Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Making Up Your Mind

One thing we learned this morning: slow and steady does not win the race.

At least, not when it comes to making decisions.

Reporting on Prof. Barry Schwartz’ research on decision-making, Elizabeth Bernstein explains that people who make quick decisions are happier overall than people who take the time to ponder before deciding.

The reason: those who decide quickly are willing to settle for something that is good enough. Those who take the time to think over all the options tend to be seeking perfection.

Of course, some decisions are more complex than others. And some people make better snap decisions than others.

The research seems to have eliminated these aspects of the problem.

Schwartz calls those who decide quickly, satisficers, meaning people who are satisfied with something that will suffice. He calls those who seek perfection, maximizers.

I find the terms to be less than satisfactory.

Bernstein summarizes the argument:

“The maximizer is kicking himself because he can’t examine every option and at some point had to just pick something,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Maximizers make good decisions and end up feeling bad about them. Satisficers make good decisions and end up feeling good.”

Dr. Schwartz says he found nothing to suggest that either maximizers or satisficers make bad decisions more often.

Satisficers also have high standards, but they are happier than maximizers, he says. Maximizers tend to be more depressed and to report a lower satisfaction with life, his research found.

The older you are, the less likely you are to be a maximizer—which helps explain why studies show people get happier as they get older.

“One of the things that life teaches you is that ‘good enough’ is almost always good enough,” Dr. Schwartz says. “You learn that you can get satisfaction out of perfectly wonderful but not perfect outcomes.”

It would certainly be nice to live in a world where everyone makes good decisions. And yet, one suspects that someone who possesses a wealth of human experience can make quicker good decisions than can someone who is young and naive.

Of course, there might be other reasons why older people are, on the whole, happier than younger people. Some researchers believe that older people are less narcissistic, less self-involved, less self-important and thus more likely to have better relationships with friends and acquaintances.

Being less narcissistic might also mean that your instincts are more attuned to the situation at hand.

On the joys of experience, Anna North quotes Oliver Sachs:

My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.

And yet, what happens when two young people, people who are likely to be less experienced, are faced with the need to choose a spouse.

Should they make a quick decision, thinking that the person is good enough or should they take their time, contemplate the modalities and wait to find the One?

Do you think that someone who chooses quickly will be making as good a decision as will someone who chooses slowly?

Does the level of satisfaction depend, in part or on the whole on expectations? When someone chooses slowly perhaps he is more happy because he does not expect perfection in his mate?

If age and experience matter, we must note that young people are young and relatively inexperienced in these matters. How can they ensure that they are making a good decision on a matter of such vital importance?

They might seek out and respect the advice of someone older and wiser, someone who cares about them more than anyone else… a parent.


Ares Olympus said...

I wonder how much is related to our skill sets? The more sophisticated you are, the more you can optimize.

I learned I was a "maximizer" when I learned to read maps, like at age 4!? Google map has almost replaced my old skill, but really it just makes it faster to see what the best choices are, so perfection here is within reach.

I learned my female cousin was NOT a maximizer. One summer I helped her on a field trip for her class, and we had two destinations, so she drove about 10 miles to the first destination, and then headed back to the school to get to her second destination, which was about 7 miles away from the school, but a mere 3 miles from the first destination.

This drove me crazy when I understood her plan, and I tried to give her directions how to get between destination 1 and destination 2 without retreating to the start, but she was practicing her assertiveness skills, and said she could find her own way.

Really I learned the world doesn't end if you drive kids on a fieldtrip 34 miles instead of 21 miles, and getting lost has higher costs, especially on a single expedition that doesn't need to be optimized.

Perhaps my "maximizier" desires are also related to using a bicycle for personal transportation? Going 13 miles of of my way is a biggest cost on a bike than a car.

Or maybe I just learned some people, especially women, have no mental intuition with visualizing travel by maps.

Meanwhile, I can play a classic male, usually not asking directions when I'm unsure, but if I do, my verbal memory stops a 3 steps, so I'd rather know "about 3 miles north west" and fake the details than trust in my ability to remember and recognize streets and landmarks to get to an unknown destination.

So, by my lack of verbal skills, I'm a Satisficers in regards to directions, keep it simple or you're not going to help me!

Sam L. said...

Well, perfection is the enemy of the good.

Annnnnd, there's no point in buying something now, because there'll be something better available in 6 months and it'll be cheaper in a year, and....

David Foster said...

Well, you can't optimize all variables at once, in almost any situation. If you spend 60 hours analyzing what car to buy, you have 60 hours less to spend on something else--analyzing your investment portfolio, for example. If you choose a spouse based on breast size or income, you will be sacrificing other variables, maybe kindness or sense of humor.

See my post about Hunting the Five-Pound Butterfly:


Lastango said...

The article says that "satisficers", who make quick decisions, are happy with "good enough".

I have a different take. IMO, they are quick to adopt, and quick to drop their past choices. Satisficers are not hung up on poor choices because they know by experience they can shrug these off and move on to the next choice. Bought the wrong car, or just got tired of it? Dump it after three years, take the depreciation hit, and buy something else. Buy now, pay later. Don't worry, be happy.

I'm reminded of the conversation between narrator Nick and Jordan Baker in the Great Gatsby:


"You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

“Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.”

“I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”

Her gray, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires...

Dennis said...

Thought you might enjoy this: http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/embattled-house-democrats-turn-against-nancy-pelosi-20141008
The included video is interesting.