The Paradox of Choice

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My husband and I make decisions in very different ways. For me, it’s most important that I find the best possible option out there for me. Take our careers. During the last year of my undergrad I was constantly researching possibilities for my future. I contacted schools, talked to my professors, and constantly researched different avenues to find what would make me the most happy. I was so worried that deciding on one career type would mean that I would later find something better for me that I was missing out on. Even now as I work on my masters I can’t stop thinking about what the best PhD program will be for me.

My husband, on the other hand, had an idea of what he wanted to do and he went with it. He decided on a future career that would make him happy and found the best possible programs for achieving that end goal. His goals for his future have changed only slightly in the five years I’ve known him.  

According to psychologist Herbert A. Simon, my husband and I are examples of maximizers and satisficers.

Maximizing, and Satisficing.

Maximizers are perfectionists who feel the need to see every possible option before making a decision. While that may seem like the best way to make a choice, it can actually lead to a lot of anxiety and limited satisfaction when a decision is finally made.

Satisficers on the other hand have criteria and standards, but are not worried about the possibility that there might be something better later on. In comparison to maximizers, they generally have greater satisfaction in their decisions and much lower levels of anxiety.

How does this relate to dating?

With the development of technology, dating is a whole new ball game. All of us have literally hundreds of options for potential dates right at our fingertips thanks to online dating services. While that may seem like a wonderful thing, and in many ways it is, it can be a huge downfall. Knowing that there are hundreds of people out there can turn many of us into maximizers. We worry about finding the perfect person for us and struggle to commit once we find someone, due to the fear that someone somewhere will make us happier. Unfortunately, seeking for that perfect person can mean that we never find anyone perfect enough. Our standards constantly rise until we have an unrealistic list of traits that will never be filled.

With so many options, how will we ever make a choice?

American psychologist Barry Schwartz describes a strategy for most good decisions in his book The Paradox of Choice.  

  1. Figure out your goal or goals.

    Starting the search for a partner can begin with the question “what do I want?” This could be a list of traits that matter to you based on previous dating experiences. Without knowing what you want, making a decision is almost impossible.

  2. Evaluate the importance of each goal.

    Maybe it doesn’t matter so much that you’re dating the son or daughter of royalty, but someone who can make you laugh is something you really need. Look at your goals and decide which ones are most important, and which ones you can probably do without.

  3. Array the options.

    This is where you get out there and date! You will never be able to find an optimal partner, if you don’t get out and have fun meeting people. But remember to keep your dating goals in mind.

  4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals.

    If humor is of #1 importance to you, and you’re dating someone who cries all the time, it’s either time to reevalue your goals, or look for someone else.  Remember your priorities.  No dating partner will fulfill your entire wishlist but if someone hits your top 3 or 5 priorities, you may have a keeper.

  5. Pick the winning option.  

    Again, this is never going to be a perfect partner.  Instead, focus on a person who has strengths that you cherish and weaknesses that you can live with.  

  6. Modify goals.

    No matter how winning your option is, there will be things about your partner that you like less than the things you love. Modifying your expectations to accommodate to your partner will ensure that you feel confident and happy with your choice.


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Written by: Melece


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