This Is Why You Settle (and How to Stop)


Brand new research suggest even rats regret settling for second best.

And while I'd be the first to agree that perhaps those researchers have too much time on their hands, it does raise an interesting point.

Why do we continue to settle when we know we're going to regret it later?

After all, we're all familiar with that icky sensation we get when we resign ourselves to taking less. We know that "THIS" isn't what we really want — we wanted "THAT" — but some unseen force convinced us that settling would be the better option, and we'd be just as satisfied with Plan B.

Except that it isn't, and we aren't.

And truth be told, we knew it going in.

Fast Shoes and Cute Shoes

When I was in the 4th grade, I asked my mom to buy me a pair of track shoes. Field Day was coming up and I had seen how fast my friends ran with those amazing shoes on their feet. I was scheduled to run the 400-yard dash and I was determined that blue ribbon was going to be mine.

All I needed was a pair of those shoes.

Unfortunately, track shoes aren't the most attractive accessory and once at the shoe store, my mother found all sorts of other, "prettier" alternatives that she thought I should get instead. At first, I resisted, committed to holding out for the shoes I knew would make me fly across the finish line, but in the end, I relented and agreed to a pair of bright blue sneakers with a Holly Hobby pattern.

"These shoes are just as fast," my mother said with a smile, "and they'll look so nice with your blue dress." In that she was right — they matched the dress perfectly — but I knew, even as we stood there in line to pay, that I had sold out.

And after I took second place in the race, I never wore those shoes again.

Of course, today I know that those track shoes didn't guarantee me a win. And just between us, I will also shamefully admit to having a very similar conversation with my daughter on more than one occasion and taking the viewpoint of my mother without a second thought.

But I still wish I had bought those shoes.

Plan B might not be all that bad. Things might actually turn out okay. And yes, there are those instances where letting go can open up possibilities you hadn't thought of before.

But sometimes, we want what we want. Sometimes, despite all the logic that tells us to wait, resist or settle for something less, our desire simply can't be quelled. And we know — in that instinctive, pit of our stomach, no-doubt-about-it way of knowing — that we're going to regret anything less than satiating that desire.

Why Do We Settle?

Those things we desire, be it the perfect partner, the dream house in the country, the job with the corner office, or those lightning-fast track shoes, all have something very specific in common: They represent a better version of life, and when we fail to get them, we feel regret because we let ourselves down — just as we feel regret when we disappoint someone else.

Unfortunately, we're also all wickedly addicted to what's familiar and that can make it hard to hold out for what we want. We don't like change, even if that change represents something better because it also represents the unknown. So, if it's easier to settle — if settling keeps us in our comfort zone — then settle we will.

This hesitation is further reinforced by our deep-seated need to fit in. We're wired to be social and when our path looks like it might take us in a direction opposite the rest of the crowd, we'll adjust in order to stay with the group.

And armed with this mentality — our need to fit in and our fear of the unknown — we ignore what we really want and talk ourselves into settling for something less, even when we know we're going to regret it later.

Settling on Settling

The thing is, the more we settle, the more accustomed we become to doing it. Like everything else in life, settling becomes a habit and before you know it, it's not just your go-to move, it's the best you think you can get.

Now, ironically the fix for this is as simple as refusing to settle, but the more we experience not getting what we want, the more comfortable we are to accept less. And the more we accept less, the more we experience not getting what we want. As Maureen Dowd writes, "The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for."

Ok. So let's stop settling.

How to Stop Settling

Stopping is easier than you might think.

1. Make Sure Your Desire Isn't Panic or Impulsivity in Disguise

Before you declare your allegiance to something or someone, make sure it's really something (or someone) you really can't live without.

The best test? Wait. Impose a mandatory waiting period before making any big purchases or commitments (or even smaller ones if you find you're having second thoughts) and see if that desire is still as strong once your waiting period is over.

That's all well and good you say, but what if there's no time to wait? What if opportunity knocks and you have to make a quick decision?

2. Get Clear on What You Want and Why You Want It

Understanding what drives you is a key component to figuring out how to get from your current state of here to you ideal version of there. It's also a useful tool when you need to make those split-second decisions and you're not sure which way to go.

Do you take that promotion? Instead of making money the only deciding factor, make sure the new job "fits" with your long-term plan for happiness. Should you buy this house? It depends on whether "this house" and the mortgage and maintenance that comes with it, is part of what you really want.

Remember, that settling isn't just taking less than what you really wanted in the here and now. it's also making commitments that keep you from moving forward in the future. That's why people who settle often feel trapped — they've created a life that doesn't bring them joy, but also doesn't offer easy options for escape.

3. Learn to Listen to Your Inner Voice

We all have it. That little voice in your head that says don't do it, stay away, this isn't what you wanted. But over the years, we've learned to ignore it.

That voice can be a nag. That voice can be overly critical. That voice just doesn't let us have any fun. But that voice is actually more than just a conscience. It's also your best defense against making decisions you'll later regret. So, when you get that icky feeling or you hear those nagging whispers, pay attention.

It knows what it's talking about.

4. March to Your Own Drum

You don't need to live the way your parents or your friends or your spouse wants you to live — they have their own lives to mess up. You have to walk your own path, follow your own dream, march to your own drummer. Sometimes, that might take you in the same direction that others are going and sometimes, it won't.

You have to be okay with it either way.

5. Believe That You Are Worth the Effort

If you're settling because you think it's all you deserve, you're wrong. But you'll never experience "more" until you decide you're worth it and that's something only you can change.

Maybe you need to talk nicer to yourself. Maybe you need a more positive circle of friends. Or maybe you just need to let go of all the internal drama and make the conscious decision to be in a happier state of mind. I know that can sometimes be easier said than done, but that doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

6. Make Conscious Choices

There is a difference between "settling" and "choosing" to go a different way and that's really how to ensure you never have to wrestle with that icky feeling again.

Choosing a less expensive car for example, because it gets better mileage or because the payments are more in line with your long-term financial goals is a purchase you can feel good about, even if it isn't the flashy sports car you had your eye on.

That's not settling. That's knowing what you want (like we mentioned earlier) and being in sync with those desires. You still may end up delaying or even foregoing something you wanted, but when you do it consciously, it's much easier to live with the decision.

When was the last time you settled and regretted it later? Don't miss this opportunity to share in comments!

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