A long time ago, I read about the difference between maximizers and satisficers. As I understand it (which may be incomplete or just plain wrong, I’ll admit), a maximizer is someone who always needs to find the perfect answer for something, and a satisficer is someone who determines a level that is “good enough,” and just seeks to attain that. I was moved by this description, and I committed to becoming a satisficer in some ways. I succeeded in doing this in terms of the purchases I make. There are so many options today, so many choices. If you were in the market for a new washing machine, for instance, there are so many brands to choose from, so many models, so many styles, so many options. On first glance, all this choice looks like a good thing. But in reality, it can cause us a significant amount of stress. So many choices can paralyze us, especially if we feel beholden to finding the perfect or best item for us. There are so many reviews to read, so many technical specifications to compare, so many options and differences to weigh, and then a powerful sense of buyer’s remorse if the one you choose doesn’t immediately bring you all the satisfaction you expected. A maximizer would do as much research as possible, and make sure to purchase the absolute best washing machine for themselves, at the best price available. A satisficer would determine what they were actually looking for in a washer, what the minimum bells, whistles, and efficiency were, and what they considered a reasonable price. Then, once they found a washer that fit all those criteria, they’d just buy it, and not worry about it beyond there.
I’ve succeeded in becoming a shopping satisficer, and I’m happy about that. I don’t have as much stress about major purchases as I used to. Even the car I currently drive: I put about two hours of research into it. Consumer Reports said it was really good. It had what I was looking for. The price was in my budget. That was enough for me. I went out and bought it the next day. It hasn’t been a perfect car for me, but I’m happy enough with it.
What I’d like to become now is a self-satisficer. What I mean by that is that I would like to stop demanding perfection from myself, and start being satisfied with my actions and thoughts as they are. I would like to learn to accept that I don’t have to always do the best, most ideal, and most perfect thing. We talked in therapy about the idea of paralysis by analysis, which refers to what can happen when we spend all our time trying to figure out all the angles, trying to analyze all the data, trying to make only the perfect choices every time. That sounds to me like what can result from being a “self-maximizer.” On the other hand, a self-satisficer would try to make good choices, wise choices, but not necessarily perfect choices.
I have been a self-maximizer, and it has caused me a lot of pain. In my case, it’s been less about paralysis by analysis before making a decision, and more about the rumination that happens afterward. I so often have serious buyer’s remorse with my own behavior. Why did I do that? Why did I say that? I should have known better. This remorse leads to guilt, which leads to shame, which leads to misery. I am my own Monday morning quarterback, my own backseat driver, my own comment section. I really want to find a way out of this, a way to stop being a backside self-maximizer. That actually sounds a little dirty.
Anyway, another thing we talked about at therapy was the importance of always doing your best. At first, I was scared of that phrase, because I assumed it meant that you always have to be at your best, and always have to make the absolute best choice. My first thought was that this was just more reason to be a self-maximizer, making sure you can always make the perfect choice. Interesting that I interpret “your best” as perfect, isn’t it? I think I’ve been this way since childhood. I was a really smart kid, and a lot of things came easy to me. As a child, I found that I had no patience for the things that I did find difficult. If I couldn’t master it immediately, I wanted nothing to do with it. I think maybe I was scared of failing at anything. And I don’t think that fear has fully gone away. I have very high expectations for myself – it has to be perfect, or I’m miserable. I don’t have this same expectation for others – I’m usually okay with other people making mistakes, but my own? No. Absolutely not.
But I learned in therapy that that’s not what always doing your best means. It means do the best you can at the time. Which means, do the best you can given the current information you have. It means, do the best you can considering your current health and state of mind. It means, do the best you can with what you currently have.
Which then means, when looking back on what you did, consider the context. When I look back on my own actions, my own choices, did I know everything then that I know now? Probably not. How was I doing emotionally at the time? Perhaps not so well. Was I being pressed into a decision? Were there any other factors to consider? Given all these questions, there’s a good chance that my best at the time wasn’t perfect. Not to mention the fact that the equation “my best = perfect” is hogwash. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, and I don’t have to expect myself to be.
If I can become a self-sastificer, then I’ll be able to recognize that more clearly, and be much more able to give myself grace when I do something wrong.