Decide to Decide

We all know people who anguish over even the smallest decision, perhaps reading online reviews, consumer reports, and discussing the pros and cons of their choices with friends.  We likely also know people who seem to be impulsive in their decision-making, barely deliberating at all before making a choice.  Intuitively, we may think that those who are more deliberate and thoughtful make better decisions.  Depending on how we define “good decisions”, research shows that those who deliberate and anguish over their decisions are not necessarily happier with their decisions.

Maximizers vs. Satisficers

Herbert Simon, Nobel-prize winning economist, coined the terms “maximizers” and “satisficers” in the 1930’s to differentiate between two distinct decision-making styles.  Maximizers seek to maximize the benefit they will get from a decision, whereas satisficers make decisions based on satisfying the basic requirements. Let’s look at shopping for a sweater as a simple example.  The maximizer might go to several stores, compare prices and quality and cross reference the options online to see if more options at better prices exist.  The satisficier, on the other hand, has an idea of color and price and will settle on the first sweater he or she comes across that satisfy the basic requirements.


Over-choice fuels the fire of maximizers.  I recently had a conversation with a maximizer who admitted that his lactose intolerance helped him feel less stressed in ice cream shops.  Going into a shop with 20 different flavors can be overwhelming for many of us, but for maximizers it can be hell.  If your choices are limited to two flavors made from coconut milk or another non-dairy ingredient, the decision-making agony is virtually eliminated.

Of course, not all decisions are of equal importance; as the stakes rise and outcomes are critical, decisions become more difficult.  Sweater shopping or choosing ice cream is one thing; house buying or job selection is quite another.  Some people are quick to make clothes-buying decisions, for example, and painstakingly deliberate for larger-ticket items.

House buying is likely the largest ticket item one will ever purchase.  I know a couple who spent two years religiously attending open houses before buying their house. One would think after that amount of deliberation, they would be thrilled with their decision --not so.  On the other hand, I am half of a couple that moves and buys houses rather quickly.  Because my experience is that houses are not permanent, I am satisfied with having a roof over my head regardless of the problems (and there are always problems!).

The Bottom Line

Realizing that taking your time with making decisions does not guarantee you’ll be happier with the outcomes than those who make snap judgments, you may want to train yourself to make quicker decisions.  Certainly, listing the pros and cons of any major decision is a good idea.  Make certain you are clear about your non-negotiables; i.e., the basic minimum requirements that must be met.  Here’s where you can get stuck in the weeds; too many basic minimum requirements can take you right out of the market. 

For most of us, cost is a factor in our buying decisions.  One presumes you can get more of what you want by increasing your bottom line.  Beyond cost, list the other factors that must be present for you to get to “yes.”  In house buying, perhaps number of bedrooms and bathrooms, overall square footage, proximity to good schools, traffic, walkability to amenities, or aesthetics top your list.  Know what you’re willing to forgo because no house has everything especially if cost is a limitation.

Still Waters Run Deep

When it comes to BIG decisions that don’t necessarily involve monetary transactions, decision-making gets tangled up with emotional issues.  Deciding on a partner, for example, is mostly emotion-driven.  Putting too much intellect in the decision will put the kibosh on most relationships.

People often make decisions to begin relationships based on chemistry, not giving the relationship a chance to heat up.  Sometimes people click immediately but, more often, people have to grow on you.  Not everyone is quick to show their deep thoughts and feelings.

I’ve known men and women alike who have checklists when it comes to dating. During my few years between marriages, I met women who would absolutely not date men with teenage children.  Since that was not on my checklist, I married a man with three teenagers! Lucky for me, teenagers grow up.  Checklists can exclude some mighty fine partners.

On the other hand, some people need to slow down with respect to saying “I do.” I had a wonderful friend some years ago who, last count, had six husbands.  Men were naturally attracted to her: she had the rare combination of beauty, brains and charisma.  She once confided in me that she had a hard time saying “no.” 

Career Choices

Decision making when it comes to career choices should be driven by work values, needs and skills.  Obviously, this is a two-way street; one has to decide on a career path and then one has to get hired. 

What muddies the water of career choice is the misguided notion that you have to love your work.  Love should be reserved for family and friends, not work.  Find a career that satisfies your basic requirements, uses your skills and talents and don’t worry about “love” or “passion.” 

The biggest decision you’ll make is the decision to decide.  Whether choosing a place to live, a sweater to buy, a relationship to pursue or a career to explore, at some point we all need to put an end to weighing the options.  When deliberations become painful, no choice is a bad one. The knowledge that few decisions are irreversible eases anxiety and helps us decide to decide.