It’s normal to find ourselves not knowing what to do. If you feel like you’ve exhausted your options, check out this list!
15 experts answer, what to do when you don’t know what to do?
Discover helpful insights below.
Table of Contents
- Do something – anything!
- We often know what to do, but are either afraid to do it or fearful of the outcome
- Boredom will make you reluctant to do anything at all
- Reverse engineer your life
- Focus on the things you feel you actually understand
- Stop doing things just to please others
- Accept what the flow of life is presenting now
- Ask! It’s that simple
Professor, Mercyhurst University
Do something – anything!
When you feel like you are going round and round, you need to pick a direction – it doesn’t matter which one – and do something active and positive to change your situation.
Here are a couple of things that you can do immediately and almost always help:
Oftentimes you don’t know what to do because you are missing key pieces of information. Measuring does not have to be expensive and time-consuming.
Many times, simple measurements will give you enough info to be able to move forward.
Example: My students and I had a client who could not decide between three logo designs. All were pretty good but it was also clear that we were all too close to the brand to be able to make a good decision. We showed the three logos to 10 strangers and everyone picked the same logo as “best”.
Visualize your problem
Humans are visual animals. Drawing the problem out (even if you are not an artist) can be enormously helpful in terms of engaging different parts of your brain to help you find direction.
Example: We teach students to mindmap problems. It allows them to easily see the areas where they have a good grasp of the data and areas where they need to do more research.
Simplify the problem
Divergent thinking, or examining all the possibilities, is important and there are lots of good techniques for doing this (brainstorming is one of the most common).
However, divergent thinking, by itself, can leave us confused by the sheer number of options it produces.
Equally as important as divergent thinking is convergent thinking or the process of simplifying a problem.
Example: We teach our students to implement three primary convergent thinking techniques, grouping (lumping like concepts or solutions together), filtering (screening out impractical concepts or solutions) and prioritizing (identifying areas that need to be focused on first).
Dr. Jameson Mercier, LCSW
Celebrity Therapist, Mercier Wellness & Consulting
We often know what to do, but are either afraid to do it or fearful of the outcome
I believe that there are few situations when we don’t know what to do. My belief is that we often know what to do, but are either afraid to do it or fearful of the outcome.
Even when we seek guidance and are told what to do, step by step, many of us still hesitate. After we’ve received the information and given a direction, we must believe in the information.
The fact is you can only make a decision with the information in front of you. Too many worries about “the what if” question. Unfortunately, that leads them paralysis by analysis.
So it’s not that we don’t know what to do, its that we don’t trust what we already know. The trick is to believe in yourself, then take action.
Communications and Organic Search Manager, Auto Accessories Garage
Boredom will make you reluctant to do anything at all
When you don’t know what to do it often means you’re bored and sometimes your boredom will make you reluctant to do anything at all. Read a book? Sounds boring. Watch TV? Sounds boring. Listen to music? Boring.
The truth is boredom is a psychological state of mind that is caused in part by a lack of mental clarity.
When you’re bored your brain is craving stimulation but lacking the ability to concentrate or focus on anything that might be stimulating to it. The solution? Go for a jog.
Jogging, walking, or other types of exercise can help lift you out of your boredom quickly. Although a quick jog might sound just as unappealing as the other activities (if not more so) it will provide your brain with much-needed endorphins.
Endorphins are a stress-fighting chemical created by your body that helps to alleviate pain, augment mental clarity, and even relieve boredom. Their release is a natural response to exercise meant to provide an extra mental edge in fight-or-flight situations.
In other words, if a caveman was being chased by a lion, his brain would match the increased blood flow from running with an increased level of mental clarity.
Though we aren’t often pursued by lions in the modern world, we can still enjoy the benefits of a stimulated mind that come with exercise. It’s what athletes refer to as a “runner’s high” and it will keep your brain in an elevated, lower-stress state for several hours after the exercise has been completed.
The best part is, after you return home from a quick jog, you will find that your boredom will have been handily defeated. Books, music, even household chores will hold your interest much better now. The TV will suddenly be far more interesting and you can kick back with the knowledge that you’ve really earned some downtime.
Bryan M. Waring
These are the tips I can recommend to anyone if they fall into this situation:
#1 Assess the situation.
