Finding the Suboptimal in Life

A maximizer’s journey to satisficer

Thank you Ximena Vengoechea for aptly depicting my life

I am starting a newsletter called “Intentionally Suboptimal” to document my efforts to train myself to be a satisficer.

You can subscribe here:

In 2016, I am training myself on an intangible yet pervasive part of my life: rethinking my perpetual quest to find the optimum. I am rewiring my maximizing brain. Why?

Because satisficers are happier.

“Maximizers are people who want the very best. Satisficers are people who want good enough,” says Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice.”

My parents say I have high expectations; society says I am an entitled millennial; and positive psychology says I am a maximizer. Despite my best efforts to make the best decisions in every scenario, I remain constantly dissatisfied with the outcomes, even when they turn out fine.

In theory, it’s great to maximize. You optimize for the very best, analyzing all possible permutations of outcomes to ensure you get the most positive while forgoing the negative. However, tradeoffs are inevitable and a maximizer tries to minimize tradeoffs as much as possible. When it comes to applying this mindset to every decision in your life though, it becomes exhausting.

A maximizer lives in constant FOMO (fear of missing out), both real and perceived FOMO. I want to live in JOMO (joy of missing out) instead.

Studies show satisficers are happier than maximizers. Maximizers make good decisions but end up feeling bad about them whereas satisficers make good decisions faster and feel good about them. Maximizers spend exorbitantly more time making a decision, dissecting every aspect, and weighing them against each other. This function of effort to unsatisfactory outcome creates constant dissatisfaction in one’s decision. We maximizers feel bad about our decision because we net the collective loss of options into a greater perceived opportunity cost than actual loss.

Side note: as an anxious person, making a decision is how I cope with uncertainty. I approach uncertainty like an investor by hedging. Sometimes I go as far as hedging my bets to diversify my positive outcomes in different scenarios, which becomes exhausting. Imagine applying this to dating, apartment hunting, and job searching. It is taxing. My anxiety is what drives me to hedge and maximize which becomes a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction.

My maximizing tendencies are sabotaging my happiness and this needs to change.

For as long as I could remember, I have always wanted more, strived for more, and expected more out of myself and to a fault, sometimes in others. My maximizing mindset is what has gotten me this far, but it is also an inner demon that drives me forward and torments me inside.

I am the person who makes an Excel sheet during every job search. I have an Excel sheet called “Badass Bo” with columns of each variable I am looking for in a job. I fill the spreadsheet with all my options and stack rank everything. For some reason, listing out all my options makes me feel better about my decision-making. Looking at my spreadsheet helps me weigh the qualitative and quantitative aspects of my decision. Ultimately, I go into analysis paralysis and have to make a gut decision, which is ironic.

How I breakdown my decision-making process

This behavior isn’t limited to major life decisions like deciding on the next step of my career, but also in everyday purchasing decisions. I read every Amazon review for each household item I buy. I consult blogs like the Wirecutter whose sole mission is to identify the best ______ on the internet. I constantly agonize over purchasing decisions in fear of buying something inferior.

Society rewards me for maximizing. We are fed the concept of “the best”, the next premium feature, the notion of “more” is engrained in us from a young age. I’m starting to question if “more” is necessarily “better”. The rise of Yelp and how we can’t have ordinary meals anymore — every opportunity to eat needs to be fully taken advantage of — is a manifestation of maximizing in everyday life.

I hope you join me in this journey to become a satisficer. I am going to run some weird social experiments on myself, read a lot of positive psychology books, confront my innermost demons, and blog in my newsletter. 2016 is going to be a year of newsletters. Count my word.

And the hardest thing is facing yourself. It’s easier to shout ‘Revolution’ and ‘Power to the people’ than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what’s real inside you and what isn’t, when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. That’s the hardest one. — John Lennon

I make no promises that I will change from a maximizer to a satisficer. As one friend pointed out training myself to be a satisficer is a maximizing thing to do. Oh well…

— bo



Product-focused investor empowering underestimated founders. Writer. Advisor.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Bo Ren

Product-focused investor empowering underestimated founders. Writer. Advisor.