Second Guessing Ourselves: Did we make the right choice?

Every day, we make dozens of decisions. Some are minor like what to cook for dinner and whether to take a walk after a morning working at our computer. Or maybe we should head out in the afternoon when our work is done.

Some are clear cut. Should I have chocolate or fruit after dinner tonight? The fruit is healthier, but you crave the chocolate. However, it could result in a painful migraine the next day. Here, the consequences make the decision a no brainer.

We have knee pain. It’s our meniscus. We’ve tried PT, stem cell injections and other remedies, but it still hurts. Should we go for an operation or live with the pain, limp and take anti-inflammatories? We do our research to find the right procedure and doctor. Then we try to make our choice.

Should we downsize and move to a place without stairs? Should we spend the money to take a much-needed vacation? Stay in a bad relationship?  What is the best school for our child with learning differences? And how about college—and where?

During the height of the real estate market when housing stock was low and prices sky high, many said they’d forgo the inspection to get the house. Was that a smart decision when they moved in, and the basement flooded? It became necessary to put in expensive underground French drainage pipes and a sump pump.

Do we put off retirement and start working for ourselves? Do we have enough money to do so? Do we have a head for business? Are we entrepreneurial? What about the timing?

Oh my! Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

How do we know if we’re making the right choices and what do we do if a decision falls apart?

So, why do we make poor decisions? The reasons are endless, says psychotherapist Jill Davis, an MSSW with a private consulting practice assisting pre-med and medical students. It’s tough to make decisions at times when we don’t have the information necessary to do so. None of us has a crystal ball to see into the future, she says. “We choose which job offer to take on the limited amount of data that we possess, trying to estimate how collegial the workplace will be, how much we will enjoy our colleagues, how invigorated we will feel by the work itself,” Davis adds.

And let’s face it, some of our indecisiveness comes from the fact that we often don't know ourselves as thoroughly as we might or understand how other people view us. “This may lead us to overestimate or underestimate our abilities or blunder in our social or professional interactions and decision-making. Or poor decisions emanate from fear, envy, insecurity and impulsivity,” Davis points out.

Here’s how fear can dictate certain decisions, too. “Someone is too tired to go to a party but is afraid of ‘missing out.’ Or in the inverse, a lonely person doesn't go to a social gathering because it's easier not to than overcome her reticence,” she says.  

Poor decisions are as much a part of the human condition as the inevitability of feeling joy, sorrow and love.  It’s just a fact, the arc of human existence is a series of scrimmages won or lost in a number of ways. 

Do we make the right choices in our friendships, for example? Sometimes we hold onto a friendship despite the fact that this person might be toxic for us. Davis explains that friendships shift over time. It doesn’t mean that you’ve fallen out with the person you used to be closest to. “Every breakup of a friendship or marriage doesn't mean that initially welcoming that person into our lives was a bad choice. It might have been a good choice at the time. And we might have gained a lot during the period that it remained a good decision. But we all change, and circumstances change. What fit well for us once, doesn't mean that it will fit well for us over time,” Davis explains.

We make a choice and, good or bad or whatever, we live with it. Maybe there are consequences but most likely, if we follow certain tips, we will make more right than wrong choices. Anyway, as Margaret’s mother always said: “Everything happens for a reason.” We may believe that but still second-guess some of our decisions.

Here are some tips from Davis and from us to help with decision making:

Slow down. Instead of making quick decisions, give yourself time to gain distance between the uncentered pull of emotion and the data and our more rational and centered selves. Perhaps you want to switch careers. This takes time to process. We’re so used to instant gratification or feedback. This is not the time to rush.

Funny feeling, go with your gut. If you’re wavering perhaps it’s not right for you. Sleep on it more.

Ask the perspective of someone whom you trust, who knows us well and has our best interest at heart. And listen to that advice, let it permeate our thinking, so we don't dismiss it out of hand. Don’t ask too many people, however, or you’ll overwhelm yourself and muddy your decision process.

Make your list of pros and cons on a spreadsheet or yellow pad.  Then weigh your options. Barbara did this the first time when debating whether to move from New York City to St. Louis. She did again before other moves, including when deciding to move back East 12 ½ years ago.  

Try it on for size, if possible. Buy those expensive shoes, take them home and walk around on the carpet. If they’re uncomfortable, take them back. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The only downside, sending them back; why we always save receipts and boxes until we decide! Margaret tried out her new location with an Airbnb rental for a week before she plunked down a deposit on an apartment.

Do your homework. Research the issue if you can. Go online and read reviews whether it’s a medical procedure, hiring a cleaning person, finding a good hair salon or doctor. If you want to sell your home, study the market and find a real estate person whom you trust. Is it the right time to list your home or should you wait? Where will you go? If there are no buyers for your home, should you take it off the market? With more serious decisions, it’s more key. Barbara debated during Covid whether to have an operation in her upstate hood or wait for a New York City hospital to re-open where a doctor friend recommended a surgeon. She decided to wait and was pleased she did.

Be realistic. Before you buy that apartment in a prewar building, make sure you can live without a washer and dryer in your unit and a large refrigerator. Is this acceptable or are you falling in love with the character of the space and maybe the view or allowing only price to dictate your choice. Visit the location also at different times of the day and early evening and check out services in the area, all will factor into your happiness quotient.

As for what to do after realizing that you might have made a poor choice, Davis says:

  1. Don't beat yourself up. Remind yourself that poor decisions are a part of being human.
  2. See poor decisions as a gift, which allows us to know ourselves more fully. 
  3. Welcome a poor decision as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself. We stay engaged in life when we learn.

If you’ve made a decision that doesn’t feel right, hopefully you’ve built in some wiggle room. Adjust your plan. Maybe you’re not ready to start your own business, you don’t have the cash right now to buy a home or you move to be near your kids, and it hasn’t worked out the way you pictured, so have a plan B. 

1 comment

  • Audey Steuer

    Good advice, especially about visiting a potential neighborhood at different times of day – thinking about safety! How busy is the area? Are there many retail businesses around which invite people and activity? How close to transportation? The refrigerator size and a washer/dryer in one’s unit are very important, especially as we age and may not want to go out alone after dark.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published