Was It Satisficing?
Satisficing is when we make a “good enough” decision by selecting the first feasible choice. It isn’t necessarily the best choice, just a viable choice. Nobel laureate economist Herbert Simon came up with the term by combining satisfy and suffice. In essence, satisficing is a defense mechanism. We just want to get the decision over with.
When do we make satisficing decisions? All the time. “Good enough” works for low-value decisions because the time to properly analyze your choices isn’t worth the effort. That’s when a good enough choice is good enough.
The problem is we also make satisficing decisions when the stakes are high and the pressure is on. There are triggers that activate our propensity to make satisficing decisions. I call them momentary lapses of reason. They are…
When we have too little information
When we are overwhelmed with too much information
When we are under time pressure
When we are emotionally aroused
When are afraid
When we are mentally, physically, or emotionally fatigued.
These triggers throw us into autopilot thinking, which is full of biases, fallacies and mistakes. Our best defense, of course, is awareness. First, we must recognize when we are experiencing a momentary lapse of reason; and, then we must accept that we are prone to make a satisficing decision that might not be in our best interest. For important decisions, good enough is not enough.
Here are a few strategies to consider when you feel the need to satisfice a high-value decision:
Too little information: You could take the time to gather enough information to make an informed decision, but we simply don’t have the time to become experts at everything. So, seek advice from an expert (or multiple experts). For example, when I have a serious plumbing problem, I call a plumber because I neither have the time nor desire to become an expert at plumbing.
Too much information: This leads to analysis paralysis. When we’re not sure what to analyze, we become mentally paralyzed. The solution is to determine the single most important factor to you and make your decision based on that one factor.
Time pressure: Is the deadline real, artificial or imagined? If the deadline is artificial or imagined, buy more time. If it is real, chances are you have too little information or too much information to make a quick decision. See the strategies above for those conditions.
Emotional arousal: Do we make sound decisions when we are angry, sad, or joyous? What about when we are madly in love? Rarely. We are not in the state of mind to think clearly or listen to the advice of others. There is very little rational thought involved in a crime of passion or an action occurring under temporary insanity. The solution is to sleep on it. Emotions are temporary. In time, your momentary lapse of reason will pass and rational thinking will return (well, for most of us).
Fear: Fear is a powerful, primal emotion. It is so powerful, it get’s its own momentary lapse of reason designation. When we are afraid, our instinct is… fight or flight. These are not ideal conditions for rational thought. And when we are afraid, it can feel like all the other momentary lapses of reason combined.
Here is the antidote: Identify what you’re actually afraid of. There are really only five fear categories: death, injury, loss of control, rejection and humiliation. We are unable to rationalize when we are in our fear-based autopilot thinking mode. However, when we associate our fear with one of these categories, we activate our analytical thinking system, which is necessary to make a rational decision. It won’t alleviate your fear or turn off your panic-ridden autopilot thinking, but it might just initiate enough of your analytical thinking system to adequately rationalize.
Fatigue: Mental, physical, or emotional fatigue is a primary trigger to satisficing. As I mentioned in my April 26 post, it is such a powerful influencer it is often used as an interrogation technique to lure suspects into a confession (guilty or not), because we just want to get it over with. Like emotional arousal, the best course of action is to sleep on it. If you don’t have that luxury, call a lawyer.