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5 Ways to Stop Second Guessing Yourself

5 Ways to Stop Second Guessing Yourself

Decide: 5 ways to stop second guessing yourself

    Some years ago I remember standing in my kitchen, staring silently at my boxes of cereal, trying to decide which to have for breakfast.  Was it a Frostie’s morning, or was it more of an Oat Crunchie’s day?  Or maybe granola?  I stood there for 5 minutes, until – utterly frustrated – I marched out of the house and went without.

    Fortunately I’ve learned to make decisions more quickly and more easily now, and when I notice that second-guessing and doubting starting to kick in, I kick it right back.  So here are 5 ways to stop second-guessing or, of you prefer, 5 ways to make confident decisions.

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    1. Test them against your values.

    So many times we have to make decisions without a framework and no way to judge between two choices.  When faced with a tricky decision it’s often a good idea to line up your choices and ask “Which one of these most honours the things that mean the most to me?”

    The decision that’s most in line with the things that mean the most to you – your core values – will be the best decision for you.  That might not be the simplest or most practical, but because it fits with who you are and what’s most important to you it will always be the best decision for you.

    2. Trust your gut.

    When I was growing up I used to love rainy Sunday afternoons watching Columbo, especially the bit at the end where he’d sidle up to the Bad Guy, say “Just one more thing” and then proceed to blow apart the bad guys alibi.  Just brilliant.

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    What Columbo had bundles of was a great trust in his intuition.  In every episode, from the very moment he first meets the bad guy, he knows ‘whodunnit’ – and he always trusts that.

    So look at what your intuition tells you is the ‘right’ decision for you.  Forget about all the “What if’s” and the myriad, tiny details – what is your gut telling you?  Listen to your intuition, it knows what it’s talking about.

    3. It just doesn’t matter.

    My decision between breakfast cereals wasn’t a biggie.  Whichever one I chose, there were never going to be any huge consequences and the ripples from that decision wouldn’t have been felt much further than the end of my spoon.  Sometimes it just doesn’t matter which way you go.

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    It’s easy to get wrapped up in second guessing yourself, going round in circles and over-complicating things, when – if you get right down to it – it just doesn’t matter. Going round in circles is only going to make you dizzy, so stop it.  Ask yourself this question – if your future happiness wasn’t dependent on your decision (and it isn’t, by the way), which way would you go?

    4. Have enough information.

    Go and get the facts before you make a complex decision.  By all means weigh up the pro’s and con’s so that you can get an understanding of what’s behind a choice.  But be careful – there’s a huge difference between knowing enough to make a choice, and knowing everything to make a choice.

    When you feel yourself pursuing every fact or every piece of information before you make a decision, stop yourself.  Ask “What do I really need to know to make this decision?” and focus your efforts on getting the best information relatively quickly, rather than pursuing all of the information you could get your hands on given a longer period of time.

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    5. Respect your doubts.

    We all naturally shy away from change, and we’ve developed a whole bunch of tricks that make it easy for us to avoid making decisions and stay exactly where we are.  That part of you is often called the “Gremlin”, and it’s the part of you that would rather avoid making decisions altogether rather than run the risk of making a bad one or screwing up.

    Your Gremlin is not the same thing as having doubts, which are valid concerns about a possible course of action, or reasonable concerns about what might be in store. Your doubts can help you prepare for change and get ready for what could happen.

    Your Gremlin is adept at feeding on your doubts and using them to get you to stay put, so knowing the difference between your Gremlin and your valid doubts helps you clarify what’s real and what’s imagined, what’s relevant and what’s irrelevant.

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    Steve Errey

    Steve is a confidence coach who helps leaders build confidence.

    New Years Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why How to Be Confident: 62 Proven Ways to Build Self-Confidence 7 Ways to Stop Being Treated Like a Doormat I Like You a Lot How To Muster Your Confidence And Tell Someone You Like Them Stuck in Rewind. 7 Beliefs That Will Help When You Get Stuck

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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