The Psychology of “Settling”

I’ve had the privilege of counseling countless clients, employees and friends over the years. A recurring theme of remorse I hear: “I settled.”

Why is it when someone is ready to make a serious personal commitment to another person, he or she says something like “It’s time for me to settle down”? But when that commitment wanes, the same person declares, “I made a mistake. I think I settled“?

The remorse of settling isn’t limited to personal relationships. It’s just as frequently said about work situations like taking a job. “I didn’t really want that position in the first place, but I was desperate. I settled hoping I’d find something better. Now I’m miserable.”

Sound familiar? If you’re human, it’s sounds very familiar. And if you’re honest, you’ve said–or at the very least THOUGHT–that same thing as if to explain decisions you’ve made that didn’t turn out right.

When this happens, you can do two things. You can acknowledge that you settled, or you can celebrate your exercise of freewill.

One option is to look back at the situation where you made a poor decision, recall what you were thinking and feeling at the time, and then tell yourself this epiphany: I settled. Did you go into the situation knowing that you were settling? Or is that what you say now, today, since you are not happy?

Hindsight is 20/20. Had you known you were making a bad choice, that you were settling, would you have still made the same decision? Probably. But you didn’t have 100% confirmation that the decision was poor, so you held on to that sliver of hope in the event everything turned out right.

No one feels comfortable when they believe that they’ve settled for second or third best. It’s a rotten feeling. But somehow, when most of us have the “I settled” epiphany, we stay in that situation as if we are powerless to change them. Often, we feel like a victim to the circumstances, our thoughts or feelings at the time. Justifying or explaining our reality to ourselves, I settled somehow becomes the reason for the status quo. Feeling bad about things becomes a substitute for making positive change happen.

The other option you can take is to view your decision as the best choice you could make at the time. Instead of expressing remorse or telling yourself that you settled, you can embrace the exercise of freewill you applied to your choice. And then, forced to take responsibility for the outcomes, you empower yourself to be responsible to make things change.

Have you settled? Don’t settle for settling! You made the choice that put you where you find yourself. Take away from it what you need to learn, and then set about to turn things around.

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