The first thing to ask yourself “can you physically do this task and learn it to an adequate level in a reasonable amount?”
For example: if you are asked to work with power tools and you have a problem working with machinery – you should stop right there to avoid injury. It is okay to do something you have never done before, but if there is a high risk of injury or damage to the group – best proceed with caution.
#2 Review yourself.
So you may not know what to do in this particular situation… but what do you know you can do? Instead of approaching a task with “I don’t know how,” tackle it with a mindset of “I know how to do this.”
Pointing out your pros instead of cons will help in seeing the pathway from the skills you already have to now doing something completely new.
#3 Research books, library, internet, polls, phoning a friend… you name it.
This is the part where you do have to swallow your pride, admit that you don’t know, and approach someone that can help you. And don’t think of it as a bad thing! In the end, you are only bettering yourself
Once you have a comprehensible understanding of something, try it out in practice.
As you do this for the first time, be sure to be open-minded that mistakes will be made. After, reflect on how things can be improved. Then, go back to these previous steps and try again. Soon, you’ll begin to understand more!
Reverse engineer your life
When it comes to life or business, the way to figure out what you want to do is to reverse engineer your life.
That is, think about the future – however far ahead you want – and envision how you want to live and feel. What do you want? Where do you want to live? How much money do you need?
After answering these questions and related ones, you need to think about the steps before it. Take one step at a time and don’t worry if there are some blank spots in your step-by-step process. – just think. Eventually, the steps should lead back to your current situation. Then, look back and embark on the process you set yourself.
It’s that simple. You need to know where you want to go. The journey to getting there will be beautiful and trying, and that’s where you’ll take your joy, but as long as you have your process and goals serving as a North Star, you’ll be OK.
Artist | Designer
Focus on the things you feel you actually understand
Like most artists, I consider my life to be my art and my physical art a representation of my life story. As a stone sculptor, I was taught one of the secrets of the ages.
When you just cannot seem to get a sculpture right, ( especially figurative sculptures ) focus on getting one thing right–a foot, an ear, a nose—something. Once you have something that is correct from which to work, you can adjust everything else.
You will notice in the unfinished marble sculptures of Michelangelo that he always took one part of the body to its completion to act as a reference point and to see how the stone would polish up.
When faced with a confusing and challenging situation which seems to be beyond a solution, focus on the one or two parts of that challenge that you feel you actually understand and have a way to make that better.
By getting one piece of the puzzle correct you have a reference point and you also break the paralyzing effects of total indecision. I also believe that God never presents us with a challenge that does not have a positive solution. A positive attitude built on Faith will allow your mind to more clearly sort your options. Fear and negativity block even the most obvious paths.
Senior Product Manager, Sony Music Entertainment
I usually do two things:
- Try to stop for a moment and find different angles to watch the situation. Usually, this is enough to unveil the solution to my eyes and go ahead.
- If this still does not work I try to distract by doing something else. It must be something that forces me to focus or my mind will get back to my original problem and this would kill the break. I need to completely forget about what I need to solve for at least half an hour. When I get back to the problem usually it is much easier to spot the solution.
Civil Litigation Attorney | Author, 50 After 50–Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life
Stop doing things just to please others
I was rudderless a few years ago when I got divorced and sober and became an empty nester at the same time. I was turning 50 and decided to try 50 new things in my 50th year.
The things I tried included adventure travel, spiritual endeavors, learning/teaching, thrill-seeking ventures, social experiments, physical challenges, and lifestyle changes. I learned more about myself than in the prior decades. I was able to cultivate gratitude and joy.
Most importantly, I learned how to become intentional about how I spend my time and to stop doing things just to please others.
Getting out of one’s routine, especially through travel (even if it’s just exploring the town or neighborhood next to yours), is an antidote to narrow mindedness and boredom. It’s your life; it’s up to you what you do with it!
Dawn Burnett, CSA
Founder, A New Dawn Natural Solutions
Accept what the flow of life is presenting now
When you’ve done all that you know to do the only thing you can do next is surrender, accept what the flow of life is presenting now.
Understanding that everything that is happening is happening for you, not to you. Meaning, ask yourself, “What is the big picture?” “What is it that I’m supposed to learn from what’s happening?”
