What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

We’ve all been there – wrestling with a decision, wanting to make it so we can finally stop thinking about it, but still not sure what to do. When I am grappling with a decision and feeling unsure I often force it – just make a choice so I can move on. Truth is, I’m not very patient and don’t like having mental chatter clogging my brain; so, I just make a decision. Yet, that doesn’t always work out for the best. That often leads me down a path that looks nothing like I intended. It also can lead us down a path of struggle or discomfort because we forced a decision when it wasn’t ready to be made.

I’ve experienced this repeatedly throughout my life so now know there are two things that work much better when we are struggling with a decision.

First, do nothing.

Don’t force yourself to decide. Often when we “force it” we end up creating more difficulty or unnecessary struggles. Or, we end up in a situation that could have resulted differently (and perhaps better) had we waited on our decision-making. For type A personalities and people who want to get that decision off their mind, doing nothing about it can feel excruciating – it does for me and that’s usually why I force it. However, if you allow yourself to stop thinking about it and put it on hold for a little while, you may discover the answer is closer than you realize.

For example, one of my clients was trying to decide about whether to pursue a new opportunity within her current organization or take a brand-new job in a new company. She was extremely torn, and, even after all her pros and cons analyses, still didn’t feel she knew which direction was best. She decided she would let it rest for a week. She planned to continue with her day-to-day activities and revisit the decision in a week. Within five days of “letting it rest” a different, even better opportunity within her current organization arose. She instantly knew this latest opportunity was the next best move for her. By choosing to wait for a while, instead of forcing a decision, she received additional information, which led her to the perfect choice.

Another thing to do when you don’t know what to do is: do something else.

Do something completely different and unrelated to the decision that’s keeping you stuck. What works best for me, personally, is to go for a run, or spend time hiking or out in nature. If I have a decision to make that I’m stuck on, I will go out for a run, and instead of mulling it over on my run, I absorb myself with my surroundings or drown my thoughts with loud music in my ears. Without fail, during or shortly after my run, I have my answer. Almost out of thin air, it comes to me. Because I stepped away and focused my energy on other things, the answer came to me.

Other examples could be to divert your attention to a different project or do something that totally absorbs your mind. Perhaps you have a hobby like knitting or painting or doing projects around your home. Some people will spend time outside in nature or go out for a drive– it’s really anything that you enjoy doing that can refocus your attention away from whatever it is you’re trying to decide. If the answer doesn’t come to you while you’re doing this specific task or shortly thereafter (like it does for me when I run), see what happens when you go back and revisit the decision after doing something else. When we step away from it and transfer our attention to something else, we gain a different perspective. Things that were uncertain become clearer and new ideas and thoughts come to us. Stepping away and putting your attention on something else enables you to gain a fresh perspective. That may be all you need to help you make your decision.

The answers to all decisions, big and small, and the ones we wrestle with are always within us. Sometimes we must step away so they can clearly reveal themselves. The next time you don’t know what to do, do nothing or do something else. From there your answers will arise and you’ll know the exact choice to make.

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