Turn Setbacks into Setups

Never settle for less than your standards

November 3, 2018

It’s an ugly word, settling. We know we should never settle, but we’ve all done it from time to time, resigning ourselves to a lesser option instead of reaching for what we truly want, whether that’s financially, romantically, emotionally, or vocationally. And often, we or the people we love settle without even realizing we’ve done so.


The decision to settle is particularly complex because in some cases, “settling” is confused with “stability.” As humans, we do need predictability, and that means occasionally closing doors: when you marry, you stop dating; when you find a job, you stop searching. But when we lower our standards and give up on finding our optimal outcome, it can mean giving up on our own happiness and personal satisfaction, all for the sake of security.


There are many factors involved in settling, and many reasons why someone might lower their standards, but it’s important to be aware of the most common ones—just in case you find yourself falling into the trap of settling for comfort over happiness.


Losing time:

We often feel our worth depends on our ability to tick off certain boxes: a healthy marriage, a steady job, a nice house. If you’re single after a certain age, for example, you might be warned about your biological clock, or told that you’re simply too picky. Unfortunately, people often feel rushed to—or are pressured to—settle for something before they’re ready.


Low self-esteem:

When we have low-self esteem, we often settle for the less healthy or optimal option, simply because we feel we don’t deserve more of our own time, aren’t worthy of a better relationship, aren’t capable enough for a new job. Even when we know we should never settle for less, low self-esteem often makes it hard to fight for what we want in life.



Sometimes, we feel stable, but we haven’t taken the time to consider whether that stability is optimal for us. Inertia makes it hard for us to move when we’re comfortable, like the career worker who grows complacent and never looks for a more fulfilling job.



Fear plays a huge role in settling. For example, we often have a serious fear of being single for life, as we prioritize being in any relationship—good or bad—over finding the right relationship. The problem is, this makes us vulnerable to jumping onto the first option that comes along, leaving us open to abuse and closing the door to a better option that truly suits us.


Internal biases:

As humans, we’re prone to many internal biases, including a few that come into play when we make a decision to settle. First is loss aversion, in which we care more about what we lose than when we win: losing $5 feels worse than winning $5 feels good. We don’t want to lose the relationship we have, so we simply stop looking for another.


There’s also the sunk-cost fallacy, which happens when we make a decision based on the amount of time and money we’ve already put into something. For example, we might decide to stay in an unhappy relationship because we’ve already invested ourselves in it—instead of cutting those ties to enjoy our life, potentially opening the door to something better.


These factors (and many more) are often at play when we decide to settle. You might even find your mind influenced by a mixture of them. But knowing why we decide to lower our standards can help us understand how to avoid giving up on what we want—because you should never settle for something that isn’t right for you.  

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