Let go of your own mental resistance, it’s our inner being that holds us back from the very thing we are desperately seeking. Know that the Universal Plan is always much more expansive than our mind can imagine. So surrender, press into the flow, and trust that spirit and the Universe has your back!
Blog Manager, TCK Publishing
If you aren’t living this life trying to learn something new every day, then what type of life are you living?
We often think that not knowing something makes a person look small or weak, but it’s how a person handles that unknowing feeling that matters.
For me, I take that opportunity and grow from it. I will do my research, try and figure out the right way to do it and apply that knowledge to the situation. If I need to, I ask people for help.
Asking for help is not a weakness. I would rather do it right the first time than have to keep doing it over and over again, as I attempt to do it the right way without complete knowledge of how to do it the right way.
Author, The Makings of Me
Ask! It’s that simple
That’s what I have always done when I didn’t know what to do.
A perfect example is when I got transferred to The Traffic Violations Bureau from The Department of Motor Vehicles. Every time I came across a complex situation I would ask this one supervisor what to do and always made a mental note of the answer so that next time I would already know the answer.
Asking is helpful but most people don’t do it for fear that they will appear incompetent or the question is silly. There is no silly question. In less than a year I would say I became the most informative clerk at tvb. I knew how to handle issues even clerks before me didn’t know how to resolve.
That knowledge and sense of self and know it all came from not being afraid to just ask. Simply faking you know runs the risk of damaging the outcome. So that’s why you shouldn’t fake it. It could be detrimental in the end.
The first thing I do when I don’t know what to do? Ask my network!
I turn to my connections for advice and input all the time. Whether it’s looking for a recommendation, getting feedback, or shortening my learning curve by letting other people tell me how they solved it, I let the collective wisdom of dozens of people help me sort through options.
Sometimes you can just post it on Facebook and get all kinds of answers that might spur your creativity. Or at the very least, show you that you’re not alone.
Most of the time though, you want to pick and choose very carefully who you talk to. First, are they a trusted person? Your problem might involve a sensitive issue. Next, are they qualified to offer advice? I once heard the quote ” Never take advice from someone more messed up than you are!”
The best person to ask is someone who had been on that journey but isn’t so far ahead of you that they forget what it was like to be where you are.
Finally, remember that your network may be close to you, they may have seen your struggles first hand, but they AREN’T you. You still have to listen to your own wisdom, gather knowledge and then most importantly, take action! The good news is that your network will be the first to encourage you to do it!
Owner and CEO, Natalie Ihde
In my experience, it’s not that we don’t know what to do, but rather we have an overwhelming amount of things we know we should do and because they aren’t “sexy”, because they’re more mundane we ignore them…sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.
I find it helps to keep a list of things that you’re always meaning to do but never seem to get around to. You know, going through closets and drawers and getting rid of clothes that don’t get worn for whatever reason. Cleaning out and organizing the garage. Writing out those thank you notes (or emails) to those who attended your kid’s last party. Things that you’d like to do but that you really would rather not.
Write out weekly, in a notebook, on a sticky note, on a whiteboard, in a notes app on your phone, things that you didn’t finish over the weekend, things that you’d like to have done before the next holiday or before the next time you host people at your house.
Then, the next time you don’t know what to do and you’re tempted to sit and watch TV or mindlessly scroll the socials, you can check the list and start on one of those tasks. Of course, some of them may take more time than others, but just break those down into smaller chunks that you can get done in a shorter amount of time.
Veteran Journalist | Owner and Publisher, Faded Banner Publications
If I’m not sure what to do and I have a bit of time, I talk it out. I talk to myself, I talk to my wife, I talk to my friends and I talk to professional people I know if their area of expertise relates to the issue at hand.
Sometimes it isn’t the feedback I get that helps the most. Often the act of talking about the issue illuminates the problem and shows me the way.
If I don’t have the time or opportunity to talk with others, I try to relax a bit and then go with my gut feeling. That has served me well in life.
Speaker | Founder, Choose Happy LLC
Often we know what to do, (even when we think we don’t) but it’s not what we want to do.
My advice is to trust your gut. Listen to your instincts. Consider all your options and what outcome each will bring. When you break it down like that, decisions seem less daunting.
You may also want to consult someone who has been in a similar situation and see what he/she did and how that worked out. Another suggestion is to think if you did, what is the worst that will happen? When you know what to expect, it often helps you with your decision.