What to do when you don’t know what to do?

How often do we pause to appreciate the beauty all around us, the subtleties of meaning and pockets of inspiration? We live in such a fast-paced world that we rarely find time to stand still. We can have overwhelming pressure on our lives and our next steps within cross-cultural dynamics, pressures and judgments from the news and social media, in addition to our social groups. Age-related achievements and the ‘need’ to be in a certain place by such a time in our lives can often come to the fore. Do we choose our next steps for others or do we choose our future path for what resonates with us as individuals?

  • ‘Should I take on this new job?’
  • ‘Should I change my location?’
  • ‘Is this promotion good for me?’
  • ‘I have just lost my job, what do I do next?’
  • ‘Is this the right path for me?’
  • ‘What to do when you don’t know what to do?

It is very normal to feel isolated, lost or anxious when you are unsure of what action to take. Having autonomy is very important for our health and well-being. When we are unsure of what to do, we could argue that our anxiety over an issue temporarily imprisons us. Depending on our given situation, we may feel other emotions such as guilt. Perhaps our indecision is not based on an upcoming opportunity but rather a recent challenging experience. I have been in many scenarios whereby I didn’t have an immediate answer or remedy. This could have been around the concept of financial expenditure on my business instead of following the convention of buying my first home or perhaps feeling trapped in life and not knowing how to make amends with someone I care for. These are all very normal and common challenges, so please be kind to yourself and focus your energy on growth and being the best version of yourself.

Why do we feel these emotions?

Shame and guilt can be very common feelings when we are uncertain of what to do next. According to Scientific American;

“Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light. Feelings of guilt, in contrast, result from a concrete action for which we accept responsibility. Guilt causes us to focus our attention on the feelings of others.”

Understanding our intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can help us to dissect our current situation.

According to Ryan & Deci, 2008;

“When an individual is driven by autonomous motivation, they may feel self-directed and autonomous; when the individual is driven by controlled motivation, they may feel pressure to behave in a certain way, and thus, experience little to no autonomy.”

Self Determination Theory suggests that there are two key types of motivation – intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside world such as rewards, promotions, accolades, social respect and more. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand comes from within from our interests, values, morale code and more. Although this is a broad topic with many variables, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation drive us towards three basic human needs;

  1. Autonomy – Having freedom and control over at least certain aspects of our lives.
  2. Competence – Having a need to build up skill sets, mastery of tasks, knowledge and more.
  3. Relatedness – Having a sense of human connection, belonging and engagement with other human beings.

This knowledge is very important as it enables us to focus our attention and energies on getting these three areas met for our well-being. We can also question more deeply if our next steps are being mostly motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic forms of motivation.

Key things to remember

  1. It is OK to change your mind. According to Data Point, 30% of US college students change their majors within three years of enrolment. Before I started Meaningful Paths I had tried many business projects, studied a wide range of educational courses and organically grew through the process becoming a better version of myself.
  2. You never FAIL, you only PIVOT in life. Toddlers fall when learning to walk. Relationships can drift and we can learn. Your first few businesses can struggle and the next one works! Take a deep breath, pick out the learnings, leave the situation with kindness and compassion and take the next step.
  3. Sometimes not focussing on the problem actually gives you the answer. If you are having a bad game of tennis, sometimes a two-day break and other forms of exercise is the answer. If you are stuck in the office ruminating on a challenge, sometimes a long country walk and the practice of mindfulness is the answer. Take a step back from a deep inward focus and the bigger picture can present itself naturally.

Actionable steps

  1. Take the time to explore your values. If we don’t feel emotions such as humbleness and integrity it is possible that our life actions are not in alignment with our values. By exploring our values further it can help us make decisions. Think of the metaphor of a lighthouse guiding a ship or a compass guiding you through a mountain. When we are very in touch with our values and meaning in life, we will feel lost less often and have a sense of autonomy more regularly.
  2. Continually grow your social circle and depth of connections with others. The more you connect with others, the more you learn about life. The more opportunities that present themselves, which makes your world larger. The more you connect with others, the more direction you will have in life due to your continual growth and learnings about life itself. Volunteer in your local community, help projects online with your skill sets, learn new hobbies and more.
  3. Begin three modest hobbies that you can organically drip-feed into your life with weekly consistent efforts. (1) Choose a hobby that improves your physical well-being (yoga, running, hiking). (2) Choose a hobby that improves your happiness and mental well-being (meditation, mindfulness, painting). (3) Pick a hobby that increases your financial health (read books, practice in low-risk business opportunities such as network marketing, create a colourful vision board for your dream life). As you practice these new hobbies you will grow and become more well rounded as an individual. You will gain strength, resilience and confidence in your life and this will create the perfect foundation which can help you make decisions when you don’t know what to do.
  4. Share your dilemma with at least one other person. Talking through our troubles can help us zoom out from our inward focus and we may get some very valuable insights from the other person we speak to.

A conclusion of thoughts

Not knowing what to do can be a very lonely place. It is very normal to feel lost or anxious in such a situation. By exploring our motivation for our choices at a deeper level we can unravel our deeper values and assess what is healthy for us not based on societal pressures. Practising new hobbies can help us increase our sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence which in turn will increase our well-being and ability to make decisions. Exercise, mindfulness, meditation and other such practices can help us tremendously and enable us to take a step back from our given situation. Remember it is OK to change your mind.

You are in control of your next path.

Fitness Professionals