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How Choosing the Right Decision- Making Style Affects Your Well-Being


The Paradox of Choice
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It’s safe to use “kiasu” now. It’s mainstream. The last I checked it is in Macmillan and Oxford. You don’t owe anyone the “my bad.” You can even be smirky.

It’s a bland word. A blend of words. Of two Chinese words. Hokkien dialect, to be specific. ‘Kia’ is fear. ‘Su’ is lose. Kiasu. It’s a word synonymous with the Singapore culture. Loosely labelled as “the Singapore mentality.”

” The must grab it, don’t settle for second best attitude.” Whether it’s queueing long hours for a cheap novelty or blocking out your clear chance to overtake in the traffic, it’s the manifestation of “the Singapore mentality.”

‘Kiasu’ describes the fear mentality. The constant fear of losing out. Fear of getting less than the best. We lazily dismiss it as the Singapore mentality, but it is a widespread malaise.

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It’s the unhappy dis-ease. The attitude short circuits your neural connections to happiness. The proposition that this state of mind is a problem seems so counter-intuitive to popular self-helpism. The whole idea of not going for the best seems to go against the grain of a world which only notices and remembers the best. Nobody gives a gold to the also ran. Very few can remember who is runner-up. Only serious students of the genre can name names of those who ran but not on the podium.  

Two researchers have found that going for the best is not always the best for you. A happier alternative, these mental mentors say, is to accept good enough. Really? Acceptable is the new superior? Contemplating on this new-think may trigger a mental riot.

Okay, don’t reach for the Prozac yet. But is good enough really good enough to make you happy? This is a question so tempting that a doctoral candidate and a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University decided to peer into the mind of the people who’s every quest is for the best and that of the people who accept what’s acceptable.  They wanted to find out who’s happier, people who settle for only the best or those who accept good enough.

Credit goes to Jingjing Ma and marketing professor, Neal Roese who findings should save many from the gnawing of regrets and the pang of dissatisfaction. I think it will be a hard sell. Anything that appeals to the children of ego; such as greed and self-centeredness is hard to repeal. Trust me, I am human.

Ma and Roese conducted seven experiments. With loads of people. To assess the impact of “The Maximizing Mindset” on human well-being and happiness. Maximizing mindset is a mental state describing the persistent pursuit of the objective best.

Maximizers. Nothing other than the objective best, for these people. They won’t opt for any other options. They go only for the best mo.

Ma and Roese argue that your single-minded interest in only the best, may not be to your best interest. How does that work out? Try as I may, I can’t rock with Tina Turner singing, “You’re simply the Good Enough.” Equal to all the rest. It’s hard to get into the groove.

How’s that the best narrative; “His gramp sat him down and said, “Son, don’t aim for the best. Take good enough. It’s the better choice.” And, his mama seconded. How about this for a tagline; “Why work so hard to provide the best for your family when you can give them good enough?”

But you can’t argue with scientific research. This is what Ma and Roese found after seven experiments, putting many people through the maximizing mindset loops, “…and this mindset can have negative effects on the individuals’ psychological well-being, particularly when they do not get the best.”

Dr.Shahram Heshmat, writing in Psychology Today, offers a clear view of how those with maximizing mindset offset their initial win.

“Overall, maximizers achieve better outcomes than satisficers. For example, a study found that recent college graduates with high maximizing tendencies accepted jobs that paid 20% higher starting salaries than their satisficing peers. Despite higher salaries, however, these maximizing students were less satisfied with the jobs they accepted. Why? Once maximizers have made a choice, they are likely to second guess themselves and wonder whether they could have made a better choice. They are more prone to making social comparisons in order to gauge the optimality of their decisions.

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    So, how does maximizing minimize your psychological wellbeing?

-Acting with the maximizing mindset, predominantly in material purchases, increases chances and the intensity of regrets and dissatisfaction with your choices. This means that you will be in the state of unhappy more and more unhappy when you are in that negative state.

-You’ll foster a tendency to compare a lot. One of the roots of your dissatisfaction. There is always a better product. You tend to make upward comparison. It evolves into social comparison. There is always someone getting better. Or just better. Than you. A recipe for slow boil unhappiness. A signal for cortisol the stress hormone to invade your body. Slowly, unabated, you will develop an affinity for Prozac.

-You’ll put a lot more effort, meaning time and energy into searching to find the objective best. This investment will result in greater disappointment and dissatisfaction, if after the decision, you are not so sure that what you’ve got is the best.

