Could Learning to Satisfice Increase Your Creativity?

Have you ever just let go? Just done something thinking this is the best I can do and whatever happens, happens? And if you have, did you discover that the result wasn’t so bad after all? Maybe the result was actually better than it would have been if you had stressed over the activity.

I know that I had this happen to me when I ran my last marathon. I was planning to run it with a friend who found out that she was pregnant during our training. Since I was already registered, I decided to run in the marathon, but was pretty bummed that I would be running it “alone.” I did have a cheering group that was supposed to meet me at various places and at the finish line based on when I thought I would arrive at each point.

On the day of the race, I decided that I would do the best I could do under the circumstances and just started running. Well, as I ran, I looked for my friends at the designated spots and didn’t see anyone. I kept running. The marathon ended with a lap around a track. I picked up the pace, looking for my friends in the stadium, but still wasn’t able to find them.

When I finished, I went to our appointed meeting point and waited. Finally they showed up. It turns out that I beat my estimated time, so they were always running to catch up with me.

Without knowing it, I was satisficing — not obsessing about trying to maximize every single task outcome and ROI. According to the article Satisficing: How to Reach Your Best by Not Giving a Damn, satisficing results in:

  • Reduced anxiety;
  • A more pleasant work process with results which actually never turned out to be mediocre (for the author); and
  • More quality time with your parasympathetic nervous system.

The last point is the key because:

the parasympathetic system looks after the workings of your body during rest and recuperation. It also controls your heart rate and body temperature under normal conditions (definition from http://www.sciencemueum.org.uk).

Why might the results not be so good when you go into a task thinking that you’re not good enough or that you are going to fail? Well then you feed your sympathetic nervous system which is the one that controls your body’s “fight” or “flight” reaction. And this is the one that can lead to a downward spiral. As the author states:

On the contrary, what I actually noticed is that it (satisficing) allows me to work more, and also produce more high quality results. This is because it enables me to avoid the impacts of the negativity spiral, which is triggered by the constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system when we ruminate ourselves to death in the little hamster wheel of self-criticism and assumed expectations of others.

That is why I see satisficing as a way of finding your creative self. Sacrificing will:

  1. Free your mind of that haunting negative voice telling you that you aren’t creative enough or good enough; and
  2. Lead to an outcome that will be better than you expected — giving you the momentum, and confidence, to do more.

So relax. Practice satisficing from time to time and see what happens.

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