doing Better but Feeling Worse

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 21, 2015

Career decision making is something that everyone struggles with at some point; in a recent blog post, we wrote about this struggle, which can lead to a tendency to drift into decisions. Turns out, there are two basic decision-making styles. Which one are you -- a maximizer or a satisficer? Maximizers tend to take their time and don’t feel comfortable choosing until they feel they have explored every option and have chosen the absolute best. Satisficers on the other hand prefer to be fast rather than thorough and they tend to choose the option that first meets all of their needs because it is good enough

The word “satisficer” comes from the two words “satisfy” and “suffice”. Most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle; however, people can be both a maximizer or a satisficer depending on what’s at stake. For example, maybe you are a maximizer about your apartment/home but a satisficer about the kind of car you drive. To determine your decision-making style, Barry Schwartz, Psychology Professor at Swarthmore, developed thirteen statements to help score your maximizing/satisficing tendencies. 

For each statement, rate yourself as 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). The higher your score, the higher your maximizing decision-making style. 

1. No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it’s only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities. 

2. When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to. 

3. When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch one program. 

4. I treat relationships like clothing; I expect to try on a lot before finding the perfect fit. 

5. I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend. 

6. Choosing a movie to watch is really difficult. I’m always struggling to pick the best one. 

7. When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love. 

8. I’m a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels, etc.). 

9. I find that writing is very difficult even if it’s just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things. 

10. I never settle for second best. 

11. Whenever I’m faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren’t present at the moment. 

12. I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life. 

13. No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself.

 A study published in Psychological Science in 2006 entitled, Doing Better but Feeling Worse found some differences between maximizers and satisficers.   Dr. Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice” followed 548 job-seeking college seniors at eleven schools. They found that maximizers landed better jobs and their starting salaries were about 20% higher than their satisficer peers. According to the authors though, “maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with the jobs they obtained and experienced more negative affect throughout the job-search process.” How can this be when the maximizers seemingly should have been happier than the satisficers? In a world with seemingly endless options, so many possibilities can actually paralyze decision-making. Researching every last option can be daunting and extremely stressful for an individual. Plus maximizers may always wonder if they made the best decision. How then can maximizers learn from the group of more content satisficers? If you are a maximizer making a decision, some strategies that might work include finding a way to narrow options down earlier in the process. You can do this by simply creating a list of your top three guidelines/priorities and adopting the first solution that satisfies them all. A big part of this decision-making is taking a leap of faith which can be challenging. For you maximizers out there, what has helped you make decisions?

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