A reader recently wrote to me:
“I struggle with making decisions and always second guess myself… I recently had to make a decision about something and after giving it a lot of thought, I decided. Now, months later, my decision is eating me up and I can’t stop thinking I made the wrong decision. So I guess my point is once you decide, how do you stop yourself from second guessing?”
I know I’ve been there, having made a decision I not only second guessed, but wish I hadn’t made—and couldn’t take back.
I think there are two parts to each of us: who we are day to day, and who we are in our broader intentions. Second guessing comes when the smaller part—the one that is at the effect of everything—is afraid of the greater part that’s forging a new way.
When we make any decision, for better or for worse, we affect change. And sometimes it’s scary to be responsible for the change we affect. That’s why I love the saying. “Make a decision. And then make the decision right.”
We never know where our decisions will lead us and we can’t know before making them what the aftermath might be. But only after making the decision can we deal with what comes next. Never before.
There is an assumption that a decision that ends up hurting someone’s feelings, causing friction. or rocking the boat is somehow a wrong decision.
But why would that be the case?
It could mean the broader part of you helped you make that decision in order to break something open, learn how to deal with discomfort, learn how to create a boundary or take care of yourself amidst someone else’s disapproval.
It could mean the broader part of you helped you make that decision to learn how to create dialogue, deepen a relationship, or simply say “I’m sorry. I made a mistake”.
There is no such thing as a wrong decision because we are always course correcting. The way a pilot navigates a plane from one place to the next is by setting the course destination before taking flight and then course correcting along the way.
Similarly, that’s how we grow. Taking from what we have learned from the past and building on it for the future.
That being said, how can we allow the process to unfold more smoothly? What can we do to stop ourselves from second guessing? I’ve come up with these five suggestions:
1. Trust yourself.
Making a decision sometimes forces you to grow in areas where you’re not comfortable. When you second guess yourself it’s usually because of that discomfort. But it’s important to remember that change happens incrementally. Even if you’re not seeing an obvious positive result yet, it might be coming. And your broader intentions led you there for that reason.
2. Choose a new thought.
Stop entertaining the idea of having made a wrong decision. There is no power in that. Instead, know that things are working out for your good and that you are learning and growing while you find your bearings.
3. Assess what you’re learning.
Because we are always in a state of flux, there may very well be things you will do differently the next time. Ask yourself, if I had to do it over, what would I do differently? And then congratulate yourself because this is how new behavior is born! You can’t learn if you’re not playing the game.
4. Get comfortable with mistakes.
There is such a thing as grace. Time gives us an opportunity to fix all sorts of things we think we may have screwed up. There is power in simply letting things go and deciding to re-evaluate them at a future date.
Ask yourself “What if I did make a wrong decision? Is it okay for me to have made a mistake?” And then let it go. Getting comfortable with making mistakes could have entirely been the lesson! But we are always making the best decisions we have access to at the moment.
5. Finally, go easy on yourself.
Like a friend of mine likes to say, “Life is a hard hat zone. We are always under construction”.
You are not who you were yesterday and you are not who you will be tomorrow. So, make peace with that. Life is full of second chances. We are always in a state of evolution.
In learning how to walk, you had to crawl first, and maybe you wobbled and skinned your knees a few times. But eventually, you found your bearings and trusted your stability. As tiny as you were, you were able to stand straight and put one foot in front of the other as you moved forward.
Not so far off from what it’s like as an adult.