Love, Always

“This one? Or that one? What do YOU think?” Stopping the treadmill of second-guessing.

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 can purify the waters, bringing one closer to the truth.

Second-guessing just muddies up the pond, until one can’t see anything.

It’s not an uncommon habit. A habit that was learned — and that can be un-learned, too.

Why does second-guessing happen?.

Prior to making an effort to stop second-guessing yourself, it can be useful to look at the big question: Why does it happen?

The way I see it, the answer can be a pretty simple one: people second-guess themselves because they’ve been conditioned to do so. It’s not a natural behavior. It’s a learned behavior. And it tends to be rooted in fear.

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

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

What’s the solution?

To break the pattern of chronic second-guessing, it can be useful to try to catch oneself in the midst of a moment where one is questioning one’s instincts.

Then, consider taking a few minutes to try these 4 steps:

Step 1. Accept how we feel.

This means trying not to judge or criticize ourself for having doubts.

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

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

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

Write down what one needs to do, hear or remember:

________________________ would make me feel more confident right now.

Examples:

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

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

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

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

Step 3. Express what one needs to do, hear, or remember — out loud, to oneself.

Dear Self: ________________________.

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



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

Tell oneself:

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 one second-guesses or doubts oneself (“I should have done A, not B”) … consider choosing whatever option (A or B) feels most like an expression of love.

And that choice has a good chance of being the right one.