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Getting past the need to always get things right (Calvio/iStockphoto)
Getting past the need to always get things right (Calvio/iStockphoto)

Getting past the need to always get things right Add to ...


I have a problem making and acting on decisions and I’m afraid it is the reason I was passed over for a promotion. I'm constantly worried that I might make the wrong choices, so I tend to ruminate about things and hesitate to act. What can I do to be a better decision-maker?


You want things to be right. This is admirable, but demanding perfection in making everyday choices can be a self-defeating and stressful way of life. Here are some things you can do to help:

Accept your limited knowledge

The fear of not knowing enough to control the outcome of a situation can be crippling when it comes to decision making. When you’re unsure of how to approach a problem, rather than procrastinating, accept the limits of what you can know for certain and be prepared to act on imperfect knowledge. Accepting that guarantees are not a part of the fabric of the real world is a crucial part of overcoming self-defeating perfectionism. Look upon your understanding of what you don’t know as a mark of wisdom, rather than failure.

Get beyond the negatives

Instead of focusing on or looking for what’s negative or wrong in the world, think about what is right in it. Make a list of examples of negative things you’ve focused on and unnecessarily stressed about. Then, list just as many things that are positive in the world, including things in your own life and the lives of loved ones. Pay attention to what you may have been taking for granted.

Appreciate risks

Instead of worrying about risks as though they were evil, reframe them as the necessary baggage of a world full of interesting challenges and opportunities for making things better. Rather than demanding that the world be perfect, replace the idea of perfection with an idea of improvement.

Recognize your limits

Along with accepting the limits of certainty, you should accept the limits of your control over things. Areas you control including reframing or interpreting reality, choosing options, desiring and disliking things. Things not under your control include whether other people approve of you, whether your employer will stay in business, or whether the economy will tank. Stick to trying to control only what is really in your power and avoid needless stress.

Change “musts” to preferences

Accept that you will be disappointed sometimes, and prepare yourself to tolerate it. Instead of telling yourself that you must have the approval of others, or that you must sport the latest fashions, remember you cannot rationally demand that you must have them.

Reframe your goals

An intriguing aspect about goal setting is that in aiming at one goal, you may forge another goal. This is exciting. Instead of seeing your current goals as carved in stone, reframe them as being subject to change as you encounter fresh opportunities. Accept that the world is imperfect. Breaking free from the bonds of this unrealistic demand for perfection can give you the serenity you need to act from a better, peaceful place without sacrificing your ideals and standards.

Elliot Cohen, Phd., is a Florida-based therapist and author of the new book The Dutiful Worrier: How to Stop Compulsive Worry Without Feeling Guilty

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