Some people live by a “no regrets” policy, never looking back or learning from mistakes because they don’t think they made any in the first place.

I don’t recommend it.

“Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t mean I need either everything or the reason to happen again.

But if we constantly review and evaluate, we can get stuck in the past, feasting on doubt and regret. We become paralyzed by introspection, never moving forward. Every decision comes with a side dish of fatigue and self-condemnation.

I did it wrong/quit/failed last time; I’m afraid/worried/certain I’ll do it again. 

If we want to grow, we have to find some middle ground between ignoring the past and never letting it go, because there’s a huge difference between studying yourself and second-guessing yourself. Learning to spot it will help you approach your past with balance and wisdom.

Here are some things to look out for:

Second-guessing yourself is random. You respond emotionally to negative thoughts as they surface throughout the day.

Studying yourself is scheduled. You’ve set aside a specific time to work through what you can change going forward.

Second-guessing yourself is involuntary. You have no control over when your past pops onto the scene.

Studying yourself is intentional. You’ve made a plan to review the past and think or talk it through.

Second-guessing yourself is built on unrealized fears and what ifs, not in reality.

Studying yourself is grounded in results. You make plans and changes based on what you know and what actually happened, not what you’re afraid is going to happen.

Second-guessing yourself feeds on anxiety.
Studying yourself hungers for wisdom.

Second-guessing yourself is a one-sided conversation — an internal loop of doubt in your own head.
Studying yourself involves others and seeks mentors to guide the way.

Second-guessing yourself always procrastinates out of fear.

Studying yourself leads to action — taking one small step here and there toward a goal.

Second-guessing yourself comes from pride, believing that everything depends on you to get it right.

Studying yourself brings humility — the realization that you’re not perfect, not your own savior, not your own God.

And here’s the thing: the more you intentionally study yourself with the help of friends and mentors, the sooner you’ll stop second-guessing yourself.

You’ll fill up the holes of fears with facts and wisdom, and there’ll be less room for doubt and regret.

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