How to Make Difficult Decisions Without Regret

I have a friend who spends an agonizing amount of research on almost every major purchase he makes. Once, he spent six months researching leather sectionals before finally settling on the “perfect” one. Car shopping? Forget it. He starts years in advance.

Of course, he’s not alone. Like my sweet, meticulous friend, there are loads of people who belabor big decisions. They are what scientists call maximizers, people who suffer from F.O.B.O: Fear of Better Options. In business, maximizers can be a company’s greatest asset or its biggest liability — they can stunt growth, block innovation or gum up the works in negotiations.

Whether it stems from a need for control or the fear of making a bad decision, maximizers relentlessly research all possibilities lest they miss out on the “best” deal or outcome. The irony, of course, is that maximizers can never achieve an ideal outcome because it’s impossible to investigate all possible options before making a decision. And while maximizers tend to make better decisions, they also tend to be less satisfied with those decisions because they feel there are still better options to be had. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at Swathmore College shows that maximizers regret their decisions and second-guess themselves more than their quick-choosing counterparts, the satisficers.

So if you’re a maximizer, how do you keep from falling down a rabbit hole of choices that saps you of precious time and energy without feeling you’re missing out on something better? The trick is to ask yourself these key questions.

1. What are your must-haves?

When making a decision, what are the conditions that need to be met or the features that need to exist for you to be satisfied? What are your absolute must-haves?

When my friend was researching his options for leather sectionals, for instance, size and color were his nonnegotiables. He wanted a piece that both fit comfortably in his living room and matched the room’s decor. Price, while a consideration, was not as important as these other two requirements.

When you can narrow down your must-haves, your decision making process will be less laborious and time-consuming because you’ve identified what matters most to you.

2. Can you limit your choices?

There’s a reason why Steve Jobs famously wore his signature turtleneck and jeans to work almost everyday of his life. Jobs didn’t want to burden himself with small, routine decisions that consumed valuable mental energy. When it came to wardrobe, Jobs was not a maximizer; he was a pragmatist.

Because maximizers spend so much time and energy weighing their options, when the time comes to make complex decisions, they feel tapped out — mentally, physically and emotionally.

To avoid decision fatigue, do what Steve Jobs did and limit your choices.

3. Can you be OK with “good enough?”

Sometimes, you have to accept that you don’t have enough information, time or resources to make an optimal decision. There are deadlines you have to contend with, blindspots you have to navigate and constraints you have to deal with. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t make good decisions. It simply means you have to be okay with making a “good enough” decision.

Decide what “good enough” means to you and when you’ve reached that threshold, pull the trigger. A good-enough decision is better than no decision at all.

I’d love to hear from you: how you tackle tough choices? Do you consider yourself a maximizer or a satisficer? Let me know in the comments.