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Live Life Fully: Second-guessing decisions increases stress

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Do you make snap decisions? Or are you of the type that ponders every angle?

Whether you shoot from the hip or play out every possible scenario, there's no right or wrong approach.

There is, however, something within your control after you've made a decision. And that has to do with sticking to your guns instead of ruminating over your actions.

We all do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time. Making difficult decisions is part of life. In making them we get stronger and more confident in ourselves. Second-guessing our decisions -- once they've been made -- only dilutes that confidence and adds to our stress.

It's a vicious cycle. Once our confidence is undermined, we question ourselves more. And that leads to less confidence.

When you're facing a major crossroad in your life -- be that a career change, moving across country or leaving a relationship -- know that you already have the skills, knowledge and know-how to make the decision. The most important thing is not to take too much time contemplating all the "what ifs" before or after the decision.

See if you can relate to the following reflection that author Sonya Derian shared from one of her readers:

"I struggle with making decisions and always second-guess myself. I recently had to make a decision about something; and after giving it a lot of thought, I decided. Now, months later, my decision is eating me up, and I can't stop thinking I made the wrong decision."

Sound familiar? Derian explains there are two parts to each of us: who we are day to day, and who we are in our broader intentions. Second-guessing comes when the smaller part -- the one that is at the effect of everything -- is afraid of the greater part that's forging a new path.

When we make any decision, we effect change. And sometimes it's scary to be responsible for that change. Consider this saying: "Make a decision. And then make the decision right."

We never know where our decisions will lead us, and we can't know before making them what the aftermath might be. But only after making the decision -- never before -- can we deal with what comes next.

There's an assumption that a decision that ends up hurting someone's feelings, causing friction or rocking the boat is somehow a wrong decision. But why would that be the case?

It could mean that the broader part of you helped you make that decision in order to break something open, learn how to deal with discomfort or learn how to create a boundary in the midst of someone else's disapproval.

We're always course correcting, just like a pilot does when navigating a plane. That's how we grow.

But is there a way to allow the process to unfold more smoothly? Here are a few tips Derian offers:

Trust yourself

Listen to your gut instinct. Don't focus on what other people think. Making a decision sometimes forces you to grow in areas where you're not comfortable. When you second-guess yourself, it's usually because of that discomfort. Even if you're not seeing an obvious positive result yet, it could be on its way.

I often say in hindsight, "I wouldn't have scripted things this way, but this is exactly what I needed to get into action."

Choose a new thought

Stop beating yourself up! There's absolutely no power in that. Chances are you're bringing other people into that internal dialogue and giving them power over you. There's a proverb that says, "If there is no enemy within, then the enemy on the outside can do no harm."

Instead of focusing on external sources, know that things are working out for your highest good and that you're learning and growing while you find your bearings. That can transform fear, anxiety and depression into confidence, peace and a "knowing."

Don't dwell on perfection

Cut your priorities in half. Many of us become immobilized when we have too much to do. When you're overwhelmed and feel like quitting, identify the first step you can take. Fear sets in when you procrastinate, causing you to second-guess your decisions, which can lead to anxiety.

Assess what you're learning

Because we're always in a state of flux, there may well be things you'll do differently next time. Ask yourself, "If I had it to do over, what would I do differently?" And then congratulate yourself, rather than berating yourself. This is how new behavior is born. You can't learn if you're not playing the game.

Get comfortable with mistakes

Time gives us an opportunity to fix all sorts of things we think we may have screwed up. There's power in simply letting things go and deciding to re-evaluate them at a future date. Ask yourself, "What if I did make a wrong decision? Is it OK for me to have made a mistake?" And then let it go. Getting comfortable with making mistakes could have been the entire lesson! Who knew?

Go easy on yourself

Life is a hardhat zone. We're always under construction. You're not who you were yesterday, and you're not who you'll be tomorrow. Make peace with that. Life is full of second chances.

As the proverb states, "Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions."

Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301 or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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