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Maximizers and satisficers

Feb 5, 2012

Maximizers try to figure out the very best of all the options available to them.  This can be exhausting if, for instance, you're choosing a new computer, especially a PC. There are just too many different options to choose from.  Even choosing one of the many types of coffee at Starbucks is a major decision-making effort.

A satisficer, on the other hand, chooses something that he considers good enough. It doesn’t have to be the best possible choice.

Here’s a great way to distinguish a maximizer from a satisficer. You’re listening to the radio and find a station playing a song you like. Do you stay with that station and enjoy the song, or do you continue to search other stations because there might be another song on that you like more? The maximizer has the urge to keep looking.

Maximizers often make objectively good choices as the result of their efforts seeking lots of information before deciding. But compared to satisficers, they're less likely to enjoy the results of their decision. In fact people who are at the extreme of maximizer scales are prone to depression. Satisficers are usually happier and more satisfied with their lives.

You may be thinking, "doesn't it make sense to be a maximizer for some things in life, and a satisficer for others"?  Absolutely.  The last car I bought was an inexpensive Toyota Scion.  I liked the look and knew it would last.  I didn't spend a lot of time choosing.  (OK, I did test drive a mini cooper).  But when it came to buying a particular piece of scientific equipment, I spent a lot of time finding out about the pros and cons of different brands.  In the end, I still didn't have enough information to make a perfect decision -- we almost never do. If you have the flexibility to look for the best option in some situations and a good option in others, you're probably not extreme in either direction.  Extreme maximizers try to maximize even when the stakes are low.  It's just the way they are.


  1. Jon, this post is spot on for me. I've been a maximizer all my life and it sucks! Sometimes I find myself at the grocery store just paralyzed with indecision at which tomato sauce to buy. Or do I get tomatoes and make my own? (This is why I have my husband do the shopping!)

    It also reminded me of Plath's The Bell Jar, specifically this part about indecision:

    "I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

    Let's hope I don't stand in one place agonizing so long that I starve in my fig tree!

  2. I know the first thing I'm going to do when I get in the car is try to determine whether I'm a maximizer or a satisficer now.

    This reminds me of your articles on promotion vs. prevention focus. I'll bet there is a coorilation between the two attitude types. I'll bet maximizers tend to be more prevention focused people.

    See Jon. I'm getting a free City College Education (sort of) just from reading your blog. :)

  3. I think you're right, Att, that maximizer's probably tend to have prevention focus.

    I guess the question would be - What is the motivation behind maximizing? I'll bet that for many, the motivation is to avoid 'losing out' on possible better alternatives. And in that case, it would be prevention focus. They'd be trying to minimize losses - and in this case any 'better' options that they don't choose would be considered a loss.

    It could be that some people maximize because they are so strongly motivated to get 'rewards' that are even better than the one they're currently considering, with the focus on maximizing gains rather than 'missing out' -- so maybe you could be motivated by promotion focus.

    Anyhow your idea is right on target. You get an A. :)

  4. I'll try that right now, Jon... I've been stressing over my next book cover to try and get it perfect, but I need to say "it's good enough." Ugh, I'm going to blame my high school teacher for making us memorize that Edgar Guest poem "Good Enough":
    It's plagued me my whole life!

  5. Moana, I just followed your link and read that blasted poem by
    Edgar Guest.

    I'll put the first few lines here, for anyone that's reading comments here:

    My son, beware of “good enough,”
    It isn't made of sterling stuff;
    It's something any man can do,
    It marks the many from the few,
    It has no merit to the eye,
    It's something any man can buy,
    It's name is but a sham and bluff,
    For it is never “good enough.” ...

    I can see how that idea could lurk within. I just looked up Edgar Guest in Wikipedia, and see that poet Dorothy Parker once wrote this 2 line poem:

    I'd rather flunk my Wasserman test/
    Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest.

    The Wasserman test was a blood test for syphilis.

    So if you decide to tell Edgar Guest to go to hell, you're in good company.

  6. I have some recently developed sensitivity to attempts to manipulate me. All this admonition against "good enough" or mediocrity sets off my "allergy." It makes it even worse that I'm naturally like that and it can be crippling and takes up way too much of my time, I don't need people encouraging something I need to put the brakes on. So I'm already agreeing with calling it that blasted poem without even reading it all the way through. Plus if my girl Dorothy Parker wasn't a fan I don't need to hear much more.