Fear of Better Options (FOBO) is The Reason You Can’t Make a Tough Decision

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

The freedom of choice enhances feelings of autonomy, freedom and promotes one‘s sense of personal control.

But increased choice may actually be detrimental to decision-making.

Studies conducted by Iyengar and Lepper (1999, 2000) found that those provided with fewer options in a decision-making task derived greater satisfaction from their decision outcomes.

According to research, the “fear of better options”, a phenomenon also called “maximization” is the relentless pursuit of all possible options for fear that you’ll miss out on the “best” one, leading to indecision, frustration, stress, regret, and unhappiness.

When we face too many attractive choices, we feel anxious about missing out.

Many peole are terrified of missing out on anything that looks exciting.

It’s paradoxical.

It’s perfectly normal to strive for a better option.

But when you are obsessed with everything you are missing or will miss when you make a a decision, will constantly be in the state of indecision.

In some cases, maximizers tend to make better decisions, but they are less satisfied with those decisions than are people who make quicker ones based on less research (those people are called satisficers).

You’ll never be able to examine every possible option before making a decision.

Rationalists always choose the option that maximizes their satisfaction. They approach decision-making with the goal of achieving the best possible outcome.

They engage in an exhaustive search of all possible options, investing substantial time and effort in the process.

But guess what, the limitations in human cognition makes it impossible to examine each and every available option in a single decision making process.

Behavioral economists argue that the assumption of “complete information” in decision-making is unrealistic (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979, 1984).

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz showed that when shoppers had to choose among 20 choices of jams (or 6 pairs jeans), they experienced conflict and were less satisfied with their final selection.

You are more likely to optimise (instead of satisfice) when there are too many factors to consider. Many people optimise when buying a car because of all things they have to take into consideration: price, color, reliability, safety, capacity (people and goods), warranty, appearance, etc.

And they normally don’t want to compromise on any of the factors. The process can be exhausting, and you can still end up with a choice you are not happy about.

Voltaire once observed, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” In other words, instead of pushing yourself to an impossible “perfect,” and therefore getting nowhere, accept “good.”

Enter “satisficing”

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.” ― Barry Schwartz

Satisficing is a decision-making strategy that aims for a satisfactory or adequate result, rather than the optimal solution.

Satisficers use aspiration levels when choosing from different paths of action.

They select the first option that meets a given need or select the option that seems to address most needs rather than the “optimal” solution.

Herbert Simon (1955, 1956) introduced this theory more than half a century ago. He proposed that rather than maximize, you should “satisfice” when making decisions.

Satisficers are pleased to settle for a good enough option, not necessarily the very best outcome in all respects.

A satisficer is less likely to experience regret even if a better option presents itself after a decision has already been made.

Steps for for making a decision without aiming for maximisation, according to Schwartz:

“Most good decisions will involve these steps: Figure out your goal or goals. Evaluate the importance of each goal. Array the options. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals. Pick the winning option. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities.”

In the many decision-making processes you take, you can make “best” choices: be intuitive, don’t worry too much about getting the very best all the time, and evaluate each outcome on its own merits rather than against others.

Make life easier on yourself by accepting “good enough”. I wrote a post about it here. “Good enough is the new perfect,” says Becky Beaupre Gillespie.

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