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.

Examples:

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”) … choose whatever option (A or B) feels most like an expression of love.

And your choice will always be the right one.

xo.

Love, always.

PS. Are you a chronic second-guesser? Is there a particular scenario — or part of your day — where the second-guess-ery gets really intense?

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.

Read the comments or add yours.
20 Comments
  1. Gee, I never thought of step 1. I always judge the heck out of myself when I’m a doubting Thomas. Thanks Suzanne, you nailed it again. Your posts are incredible, every week.

    • Hi Cheryl: So happy the light bulb went off! Self-acceptance is huge. When we’re at war with ourselves, that’s what we experience — an inner battle.:(

  2. I usually feel good about what I do, but then hours later, the doubt wheels start turning, faster and faster. It’s so tough to get those “you should’ve” or “you didn’t” voices out of my head. Thanks for giving me tools to trust my instincts. This 4-step process is going to be pasted on my mirror, NOW.

    • Hi Mandy: True, some habits are tough to crack. But the good news is, each + every one of them is crackable.:)

      So glad that you and your mirror have a regular “date” in this regard.

      Keep us posted with your progress, if you’d like.

  3. I like the examples in No. 2. You’d never know I am a huge self-doubter. I hide it real well. But I am comforted by your examples and this post. Thank you.

    • Hi Joe: You have a LOT of company. The old saying, “Can’t judge a book by its cover” rings true in many situations. Glad the post is helpful.:)

  4. Ooh, that Khalil Gibran quote is perfect. Down with doubt – for-e-ever! I love your weekly posts, Suzanne, and your life guides. The weight management one has been really helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Hi Sheri: I second that! Give doubt its waking papers … a one-way ticket out of your life.

      And, thanks for your kind words.

  5. Enjoy ur thoughts and thanks for sharing such wonderful ideas. I don’t like going in circles so I usually make decisions based on best information I have at hand and go for it – as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

  6. I wouldn’t have thought that I second guess myself, but upon reflection I’d have to admit that I often check with someone before making a decision – or I do something along with someone else. Something to think about.

    • Hi Cindy: It’s perfectly OK to check with someone before making a decision, if they have some expertise or experience that could be helpful — as long as you’re not depending on someone else to make your decision for you.

      Collaborating with someone + ‘picking their brain’ for the right reasons, can be very helpful.

  7. I’d have to say that there are certain areas of my life where I feel very confident and I do not have any problem with doubting myself.

    When I challenge myself, however, or am asked to do something in some new territory that’s unfamiliar, then I find myself not so much second guessing, but more like “frozen.” And I’m not sure that just telling myself “that’s alright” will really work when I feel this way.

    • Dear Karen: Yes, excess fear can cause us to sometimes “freeze.”

      If we feel deep fear (“I’m scared of being in new, unfamiliar territory”) it can be helpful to release this fear by screaming into the pillow. It muffles sound. This exercise can offer powerful relief.

      I wrote about this technique in my recent article published by the Huffington Post. Check out the paragraph, “Thwack out your emotions.”

      If you feel you would like extra support with managing fear, please contact a qualified health care professional. I can help.

  8. When it comes to big decisions (purchasing a home, automobile, furniture et cetera) I’ve never had a problem with making up my mind and being satisfied with the outcome. Even when I asked that someone special to marry me, I was pleased with my choice and her affirmative reply.

    Okay that decision could have turned-out better. Come to think of it, my vocational selection fell short of the GOAL – really, really, really short of the GOLD, really!

    All kidding aside, I’m happy with my choices and the rewards have been impressive: loving family, incredible friends and I met a lot of wonderful people. Moreover, wherever I’ve been, I made a VALIANT EFFORT to make things better – Why even when I write, I do my best. You might say, I’m a PRINTS VALIANT, or MISTER WRITE.

    • Hi Ron: Sounds like self-doubt isn’t an issue for you. As I said in today’s newsletter, “… that’s wonderful! (I’m sure many people would love to snuggle up against you, hoping that a little extra self-confidence might rub off. :)”

  9. I really enjoyed this post and can really relate.

    When I got older and looked back at my upbringing, I realized that I experienced a lot of criticism growing up, making mistakes was not acceptable.

    I think as an adult I frequently second guess myself in an effort to avoid “mistakes” at all costs. It is an inner battle!

    I like the quote about love and doubt, and will keep that in mind!

    • Hi Melinda: Thank you for your comment/s. I wish every parent in the world would read your words. The scars of childhood criticism can be deep.

      Sounds like you’re well on your way to choosing LOVE over doubt. Hooray!

  10. I also really liked your article in the Huffington Post: Ashamed Of How You Look In A Swimsuit? Women: Please Read This.

    I am not overweight, but there are parts of my body that I relentlessly criticize or feel ashamed about.

    I’m going to apply the tools of being accepting and loving to those parts of myself that I always cast in a negative light.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

    • Hi Melinda: When we can love every part of ourselves (which includes every part of our body) totally and completely, we experience a beautiful inner peace.

      As you consistently apply the self-acceptance and self-love that you mention, you’ll notice a shift from negativity to a feeling of contentment.

      Enjoy!