Maximizing versus Satisficing

Read some cool stuff the other day on a concept about how we view ourselves and how we deal with life.

This comes from the studies of Barry Schwartz.  Schwartz said that we can look at every experience in one of two ways.  One, we could try to maximize our pleasure out of each event.  Two, we could simply take delight in what we accomplished based on meeting some standards.

The first way of doing things he characterizes you as a “maximizer”.  Maximizing means you search out all of the best options, hoping to make a perfect choice.  Or, in every event, you look at all of the options that could happen and are only happy if the “best” one happens.  It is a form of perfectionism if taken to the extreme.

On the other hand, the second way he characterizes as “satisficing”.  This means you pre-set some criteria and then accept the first option that meets that criteria.  For example, you decide you want some dry white wine that is moderately priced for dinner.  The first wine that comes along and meets that criteria you select.

We all probably do each of these in every part of our lives.  As long as we don’t do either one to extremes, we are probably okay.  If you are a maximizer on buying birthday cards, you might spend days and multiple trips to multiple stores searching for the “right” card.  Definitely a waste of time at some point.  On the other hand, if you are a satisficer on something like relationships, you might settle for the first person who meets your minimums.  Again, perhaps not the right idea.

I had an experience the other day with “maximizing” that made me stop and think.  I have not raced well in runs this year for reasons I do not understand.  I just have not met the time goals I set for myself at the start of this year.  Maybe it is age.  Maybe it is training.  I don’t really know.  But I ran the Ghost and Goblins 5k on Tuesday and ran slower than I wanted.  My mood afterwards was one of disappointment with my performance.  I left the race right after finishing because I did not want to dwell on it any more.  When I got home and Rosed asked me how it went, all I could say was “I am Mister Mediocrity”.  I wanted to maximize the event.  Instead, based on the way I have run all year, I should have realized my time goals needed to be lower (or non-existent).  Maybe I should just be thankful I am able to run.

It is easy to look at yourself and say “I maximize too much” or I “satisfice too much”.  But I think we all then say “that’s me” and don’t challenge ourselves to change.  From the readings I looked at, satisficing is a way to more happiness in life.  So why not try to change a bit?

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“What you practice becomes stronger”

I came across this quote in an on-line course I am taking.  I think we all recognize that in order to get better at something – for example,  a sport or cooking or playing an instrument or dancing – we need to practice it.  Makes sense.  We’ve all heard “practice makes perfect”.

What was most interesting about this quote was its context was about thinking.  The author was making a point that we use our thinking to influence the present and the future.  She was saying we practice things in our minds all of the time.  And that practice can make an event more likely or stronger than it need be.

Here are some examples of unintended thinking she is talking about.  We are all guilty of worrying about things.  We are all good at thinking about what might happen at a future event – or potential future event.  We all hold grudges.  We all get angry about implied or real slights by others.  We all wish for things.  By “practicing” this type of thinking, are we really helping ourselves?  Most of the time, the answer is “No”.

I know from running that our mind will make us slow down a considerable time before it is unhealthy for us to keep running.  To really reach your full running potential, you need to go beyond what your mind tells you.  Many (if not all) elite runners have mantras they use to distract their minds from telling them to slow down.  That is practicing the right kind of thinking.

Who of us has not worried for days on end about an upcoming interview or a performance appraisal?  We think about what the other person might say.  We try to figure out what faults they are going to find in us.  We create defense mechanisms to explain situations we think we might hear them say.  None of this is really “practice”.  It is unconsciously allowing our mind to wander.  “Practice” would be deliberating on specific instances or questions we might be asked and formulating a clear answer.

It is a natural part of us for our minds to wander.  According to studies, we spend nearly half of our time with wandering thoughts.  We are generally unconsciously doing it.  Sometimes when we allow our mind to wander, we get more creative.  But more often than not, wandering minds take us further from happiness, further from really listening to someone else, further from reality (according to the studies provided by the author).  I know I have caught myself lots of times thinking about something else when someone is speaking with me.  Or I am reading a book and realize my mind is somewhere else.

