Why It’s Difficult for Me to Make Decisions

It’s 12 am. Chrome illuminates my laptop screen as my girlfriend sleeps next to me in the bed. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 tabs sit flush across the top of my browser window, each with only the favicon visible — Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Costco, hhgregg. I’m shopping for a new TV, along with other furniture for our new apartment, but those tabs are in another browser window. I’ve been shopping for this TV for the past week or two. I’m on the hunt for the best quality for the best price. I can’t afford those new 4K TVs, but I’ve been looking at those anyway. I need bang for my buck. The amount of tabs I have open is enough for me to slam my laptop shut in frustration and lay there in the dark, head spinning with decisions. But, it’s all in the name of research. I’m just exploring all my options before I commit, like I always do.

Hi, my name is Clayton and I am a maximizer.

I have this innate sense (though one can argue learned) to always search for the best of the best. It doesn’t matter what it is — material products, services, restaurants, food, airline tickets, apartments, even careers. I hate the idea of settling for something less, so I do my research until I can’t stand looking at my computer screen. I’ve lived my life like this for as long as I can remember and I never thought much of it until I heard the mention of the term “maximize” on a podcast I was listening to.

The podcast, Radio Motherboard, was touching on the subject of modern dating. According to their guest Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and co-author of Modern Romance (along with Aziz Ansari), young people today are maximizers when it comes to dating, because of the sheer amount of options and the ease of access to these options — think Tinder, OkCupid, Match, etc. This concept intrigued me. Not the modern dating discussion (though it’s a great listen), but the fact that I could relate so well to being someone who has the luxury of a gazillion options, yet the inability to make a decision.

But, what exactly is a maximizer? A quick Google search turned up an article called “Field Guide to the Maximizer” that put it all into perspective. This is the moment that I decided I was a maximizer.

The Definition

In short, a maximizer is a perfectionist — someone who always tries to make the best decision possible to avoid making the wrong one. They spend extensive amounts of time researching and comparing all possible options, which causes psychological effects such as regret, self-blame, and reduced commitment (three feelings I am very familiar with).

Furthermore, I would consider modern day maximizers a product of the digital age. The Internet is a maximizer’s bane — think of it as alcohol to an alcoholic. It renders decision making much harder by providing an endless amount of options and the ability to jump from one to the next, weighing every aspect of your ideal anything. This, coupled with the multitudes of devices and technologies at our fingertips enabling access to anything from anywhere, it’s never been easier to pick up the habit of maximizing.

Evaluate, analyze, over think. Maximizing leaves more room for error — to make the decision you may have been trying to avoid.

Needless to say, I’m a product of the digital age. Most people my age are. Granted, I know there are people out there who are not maximizers in the least bit. These people make satisfactory decisions from a limited pool of options and tend to choose what is convenient and appeals to them most at the moment. As long as it serves its purpose, they’re happy. Psychologists call them satisficers. But for me, I always do my homework — even once I’ve made my choice, I still have second thoughts like, “Damn. I should have ordered the burger over the chicken fillet,” and “maybe I should have bit the bullet and bought that LG TV instead. What’s $100 extra?”

Pro tip: material items are a bit easier to maximize because they usually have a return policy.

Regardless of all the frustrations of my indecisive personality, I’ve always thought of this tendency as more of a virtue, which I learned is another characteristic of a maximizer. I saw it as calculating patience, rather than tiring indecision. My mom always says, “Good things come to those who wait,” but after learning what a maximizer is, I definitely have a clearer distinction between patience and maximizing.

The Effect

In my research, I stumbled across the topic of “decision fatigue,” in which a person makes too many consecutive decisions, impairing his/her ability to make the next one. It’s a quirky issue that hinders productivity, even experienced by our own Commander in Chief. Maximizers suffer from this as a side effect of an overload of options. I like to call it “indecision fatigue,” because I don’t make any real decisions. I mentally tire myself by weighing too many options until I finally choose one, only to regret it later.

At the age of 24, I’m realizing how much I can annoy myself. Why is it so hard for me to make a simple decision? Why do I do this to myself? I’ve asked this question so many times and I’m always met with pretty much the same answer.

The Solution(s)

Just stop worrying about irrelevant things — like buying the best leak-proof water bottle that won’t condensate on my desk (go for double-walled). I should use that energy to focus on more important things, like my career, although it’s one big indecisive mess at the moment.

To remedy this, I’ve come up with a few guidelines to improve my decision making skills:

  • Lower expectations. Understand that nothing is perfect and that there will always be downfalls and compromises to make. You’ll never be able to explore every single option. Be grateful for what you have.
  • Minimize options. Limit the amount of sources you visit when looking for something new. Don’t scour Google, and set a time limit for how long you can ponder the available options.
  • Be more spontaneous. Follow your gut. If you want it, go for it. If it works for you, great, if it doesn’t, try something new. Really can’t decide? Flip a coin, play rock paper scissors, eni meni mini mo — take it back to elementary school, when life was simpler.
  • Don’t read the reviews. Stick to the high level ratings. Reviews can be traumatizing. In my own experience, one bad review is enough to trump at least 5 good reviews. If you’re looking for something on Amazon, filter the highest rated, and choose the very first result (with Prime shipping of course).
  • Simplify. Get into routines. Stick with what you know is going to be good. Only try something new if you’re not satisfied with what you had before.

I can’t say for sure if following these guidelines will change the way I make decisions, but I’m hoping for a gradual decrease in the anxiety I feel when making one. It feels like I’m hardwired to be this way, especially when the vast option paradise known as the Internet is just a click away. But, I’m making a conscious effort to let go of the habit, and if you can personally relate to what I’ve been saying, I suggest you give it a try as well. Life is already hard enough, there’s no need to make it any harder for ourselves.

For the record, after weeks of research, comparison, and price hunting, I finally settled on a Vizio 55” e-series smart HDTV from Best Buy. I purchased it for $575.09 with the reassurance of a 15 day trial period. So far so good. I’m very happy with it especially for the price I paid. But I’m keeping the box for the next 15 days, just in case I come across something a little more…promising.

This article was featured in The Coffeelicious.

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