The Deciding Factor: Stop Indecisiveness and Kick the "What If" Habit

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Maximizers vs. Satisficers

There's a lot to be said for having choices, of course -- especially for women. "I would never want to go back to the 1950s, when the career choices for women were so narrow as to be almost nonexistent," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. "Indeed, people who live in countries characterized by freedom, democracy, and equal rights are happier than those who don't."

Dr. Schwartz agrees, maintaining that added choice has afforded us the ability to determine who and what we want to be -- essential, he says, "to well-being, both moral and physical." The mistake is believing that if some choice is good, more choice is even better. "That was a reasonable assumption when you were moving from no choice to some choice," says Dr. Schwartz, "but we know now that a point is reached where the correlation between choice and happiness starts to reverse itself."

In other words, an overabundance of choice has created some negative side effects. For starters, it has turned many of us into "maximizers," decision-science jargon for people convinced that there's a perfect choice out there among all the options available. Maximizers expend vast amounts of time and energy researching a decision and are usually inordinately disappointed when, inevitably, the final choice fails to be "perfect" after all. Research has shown that maximizers are less happy than their opposites, whom Dr. Schwartz calls "satisficers" -- people who weigh a limited number of options and are content with a "good enough" decision.

But even if you're not a maximizer, the abundance of choices can raise your blood pressure by gobbling up that most precious of commodities, time. While it makes sense to deliberate at length over a life-altering decision, too often minor matters tie us up for hours. "People think the Internet has solved the time problem because you don't leave your house," says Dr. Schwartz. "But say you sit down at your computer to buy a toaster. Before you know it, you've blown three hours looking at dozens of Web sites for a single toaster."

Continued on page 3:  The Trade-Offs of Choosing


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