The essence of the person’s quote at the top was for us to “practice” staying in the now.  Even acknowledging that we are allowing our minds to wander and bringing our mind back to the present is a great start.  Best recommendation for practicing?  Meditation.  I have to try that – one of these days when I think about it!

A few Interesting Statistics I ran into lately

I just read about a study that indicated black male teens are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white male teens. Crazy.

There are exceptions to that. If you are a black male, live in Tallahassee Florida and play on the Florida State football team, your odds of getting arrested, let alone shot, are very slim. A recent New York Times article reported in great detail about misdeeds of numerous football players that led to “non-standard” police protocols. In one story, a man reported his scooter stolen and provided a description of the thief. Police found ta man fitting the description riding the scooter later and confronted him. He claimed the scooter was “lent” to him by someone who he could not provide a name for. When the victim provided proof of the theft, the police let the man off because he was “polite and cooperative” (and a member of the football team).  Same situation with a couple of domestic violence cases. Despite witnesses making calls, and a standard protocol anytime domestic violence is involved, the police used different procedures – contacting the school’s athletic department rather than their own police station for instance. In fact, the policemen mentioned that the alleged criminals were “members of the football team” in their initial police report.   The fact that those policemen often get the opportunity to work the games, for overtime pay, might be a bit of an incentive.

Here is your interesting political fact of the day.  89% of all Republican House of Representative members are white males.  (If you were wondering, 47% of Democratic Representatives are white males and 31% of the US population is non-Hispanic white males)

The City of Detroit is about 1/3rd of the way through installing wheelchair accessible ramps on all intersections of the city.  This will cost over $90  million.  You may recall Detroit declared bankruptcy last year.  Detroit was late in starting this effort and is under a federal court order to build the ramps in accordance with the Americans for Disabilities Act.  The court order says the city must put in a ramp anytime it resurfaces a street.  Unfortunately, this leads the city to put ramps from the roads in places where there are no sidewalks!  So you have a ramp leading to nowhere.  And because Detroit is bankrupt, they have decided that places where ramps are desperately needed must wait until the road is resurfaced.

One of every six dollars spent in the US economy gets spent on health care.  Unfortunately, it is estimated that over 4,000 people every week are killed by medical errors.

Since 1978, Congress has worked a full week (been in session Monday through Friday) 14% of the time.  That means in a typical year, they work seven 5-day weeks and every other week is less than five days working.  Not sure if that is good or bad, given how incompetent they are.

Still Searching for Answers

I have been reflecting and debating about what I wanted to write about this subject. It has been on my mind for some time. But I have not been sure what to say.  Here it goes anyway.

This is the anniversary of the death of my young nephew, Bryce. The shock of that event is still with us. Only 5 months earlier my Mom had died. Mom, as the saying goes, “had lived a long life worth living”. Her death was understandable, and in her case, due. She was unhappy in many ways as the days went by. The person she was every day at the end was not the person she really was throughout life. It was tough to have her endure boredom and pain. I worried that my kids memories about Grandma would be jaded by what they experienced as young adults rather than what they experienced as kids. But I know this was stupid thinking because we had too many great memories to have them drowned out.

But Bryce? He only lived 9 years. That is way too short to die.  He provided many days of love to his mom, dad and brother. He added so much love to their lives.  Without him, I don’t know how my mom would have survived the last few years of her life.  There is no doubt in my mind, one of his primary purposes for being on this earth was to entertain and engage my Mom.  That was a true, noble calling.

But the rest of us never really got to know him well enough. The age differences between my kids and him was too great for intimate sharing of experiences. He was a “little kid” among a bunch of adults.  We would be playing board games or throwing the football that was just a little beyond his reach sometimes.  We did not ignore him, we simply were engaged with the rest of the family.   I recognized that sometimes it is so easy to not notice someone else when you are engaged with many others.

This recognition caused me to reflect a little bit. Because he was so much younger, did we “ignore” Bryce to some extent? Did we not take the time to notice what he was doing?  Did we miss something profound?  Maybe that was another part of his purpose in life – to point out that every person is precious and important. We must slow ourselves down some times and look at each person.  Maybe that person is a co-worker or a neighbor or someone at an event we are at.  Or maybe it is a family member.  Who knows?

