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On learning to stop second-guessing myself

Should I? Shouldn't I? Am I doing the right thing? Zoë Beaty on the exhaustive habit of questioning every decision. And why, this year, she's sticking to her guns 

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Posted by Zoë Beaty on

 

There’s no getting away from decision-making. The innocuous micro-decisions that shape our morning – like what time to drag ourselves from the warmth of our beds, the mood of the music we listen to during our commutes or the book we nestle into on the Tube – and the vast, teetering-on-the-edge, make-or-break calls. The decisions that we know, once said out loud, might irrevocably mould our realities into something we barely recognise. We all have to make decisions and stick with them. But some of us are better at it than others. I am somewhere in between. 

Usually, I don’t have a problem making an initial decision. I back myself and believe in what I’m doing – whatever that may be – right up to the point just after it’s too late to change my mind. And then it starts. 

The scrutiny. The blow-by-blow analysis, the resolution disputes playing out quietly in my mind. No decision is left overlooked, from breaking up to the right way to break an egg. I question every decision I make. With each resolution comes a high that it’s dealt with – regardless of whether the outcome was good, bad, positive or negative – and then moments, or days, or even weeks, later comes the crashing comedown: a hangover of doubt and a barrage of what-ifs.

It’s self-doubt in its finest and subtlest form – a corrupt moral compass, a powerful tool for sullying your own capability and leaving guilt or quiet, constant anxiety in its wake. If they say your gut is your sixth sense and reliable barometer for decision-making, I have a seventh sense that is constantly fighting against it. The post-decisive questions linger. A tiny voice, in a teacher’s tone, asking ever so gently, ever so weightily: “Are you… sure?” 

The past couple of years, I’ve had to make big decisions that have sent me sprinting down paths I didn’t know existed. Along the way, I’ve texted my two best mates at every turn, with one consuming question: 'Am I doing the right thing?'

Am I sure that I should have bought that skirt? (No.) Am I sure should have bought that brand of wine to take to a friend’s party, and risk their judgement? (Er…) Am I sure that I should have written that sentence, in that particular way; should I have sent that text; should I have gone out with him again, even if it made me happy at the time? Should I have said what I really felt; should I trust? Should I have stayed out with friends at the pub instead of slinking off early; would I have been happier if I hadn’t moved to London; did I give up too soon on my last relationship; did I let my family down when I said this, did that, failed? Have I done the right thing? What is “right” anyway and when do you know that it’s right? 

"You don’t" is the answer I have learnt and that’s why, this year, I’m resolving to ignore the doubts. For good. Because not only is it exhausting (my hair has almost grown out of the bob I had cut in during the length of time I’ve spent cross-examining it), it’s only making me unhappy. It’s rarely the severity of subject matter, but the sheer quantity of the questions at every turn; it weighs down on my lungs and it twists in my stomach. And my self-doubt rarely changes anything. 

The past couple of years, I’ve had to make big decisions – about jobs and relationships – that have sent me sprinting down paths I didn’t know existed. Along the way, I’ve texted my two best mates at every turn, with one consuming question: “Am I doing the right thing?” 

More often than not, they don’t confirm or deny that I am, or am not, even when I really need reassurance. What they say is, “Stop overthinking.” Stop worrying, stop torturing. Know that you can’t change things and that you’re OK. Leave it. 

And their words, in the year we’ve lived together, have shown up this side of me in full colour – and all its downsides. Every time I’ve questioned a decision I made, in good knowledge and good faith, at the time it needed to be made, I did it for a reason. I bought that skirt because I had some extra money. I like it. I thought that wine was decent and who cares if some bloke’s girlfriend doesn’t like it anyway. This year, I resolve to stick by my decisions – all of them, however difficult they are to make – and leave them in the past. I will reflect when it’s necessary and I'll never say never. But, for the most part, I’m going to trust myself. And I know this is one decision I won’t second-guess. 

@zoe_beaty

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