Canadian researchers have identified a common, avoidable stressor in some people’s decision-making process: Fear of a Better Option (FOBO). The team published their research online this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Psychologists Jeffrey Hughes and Abigail A. Scholer of the University of Waterloo were curious about the type of person experts call a “maximizer”: that is, somebody who researches and considers every possible option before making a decision. “The general mindset of this type of person is something like, ‘I don't want to do anything until I've figured out the right thing to do,’” Hughes told Real Simple. Hughes and Scholer conducted two different studies in the hopes of understanding the maximizer mindset.
For the "promotion-focused" maximizer, every choice hinges on whether or not it will help the individual gain social or financial status. These folks are generally able to make a choice and move on. "Assessment-focused" maximizers, on the other hand, have a difficult time letting go of any option, and may find themselves obsessing over choices they had initially ruled out.
They found that the strategy has clear pros and cons. These kinds of maximizers may make more thoroughly considered decisions than other people, Hughes said, but “it can also lead people to get locked into a state where they keep evaluating and re-evaluating without making any decision.”
Rather than choosing among already well-researched options, the assessment-focused maximizers will just keep adding and researching new ones, prolonging the decision-making process even further. They may also rule out some options, then change their minds, thereby adding doubt, frustration, and regret to the equation. That kind of decision-related paralysis can take a real toll on an individual's well-being. (Notes Hughes, "If you tend to feel frustrated or regretful about decisions on a regular basis, that can lead to some pretty negative outcomes, like lower satisfaction with life.")
Although Hughes and Scholer have yet to test out possible solutions in a laboratory setting, Hughes believes the best thing maximizers can do is to recognize that overthinking is often the enemy of a satisfactory conclusion, and remind themselves to truly let go of options they’ve already eliminated. “Try to trust your gut when you look at an option and feel like it’s not a good one,” he suggests.
Boundaries can also help us from falling down a rabbit hole of online reviews and pro and con lists. It’s all about recognizing the value of your time and energy.
“Tell yourself, ‘I am going to spend 30 minutes researching plane tickets, and that’s it—then I’m buying the best one and moving on,’” Hughes says. “Your time is also a cost, so why not spend that time on decisions that are most important to you?”
[h/t Real Simple]