Satisficing Sabotages Your True Success

In his brilliant book, Die Empty, Todd Henry introduced me to the fascinating concept of "satisficing."  The term originated in the 1950's and was made popular by Herbert A. Simon,  Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences. According to Simon, satisficing is a combination of the words "satisfy" and "sufficing," and means selecting an option that is sufficient to meet enough of our ongoing expectations. In Die Empty, Henry further illuminates the meaning of the word when he writes, "we settle for the best available option that meets most of our requirements."

So far, it might seem like the word is a positive one. Henry, however, exposes the danger in using this approach to making choices: When you satisfice, the work that you secretly aspire to do remains inside of you. In other words, it sabotages your true success.

Seth Godin hits on a similar idea in his blog, Doing the best I can. He writes, "Great work makes us uncomfortable." Satisficing may make us feel productive or temporarily successful, but covers up what we really aspire to be professionally or personally.

The good news is that overcoming satisficing doesn't require superhuman strength or massive resources. When faced with options we just need to sometimes choose the one that makes us more uncomfortable. And it can start with the smallest of choices like:

  • Taking a work assignment that will require skills that you don't normally use in your job, or have not used as much recently.
  • Engaging in physical exercise that will require stamina beyond your normal routine.
  • Planning an evening out with your spouse or significant other that is more than the "usual."
  • Dusting off a hobby that you stopped doing because life got so busy.
  • Asking yourself, "What would really make this day a success for me?" BEFORE you actually start planning your day

Satisficing isn't something we just wake up and start doing one day. It's a reduced expectation of what we can accomplish that builds over time. What's worse is that it can be highly contagious.

What options will you choose today that show you aren't satisficing?