I know that Father told us that death is part of the mystery of life.  We won’t know the true answer until we are in heaven (hopefully) and have a chance to ask God directly.   But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reflect on something and improve ourselves.

Wineglass Half Marathon and Marathon

Wineglass Oct 2014 BoysI just got back from running at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning NY with four running buddies. As usual, we had a great time reminiscing about old runs and good times. Plus there was a good amount of picking on each other. That is why we try to go to a race every fall somewhere away from home for the weekend.

This year’s race brought some new memories to last a lifetime. First of all was the fact that it was around 33 degrees to start the race. This was the coolest weather we had all fall. But the sun came out pretty quickly and warmed us up.

Foremost memory for me is the fact that my son, Nate, ran a Boston Marathon qualifying time in only his second marathon. He needed to run a 3 hour , 5 minutes or less time to make it (that is around 7 minutes per mile for 26.2 miles). Nate had a plan and executed it perfectly. He looked great and finished in 3:01.23.  Being there to share it with him was awesome.

Matt Kaiser was smart enough to run the half marathon with me. He beat the time he expected to get by about 5 minutes. Best for Matt and I was after finishing we could go back to the hotel, relax for a few minutes and each get a warm shower. Amazing how great a hot shower feels sometimes.

We went back to cheer on Nate and Paul Glass, who gutted through the full marathon in 3:26 after having a lot of health issues that hampered his training.  While waiting for them, we cheered along many of the slower half marathon runners/walkers.

Mark Miller provided some stories that will live in our lore of running for as long we all can remember them. For a number of reasons, Mark’s training was not what is recommended for a marathon. When he told us his longest run was “10 miles on a treadmill” (remember, a marathon is 26 miles long) we all had a mixture of laughter (we knew he was going to suffer) and trepidation (might we have to cart a dead man home?).  To his credit, Mark gutted out a 6 hour marathon.  He spent 6 hours on his feet!

But Mark’s stories were the best.  As he was coming down the finish stretch, we could see Mark carrying something in one hand.  We finally figured out they were the shoe inserts for both of his shoes.  Because his feet were hurting, he took the inserts out at mile 8.  That means: a) he carried those inserts in his hands for 18 miles and b) he stopped at mile 8, sat down, took off his shoes and socks, pulled out the inserts and put shoes/socks back on.  Twice during the race Mark stopped at medical tents.  The first time he got two Advil’s (like that is going to help).  I don’t know what he was expecting at the second stop, but one kind soul said to him, “would you like the spray?”.  What spray? If you have ever watched a professional soccer match, you have seen a soccer play fall down and act as if they are dead.  The medical crew runs out and sprays the injured part of the body. The soccer player miraculously springs up and is ready to play.  Well, Mark got that spray and said it works!

But his story is not done.  He took his phone along and texted Paul with an update at mile 17.  But we never heard from him again.  Was he dead?  Nope, just his phone battery died.  Mark also stopped at mile 23 and got two small beers from some guys who were offering free drinks during the race.  I guess he figured he was suffering enough that he deserved a beer.  Probably best of all was his quote “I hit the wall at mile 2”.  “The wall” is the time in a race where you feel like you ran into something and have to slow down considerably.  Anyone who has run a marathon has hit the wall.  But most people hit the wall at 20 miles – NOT 2 miles.

There was a silver lining to Mark’s time. Nate was the first to do it, then the rest of us joined in. Since we had a long time to wait, why not cheer on the runners coming in? I have never stayed around to watch people running a 5 hour marathon. God bless them, that is a long time to be on their feet. So we cheered on people for almost an hour. As the crowds dwindled, our cheers became some of the loudest. The absolute joy on many people’s faces after completing 26.2 mile journey was pretty awesome. For many of them this was a major accomplishment that they did for some reason unknown to us. Many of them are not athletic at all.  I have never seen so many finishers so happy and proud. It made me reflect on the fact that people can accomplish very amazing feats if they choose to.  The feat may not be a world record or even something as good as I could do.  But it IS the best THAT THEY CAN DO.  They pushed themselves way out of their comfort zones.  That is a great memory to carry for every race.  And that is a testament to the human spirit.