Do you ever get together with friends or family, have a great time but later second-guess something you did or said? If you replay events and often wish you could have a do-over, second-guessing could be robbing you of joy and self-esteem. Ruminating about our choices can make us feel pretty miserable. Here, our experts weigh in on why we do this and how we can stop.
Build up your self-trust
Second-guessing is often caused by not trusting ourselves. Self-doubt can happen as a result of critical parents, perfectionist tendencies, low self-confidence or pessimistic thinking.
“When you are low in confidence,” says positive psychology expert Caroline Miller, “research shows that you are more likely to doubt your perceptions and judgment, and make you feel that you need the approval of others. This behavior can lead to depression, anxiety and procrastination.” (Caroline's upcoming book Authentic Grit looks closely at this phonemenon and many others affecting women and power.)
“Lacking confidence in our judgments indicates a feeling that the world is out of control and that you don’t have the ability to ground yourself with your own positive choices, which is an indicator of pessimistic thinking,” Caroline explains.
Pat Pearson, the author of Stop Self-Sabotage, says we torment ourselves with self-doubt because we are mirroring the people we grew up with, but we can change if we shift from negative to positive thinking.
Here are six expert tips on how we can end the self-torment of second-guessing.
1. Notice and replace
“The first step is to notice your negative thoughts and then intentionally intervene with a better thought,” Pat says. “When you tell yourself, ‘I will be fine,’ your mind doesn’t believe it, so instead, start a sentence with ‘I choose’ and say something you can believe. For example, say ‘I choose to do everything in my power to create a positive outcome.’”
2. Embrace risk-taking
“Go outside your comfort zone when making decisions and decide you are going to risk failure or disapproval,” Caroline says. “Inevitably you will find that nothing disastrous happened, and you might even feel exhilarated from breaking free from the constant need for approval or praise. When we seek out the uncertain and unknown, we push into territory that could lead to our biggest wins. Playing it safe leads to mediocrity,” Caroline says.
We can learn how to do this in small chunks, according to Caroline, by having small mastery experiences along the way and building up belief in ourselves.
3. Accept and redirect
Accept that you won’t always get things right the first time. If something isn’t going as you hoped, take responsibility and intentionally redirect by tweaking your decisions. “If you always play it safe, you never have a chance to discover how strong and resilient you are, or how creative you can be in searching for solutions,” Caroline says.
4. Build up your self-trust
Instead of acting in the moment, switch from your immediate self to your broader self and draw on your life experiences, goals and known abilities to get a full picture and make better decisions about what to say and do. Check in with yourself and learn to trust the broader person.
5. Embrace a growth mindset
People who are fixated on doing and saying the right thing have a fixed mindset, Caroline explains. “When this is the case, they believe failure of any kind is a moral indictment as opposed to a learning situation to get better. We all can develop a growth mindset if we decide that mistakes are what allow our minds and abilities to get stronger, and in doing so, we become smarter, more successful and more persistent.”
6. Rewire your brain for self-compassion
Practice self-compassion through a meditation called “loving-kindness,” Caroline suggests. Sit quietly and accept your thoughts as they come to you without forming judgments and send compassion to yourself and others. “This has been found to completely rewire the brain and help in situations where depression and low-confidence are chronic.”
People who don’t question or berate themselves use skills like risk-taking, self-belief, positive self-talk and optimistic thinking to keep second-guessing at bay. With a little practice, we all can use these skills to stop second-guessing and enjoy life so much more.
Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.