Overwhelmed? Be a satisficer, not a maximiser

To-do list as long as your arm? Head about to explode? In the fifth part of a series of pieces on feeling overwhelmed in our lives, Oliver Burkeman gives us the lowdown on how to change the way we think about everything we're trying to fit in


Overwhelmed? Be a satisficer, not a maximiser

All too often, tips and tricks for fighting ‘overwhelm’ seem to hinder, not help. Even worse, time-use research indicates that we’re not busier than we used to be, on average. We have plenty of spare time, according to researchers – so why doesn’t it feel that way? All this suggests that feeling overwhelmed is not a simple question of having too much to do, but a tricky psychological trap.

So, here is the best current thinking on finding your way out – and reclaiming some breathing space to enjoy life again.

Be a satisificer, not a maximiser

There’s a rueful old observation about romance: if you can’t seem to find the right person, just lower your standards. Whether or not that’s wise dating advice, it’s crucial when battling overwhelm. Some things need doing perfectly, but most things don’t.

One trick is to switch from ‘maximising’ to ‘satisificing’. Buying a new sofa? Instead of looking for the best option, decide on some important criteria – maybe you want a certain colour or shape, below a certain price – then pick the first one you find that ticks those boxes.

‘Maximisers may be less satisfied than satisficers,’ psychologists concluded in 2006, because the pain of seeking the ‘best’ can outweigh the benefits. It also contributes to feeling overwhelmed.

‘When I wanted to start a weight-training programme, I didn’t research the available options at all,’ writes Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (Harper, £9.99), and a satisficer. ‘A friend of mine told me she loved her trainer and regime, and I just got the number and called.’

Photograph: iStock

More inspiration:

Read I forgot the brownies by Mandy Lehto on LifeLabs

Read It's time to stop the glorification of busy by Jules Mitchell on LifeLabs

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