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Decisions And Willpower

2 Big Words and Your Willpower

It’s happened to all of us. You go to a big department store ready to buy one thing, determined that this time you’ll actually leave with just the item on your shopping list. While you walk through the first few aisles, although it’s tempting, you’re able to resist. You know you don’t need a crock pot that works underwater. You know you don’t need a pocket watch that speaks sign language- but you’re fascinated. What does that even mean? You walk through the store a bit more but sticking to your decisions and using your willpower becomes harder and harder. By the end of the trip, instead of just getting the six pack of batteries you came for, you leave with a six pack of batteries, new sheets, and three new limited edition flavored yogurts.

Why does this happen? Why does it get harder and harder to resist something the more we do it?

It’s because willpower is like a muscle. The more we use it, the more fatigued it becomes. Unlike real muscles though, it’s one that most of us actually exercise.

When we make decisions, we are exercising our willpower.

There are two types of decision making:


Maximizing is when you exhaust every option to find the best solution. If you’re trying to buy a laptop online so you search every store, sale, website, and coupon, until you find the absolute best deal. You’re thorough, and you don’t stop until you’re sure you’ve gotten the best one. While maximizing you are exhausting your willpower.


Satisficing is the opposite. It’s not shrugging your shoulders and buying the first laptop that comes up on Google, but satisficing is settling for “good enough”. If you were satisficing when looking for a laptop you’d look for one that matches a few key criteria. For example, you’d look for one that was a certain size, with a certain memory capacity, and below a certain price. Once you found one like that you’d buy it. It wouldn’t be the best or the cheapest, but it would be good enough. While satisficing you are using less willpower.

While the maximizer ends up with the better laptop, and the satisficer ends up with less stress.

Using either decision making principle to the detriment of its counterpart is not ideal. However, knowing which to employ when is best practices. People who maximize constantly in their decision making tend to be more financially successful, are generally more stressed, anxious, and pessimistic. People who satisfice more frequently are generally less financially successful, more optimistic, and calmer.

Balance maximizing and satisficing to enjoy the best of both worlds:

When to Maximize:

Maximizing is best for the big things in life. What job opportunity to take, who to marry, what apartment to live in, and where to enroll your kids or yourself in school. These kind of moments are ideal for maximizing. It’s a choice that will impact years or a lifetime, so it makes good sense to spend time thinking, researching, and choosing the option that will fulfill most of your needs and meet most of your expectations.

When to Satisfice:

If it’s not a decision that’s going to impact you a week from now, you’re probably better off satisficing. Whether it’s your outfit choice or where you’re going for lunch, take a few minutes to think about your decision and if there’s no clear best option, simply pick one that’s good enough. It’s not worth stressing out about the choices that aren’t going to impact you a few days from now. More often than not, with these day to day decisions, the difference between the “best” and “pretty good” won’t even effect the enjoyment you get out of it in the moment.

Remember: willpower is a precious resource. If you can avoid using it up on the smaller things in your day to day life, you’ll have more available when you need to focus on the choices that aggressively impact the quality of your life.

Learning when to maximize and when to satisfice is a skill worth acquiring. It will ultimately reduce your stress levels and increase contentment in the short term, while also affording you the extra dose of willpower to choose and decide when the steaks are higher.

For more talk on willpower, decisions, and personal development check out these articles and threads:

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Fay Brezel

Girl turned therapist, turned entrepreneur. Making the world a better place one venture at a time.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I love this article and the twist it employs on willpower. It’s also a great strategy use when making small but difficult decisions!

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