Love, Always

“This one? Or that one? What do YOU think?” The misery of second-guessing — and how to stop it.

There was a time in my life when my nickname probably should have been Suzanne “Second-Guess” Gelb.

I remember one particular moment — so vividly — when my mother bought me a new pair of pants to wear to school. Even at a very tender age, my second-guessing-itis had already taken hold.

“Should I wear these pants? I think they look nice. But maybe not. I don’t know. Are they cool? Or stupid-looking? I’ll wait and see if anybody else at school is wearing this style … if somebody else wears them first, then it’s probably fine …”

Now, many years later, I recognize that there’s a difference between “healthy questioning” and plain ol’ second-guessing.

Questioning purifies the waters, bringing you closer to the truth.

Second-guessing just muddies up the pond, until you can’t see a darn thing.

It’s a very common habit. A habit that you learned — and that you can un-learn, too.

Why second-guessing happens.

Before we talk about how to stop second-guessing yourself, let’s address the big question: Why does it happen?

It’s pretty simple: you second-guess yourself because you’ve been conditioned to do so. It’s not a natural behavior. It’s a learned behavior. And it’s rooted in fear.

Just like when you’re learning to drive a car, you learn to look over your shoulder before changing lanes … you may have learned from your parents, caregivers, siblings, peers or some other influential figure in your life to “look over your shoulder,” metaphorically speaking, before making decisions.

Of course, a certain degree of caution and self-preservation is a good thing. But excessive “checking” and “looking” can become a distraction, preventing you from getting where you’re going … or even causing an accident!

What’s the solution?

To break the pattern of chronic second-guessing, try to catch yourself in the midst of a moment where you’re questioning your instincts.

Then, take a few minutes to roll through these 4 steps:

Step 1. Accept how you feel.

Try not to judge or criticize yourself for having doubts.

I’m feeling ________________________. And that’s all right.

Example: I’m feeling anxious. And that’s all right.

Step 2. Ask yourself: “What would help me feel more confident right now?” 

Write down what you need to do, hear or remember:

________________________ would make me feel more confident right now.


Remembering my recent successes would help me feel more confident right now.

Remembering that my first instincts are usually right would help me feel more confident right now.

Taking a deep breath would help me feel more confident right now.

Writing down my plan for this project would help me feel more confident right now.

Step 3. Express what you need to do, hear, or remember — out loud, to yourself.

Dear Self: ________________________.

Example: Dear Self: Remember: your first instinct is usually right.

Step 4. Let the fears go + refocus on love.

Tell yourself:

There’s a reason that I’m doubting myself. Whatever that reason is … I’m choosing to let it go.

I trust my instincts. I trust my intentions. I trust that this decision is a good one.

I trust that this decision is based in love.

As the poet Khalil Gibran once wrote:

“Love and doubt have never been on speaking terms.”

So, when you second-guess or doubt yourself (“I should have done A, not B”) … consider choosing whatever option (A or B) feels most like an expression of love.

And your choice is likely to be the right one.

. . .

PS. Are you a second-guesser? Is there a particular scenario — or part of your day — where the second-guess-ery ramps up?

PPS. Did you enjoy these tips on second-guessing?

There’s more where that came from! Check out The Life Guides: short, uplifting workbooks to help you navigate life’s many challenges + transitions, with grace.

. . .

The comments section below is closed. Enjoy reading the comments from other readers.