-You might delay decision making to ascertain your target is the absolute best. Procrastination might steal your chance of pouncing on the best. You might be consumed by FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), triggering a prolonged episode of feeling stressed and dissatisfaction.

-You’ll return products more. And, switch brands more. You’ll do more to be more unhappy. Subconsciously, you will probably doubt your ability to make good decisions. Constantly in a limbo, unable to decide.

-You’ll probably pay more to be unhappy more. Best means more expensive. Not just in dollars but also in sense. Mind your maximizing ways or you’ll be heading in the wrong direction. As far as your psychological wellbeing is concerned.

-This is the crazy caveat. “The maximizing mindset is situationally activated and has cross domain consequences [in your life].” This means that the mindset can leave a bad aftertaste, sometimes literally, in the other parts of your life. Such as your taste for food and style. Your relationships. Your job.

Hooked on the maximizing mindset and your life will be dancing all day long with Mick Jagger’s 1960’s hit, “I Can’t Get No….” Maximizers are found to harbor a scarcity mindset amidst abundant choices. They have eyes for only the best, which is a very thin margin of options, if any.

To end on a happy note, I have two pieces of good stuff to share from Neale Roese and Ma Jinjing. The researchers found that by default, we are satisficers. We are the contented. Happier and optimistic more often.

Herbert Simon, the American political scientist is credited as the first to discover this, as published in

According to Herbert Simon, people tend to make decisions by satisficing (a combination of sufficing and satisfying) rather than optimizing (Simon, 1956). Decisions are often simply good enough in light of the costs and constraints involved. As a heuristic, satisficing individuals will choose options that meet basic decision criteria. A focus on satisficing can be used by choice architects when decision makers are prone to procrastination (Johnson et al., 2012).

HR Zone describes the satisficing mindset:

“Satisficing is a decision-making choice based on making decisions that reach an acceptability standard. The word is a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice and refers to a form of compromise. It differs from optimal decision-making, which is concerned with finding the best solution available and is more resource-intensive.

When making decisions using satisficing, the first decision that achieves the desired outcome may be picked despite the potential drawbacks. When trying to make an optimal decision, the decision-making process would be continued in order to mitigate the drawbacks. Note, however, that most decision can are not truly optimal (i.e. superior to all others) because all they are made on incomplete information and thus its superiority can’t be accurately judged.

Satisficing theory was developed by American political scientist Herbert A. Simon in 1956, although the idea is a decade or so older. Simon said that human beings do not have the cognitive capacity to optimise, such as understanding probability theory and risk and also that our memories are dysfunctional in recall. Lack of information is also a boundary to optimisation, and in many cases – especially at the organisational level – we have to make decisions based on incomplete data.”

Satisficers are happy with ‘good enough.’ But we are no pushovers. We know what we want. As long as our criteria are met, we are happy campers. Just be careful. Satisficers can become Maximizers. We can be spun into trance of the unhappy if we adopt the kiasu spirit.

Triggers are being planted everywhere to get more money out of your pocket. Through the traditional and social media, urging you; “Don’t settle. Get the Best!” At the malls, you are surrounded by product collaterals. Everyone positioning their products as the best you deserve. At retail outlets. Throwing everything at you. Myriad choices. Close alternatives. So many tempting mirages. Trying to lure you into the abyss of the maximizing mindset.

  It’s karmic exchange. You suffer. They suffer. More product returns. More brand switches. More dissatisfied customers. But for you, it is more dangerous. The maximizing habit is carried over to the other domains of your life.

The Pardox of Choice
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The other piece of comfort is that the maximizing madness is triggered mostly by material purchase situations. Researchers found that you are safe from getting hooked on the maximizing spell when buying experience such as signing up for a trip, watching a movie or sharing a dinner. Although, if you are already on the maximizing dance, the rhythm might rub off on your experiential purchases. You may not enjoy that dinner as much as a satisficer would.

The antidote to the venom from the maximizing mindset is the “practical why” you are making the material purchase. Buy when you need, choose by the utility criteria and snuff out the fire of ego. Don’t entertain the marketing tricks and the poison infused treats.

Be contented. Just get a fair shake. Best is not a fair measurement. It is fiction fueled by marketing magicians. Fit for use is a safe ideal to pursue.

I hope this article is good enough to save you from the clutches of the happiness sucking monster, also known as the maximizing mindset. If you enjoyed reading this piece, please share it with 10 friends. That’s Good Enough. Go ahead. Do it. Don’t miss this opportunity to do some good. Be a kiasu. Just this once. Thank you.

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