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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We’ve all been there – wrestling with a decision, wanting to make it so it can be done (and we can just stop thinking about it!) but, not sure what to do.   As a coach, I support many clients through making both big and small decisions. There are two key things I’ve seen work best when you are stuck on a decision and unsure of what to do.

First, do nothing.  Don’t force yourself to make a decision.  Often times when we “force it” we end up making the wrong decision.  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 (trust me, I’ve been there!) However, if you allow yourself to stop thinking about it, put it on hold for a day or two (or a week or longer, if necessary), you may discover the answer is closer than you realize.  

For example, a young leader I work with was trying to make a decision 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 “pen-to-paper” pros and cons analyses, still didn’t feel that she knew which direction was best.   She decided she would let it rest for a week.  She planned to just 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 presented itself to her.  She instantly knew that this latest opportunity was the next best move for her.  By choosing to not force a decision and instead, do nothing about it for a period of time, 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 choice you’re wrestling with.   What works best for me, personally, is to go for a run.  If I have a decision to make that I feel 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.  I know that because I stepped away and focused my energy on other things, I was able to allow the best right answer to come 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 refocusing and doing something else.  When we step away from it and transfer our attention to something else, we gain a different perspective.  Things that were not clear become clearer and new ideas and thoughts also come through.  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 the big and small decisions are always within us – sometimes we have to step away so they can clearly reveal themselves.  So, when you don’t know what to do, do nothing or do something else… you’ll know exactly what to do when it’s time.  

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