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How to stop second-guessing your biggest decisions

One thing to keep in mind: The decision is the start of a process, not the end of one.

How to stop second-guessing your biggest decisions
[Source images: ThisisEngineering RAEng/Unsplash; Irwan_Nartadi170/iStock]
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We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the “right” decision. People agonize over whether to take a particular job, because they are concerned they may not love the work. They spend a lot of time reluctant to start new projects, because they are unsure of the outcome. People are also worried that they will take the blame if things go wrong.

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When you reach a decision, you want to be able to move forward confidently and to project that to others. Here are three things you need to do to ensure you can feel good about that choice.

Make sure it “thinks” and “feels” right

A great way to develop confidence in the choice you are making is to pay attention both to how the choice feels as well as the reasons for making it. Many theories in psychology propose that there is a fast intuitive system that provides a gut reaction to situations based on the familiarity of the situation to ones you have encountered in the past. There is also a slower more deliberative system that can be used to reason through problems.

When making a decision, you will get information about the options from both systems. Some options may “feel” great. Others may have great supporting reasons (they “think” great). The best decisions are ones that both “feel” and “think” right.

When you have a conflict between these systems, spend time exploring why your gut reaction differs from the reasons. Talk with others and help yourself to resolve the conflict. When you understand the basis for your decision, it is easier to feel confident in the option you select.

Be prepared to adapt

It is also important to remember that the decision is the start of a process, not the end of one. Most complex decisions lead to courses of action that will then unfold over a long period of time. As a result, the conditions you expected to hold when planning for the choice may not be the ones you encounter as you move forward.

In the end, success is not really about great decision-making, it is about resilience”

Even before you announce a decision, prepare for things that might go wrong. Envision as many obstacles as you can, and think about what you will do when you encounter them. When you communicate to others about the decision, be frank about the potential problems and talk about some of the plans you have to handle them.

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In the end, though, success is not really about great decision-making, it is about resilience. In the end, you are being held accountable for what you are able to achieve. If you have to switch plans or even goals midstream, that is okay. People do not really care whether you reach your goals by the path you stated when you first made your decision.

There is an emotional component to this resilience as well. In complex situations, it is easy to get discouraged by outcomes that do not go as you had hoped. In those situations, you may not even want to admit that things haven’t gone well, because you may fear the reaction of other people. As it turns out, the best strategy is actually to enlist the help of others when you reach an impasse. Getting advice, assistance, and coaching is a great way to help you move forward when you are not sure what steps to take next.

Create a bridgeable gap

When you do step out in front of other people to announce a decision, you will probably need their help in some way. That means that people need to feel invested in the outcome, and they also need to believe that the option you have selected can ultimately be successful.

To prime other people to be ready for action, you have to energize them about your decision and then give them a channel to use that energy to move a plan forward. That requires creating bridgeable gaps.

A bridgeable gap starts with a statement about what you want to achieve that contrasts it with the present state. Research by Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues demonstrates that the difference (or gap) between present and future creates energy to want to act. Channeling that energy requires a specific plan that will enable the future state to be achieved. When you are able to communicate both the desirability of the future goal and the steps that must be taken to get there, you increase people’s willingness to work with you. And that, in turn, makes it more likely that you will reach your goal.