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Do you ever find yourself second-guessing the decisions you make? Even if the outcome is a good one, doubts creep into your mind. You think, “Maybe if I had made this other decision, things would have gone better?”
And you know what? That will be absolutely true sometimes. No one can make the right decisions all of the time. And there are plenty of people who struggle to make the right decisions even some of the time.
But life keeps moving forward, and we have to accept these decisions. They’re in the past. There’s nothing more we can do about those decisions now. Instead, it’s better to shift your focus to the present, to the things you can control, and to moving forward. That way, you are not robbing yourself of joy and happiness by constantly worrying about what you could have done better or differently.
Let’s look at some tips on how to do that!
7 Ways To Stop Second-Guessing Yourself
1. Learn to trust yourself.
Do you trust yourself as the architect and creator of your own life? No one is more qualified to make decisions about your life than you. No one else knows the depths of your desires, your heart, or what you want out of life as intimately as you do. Therefore, you are the person most qualified to make decisions about your life and how you want to conduct it, even if you’ve made bad decisions in the past.
Life is a constant learning experience. You’re going to make bad decisions, and that’s okay. It’s what you do with those bad decisions and their ramifications that matter. When things don’t work out, you can look for ways to turn those negatives into a learning and growth experience. Once you understand that just about any negative experience can be turned into a learning and growth experience, you’ll find that it is much easier to make a decision and be okay with it.
Even if things don’t work out how you hoped or predicted, you can trust yourself enough to know that you can overcome whatever issues you might face.
2. Work on your self-esteem.
Self-doubt is often rooted in low self-esteem. A person who doesn’t feel good about themselves isn’t going to trust themselves to be capable or resilient enough to overcome the twists and turns of their life.
Working on self-esteem is a broad subject beyond the scope of this article, but there is one strong suggestion that we can offer to help with that.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen, sit down, and make a list.
First, add the times you made a bad decision and how you rebounded from it. Then, consider what steps you took in your decision-making process, the consequences, and how you handled the consequences.
Next should be times you overcame adversity in your life. It doesn’t have to be times when you second-guessed yourself or made a bad choice. Adversity happens to everyone. What did you overcome? How did you overcome it? How did you survive it – even if you don’t feel like you overcame it?
Finally, add your strengths. What are you good at? How can those strengths help you if you did happen to make a bad decision? How have they helped you in the past?
Keep this list. Add to it as you experience more things. Then, go back to the list when you find yourself feeling low or second-guessing your choices for a positive reminder that you can overcome anything.
3. Replace pessimism with optimism.
Second-guessing can come from a place of pessimism. Maybe you’re someone who’s made a lot of mistakes in your life, or your well-laid plans have blown up in your face, or you have good reason to believe that things aren’t going to work out. Pessimism is actually a pretty good outlook if that’s been your experience with life.
But, here’s the problem with pessimism: people tend to try to make their beliefs into reality. For example, suppose a person thinks they aren’t going to do well. In that case, they may not push themselves like they should, take appropriate risks, and challenge themselves by getting out of their comfort zone.
Optimism doesn’t have to be flimsy or fake. It can be rooted in a reality that you choose to value more than the negative. For example, you made a decision, you’re second-guessing yourself… well, so what? You know what’s going to happen if things don’t work out? You’ll have a different experience. And it may very well be better than what you had planned or hoped for!
The door that closes for you just redirects you on a different path. It may be better, it may be worse, but whatever it is, you’ll have the opportunity to grow from it and make new decisions in the future.
4. Let other peoples’ opinions go.
Are you actually second-guessing yourself? Or is the voice of someone else filling your mind with negativity? Telling you you’re not good enough? Not smart enough? Not capable enough? That you simply can’t make a good decision because you are somehow flawed?
Whose voice is actually talking to you when you’re doubting and second-guessing your choices? Is it a parent that wasn’t kind to you? An abusive spouse who made you feel and think that you are incapable? Some other jerk who has been living in your head rent-free for far too long?
Everyone’s got problems. Everyone experiences hard times. And none of that is any kind of excuse for them to have taken it out on you to the point where you second-guess yourself. They’re unkind people. Their opinions do not matter. If anything, be angry that these unkind people polluted your thoughts with their negativity.
Every time you hear that voice pop up in your head, remind yourself that these unkind people don’t deserve to still be directing your life or influencing your decisions.
It’s your life.
5. Love your flaws and mistakes.
Learning to love your flaws and mistakes is a simple way to strip away from the power of self-doubt and second-guessing. Accept your flaws as readily and lovingly as you’d accept the positives about yourself. And if you don’t have a great opinion about yourself, accept them as readily and lovingly as you’d accept someone or something you care about. It’s not an ideal fix, but it can get you moving in the right direction.
Loving your flaws and mistakes is a powerful way to deal with self-doubt and second-guessing because it reframes your perception of them. Every single person has flaws. Every single person makes mistakes. Even if you do make a mistake, it’s not going to be the end of the world. In fact, the world would be a pretty boring and uninspiring place if everything went correctly all the time.
Some mistakes and closed doors can put you on a path to something better that you might not have ever envisioned wanting. Sometimes, circumstances far beyond our control or things we didn’t know can impact our decisions. That’s not a character flaw. That’s just life.
