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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Being Obsessive, Do You Second Guess Yourself?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 31st 2012

There are several people I know, some of them patients and some of them friends, who, when it comes to making a decisions, go through an agonizing process. What makes the process of deciding so painful is that they feel compelled to examine every detail before moving ahead and making a choice. Having made the choice, they begin the process of agonizing whether or not it was the right choice. This agonizing is so bad that it becomes stressful and depressing.

For example, I know someone who was in the market for a new television. Before making the purchase, they had to decide between Comcast, DirecTV, and Satellite TV to deliver their programming and movies. First came interviewing friends and neighbors about which of the companies they used, why they used them and how satisfied they were. Then came the matter of pricing. Which company had the most reasonable pricing along with the best service and programming. While all of this may seem reasonable to the reader it must be understood that this took three months along with repeated phone calls to each company and lots of vacillating between one and the other. Finally, a choice was made. Done? NO!!

Now came the choice of television!!! Yes, this also became part of an agonizing process that took another three months. In the meantime, the entire family was being driven to distraction over what they thought should have been a relatively easy process that others had make no trouble at all.

When all was said and done, and everything was installed, which, by the way, was also a long decision-making process about where to place the television, surround sound speakers and wiring, came a new problem. Were the best choices made.  In other words, any chance of pleasure was rendered totally impossible.

According to some new research done at Florida State University by assistant professor of psychology, Joyce Ehrlinger, people who experience these types of difficulties with choices actually cannot make a commitment. She refers to these people as "maximizers." Maximizers experience enormous amounts of anxiety, depression and stress over all decisions, big and small. Whether its choosing a toaster, husband or wife, television or house, they cannot feel happy or satisfied after a choice is finally made.

If you are a maximizer, how can you change this so that agonizing is brought to an end. According to Ehrlinger, who describes herself as a maximizer, it's important to become aware that there is a problem.
Then, once a decision is made, it's important to focus on the choice made and why it's what you want, rather than thinking about what was not chosen. Along with this, remind yourself that you made the best choice possible. Reinforcing this is adopting the concept that there is no perfection, whether it comes to a choice or anything else in life.

Are you a maximizer? Do you live with or know a maximizer? Does it frustrate you? Please comment about this issue.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    applies to career selection - fh - Sep 23rd 2013

    I see this same thing play out in career selection among college students.  Often, the consequence is that they post pone their decision too long and wind up with a low value degree (or none at all). While costly in every area of life, extreme second guessing is very damaging in the formative stages of young adulthood.

    living with a "maximizer" - - Aug 3rd 2013

    My wife has always been a maximizer.  I don't know why but after 30 year of marriage it is driving me crazy.  She agonizes for hours over minor purchases such as clothes.  Finally she will purchase what she wants along with other "options".  This gives her another chance to bring it all home and agonize all over again along with much discussion.  Finally she make a decision about what to keep but then waits for weeks before attempting to return the other merchindise. Perhaps losing receipts but keeping the "bargin" she deciced on.   

    Just imagine how difficult purchasing a car was for her.  Her anxiety robs the joy from every situation.!

    Engineers are bad about this... - Chad - Aug 5th 2012

    I work in the software industry. Most of the people I work with are maximizers (or optimizers as I call them). Not a single thing is done without them trying to find the most optimized (maximized) outcome for the lowest effort. I've always thought this a sick behavior but could never characterize why. I'm wondering if jobs like software engineering (where optimizations and maximizations are an important aspect of the work) cause people to apply this kind of thinking to everything. I wasn't this kind of thinker until I'd been in the industry more than a decade. Now, 15 years later, I can think through anything without doing so with a slant toward maximization. It's totally destroyed my psyche!

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