6. Make a conscious decision to risk failure.
A great way to defuse second-guessing and the fear of making the wrong decision is to regularly expose yourself to that which makes you uncomfortable. You make an active choice to step outside of your comfort zone, whether you succeed or fail, and let yourself feel those feelings.
Here are two common examples that will help illustrate the point.
Jamie is nervous about romance and dating in general. She’s really inexperienced with relationships and feels self-conscious about approaching someone she wants to ask out. Jamie goes back and forth on whether or not she wants to ask someone she really likes out. Sometimes she convinces herself that it’s a good idea, and other times her fear of what might go wrong keeps her rooted in place. Maybe she gets embarrassed? Or the other person isn’t interested? What if…?
Well, what if everything goes well? Those positive thoughts are never as strong as the negative ones. But when you’re inexperienced with dating and romance, asking someone out feels like this massive thing with so much riding on it. It’s not. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than, “Hey, would you like to go on a date with me this Saturday?” The more Jamie decides to approach people she finds interesting and asks them out, the easier it gets to hear a “no thanks” or an “I’m not interested” and then move on with her life.
And sooner or later, someone will say yes, and then Jamie will get to have a great time with an interesting person!
Mark wants to advance his career by finding a new job. He looks through the different job sites, but it seems like he isn’t all the way qualified for the kind of positions that he would like. He meets some of the criteria, but quite a few of them have additional caveats or discrepancies that make him feel unqualified. As a result, Mark struggles to put in the applications because he is constantly second-guessing whether or not he can even do these jobs.
In this situation, it’s perfectly reasonable for Mark to second-guess himself. After all, he doesn’t want to represent himself as something he’s not. But here’s the problem: Mark’s doubt and fear are coming from a place where he assumes that the poster of the job ad represents themselves plainly. But, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s pretty normal for a job listing to have qualities that are a wish list for an optimal candidate – but businesses can’t always hire optimal candidates because they may not be applying.
There are certain cases where this may be true or not. For example, in a licensed profession, Mark is going to need to have that license. That’s not something they can really be flexible about. However, something like “needs two years of experience” is something that a hiring manager can be flexible on if they feel they’re interviewing a good or great candidate. Mark should definitely be applying to jobs with qualifications like that.
Even if it doesn’t go well, it’s not the end of the world. If anything, Mark either won’t hear back from the company or get more valuable experience interviewing and learning how to sell himself as the right candidate for future jobs.
7. Replace your thoughts with something else.
Lastly, when you find yourself second-guessing your choices, decide to focus on something else. Read a book, work on a puzzle, do something that is mentally engaging to force your mind off of those negative thoughts that will otherwise just keep swirling around.
This is a powerful technique to train your brain to not dwell on unwanted thoughts. The more you do it, the easier it gets to shift your thought processes somewhere else. After a while, you may find that you don’t need an activity to distract yourself but can do it by changing your mental channel to something else.
Still not sure how to stop second-guessing yourself? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why do I second-guess myself?
The root cause of your self-doubt likely stems from your past experiences. You may have grown up in a household where your parents questioned your judgment or were very critical of some of the decisions you made. It may also come from more recent experiences involving controlling or abusive relationships with romantic partners or workplace superiors or even toxic friends.
Those root causes can then lead to secondary causes. Black and white thinking can mean you second-guess yourself. When you see every decision in terms of right or wrong, or good or bad, you are more likely to question your decisions than if you accept every choice as having pros and cons.
Although anxiety usually involves future events, it can cause self-doubt about decisions you’ve already made. You can be anxious about having potentially ruined your future because of a decision you’ve made that hasn’t or isn’t working out the way you’d hoped. This links into perfectionism because a perfectionist always wants the best outcome, but it’s often impossible to know what the best decision was, even in hindsight.
Finally, if you have lots of regrets in life, you may second-guess your most recent decisions based on your poor track record. You may worry that yesterday’s decision will end up being tomorrow’s regret.
Is it bad to second-guess yourself?
There is no good or bad when it comes to second-guessing yourself. It’s more a case of when and how it is helpful. More often than not it isn’t that helpful because the action has already been taken. Thinking and worrying about it after the fact doesn’t change anything.
There are, of course, times when it might be helpful. If you have purchased something and find yourself experiencing buyer’s remorse, you might still be able to return that item for a refund. Or if there is further action you can take to rectify a situation that has not gone to plan, it can be good to look at your initial decision to see what else you could have done as these things may offer a potential solution.
Is second-guessing yourself a sign of mental illness?
There is some evidence to suggest that those who doubt their own judgment are more likely to experience various psychological problems. A series of five studies found that self-doubters had lower self-esteem, and higher degrees of anxiety and depression. Though not specific to mental illness, those prone to second-guessing themselves were more likely to procrastinate, seek approval from others, and deal poorly with uncertainty.
Can OCD make you second-guess yourself?
Yes, OCD is often associated with second-guessing yourself. Doubt is one of the primary forces in OCD and second-guessing means to doubt the decisions you make. Sufferers of OCD are prone to bouts of overthinking which, in the context of decisions that have been made, can mean repeating the decision in your head along with all the alternatives and then wondering over and over whether you made the right choice. These same thoughts almost certainly accompany the act of making the decision itself and then just continue after the decision has been made.
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