131: What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do
Intentionality is the key to living a good life. However, a common thing we face in life is coming to a place where we don’t know what to do. On today’s show, Thane Marcus Ringler shares some of his personal insights about this dilemma. He also outlines some practical steps we can take when we don’t know what to do or when we find ourselves in that place of not knowing.
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What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do
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I titled this short little talk, What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do. This is a common thing we face in life. Especially as up and comers, there are a lot of times when we’re trying to do difficult things. We come to a place where we don’t know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, the question is always, what am I supposed to do when I don’t know what to do? I wanted to share a few tidbits on that. Daniel Kahneman, who wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of his students said, “Education is knowing what to do when you don’t know.” I love that for framing this whole thing and that we are talking about education or learning. Learning is the key to education and education is knowing what to do when you don’t know.Learning is the key to education, and education is knowing what to do when you don't know. Click To Tweet
That’s the process that we are in when we find ourselves in these positions. One of the things I found out about myself is that when I don’t know the answer to a question or a problem, I tend to avoid that situation, conversation or a certain area of life. This often creates more stress and more tension in my own life as I ruminate about what to do. If other people are involved, I start feeling bad for leaving them hanging or think that I’m being inconsiderate by not responding. Knowing what to do when we don’t know what to do is an important life skill that I believe does not get talked about as much as it should. I know I haven’t heard much about it myself.
It’s those times when you know something is wrong with your car that you’re driving, but you have no idea what it is. You don’t want to get it checked out because it may end up costing you a fortune that you don’t have. It feels best to drive gingerly and hope that it doesn’t keep happening or at least it doesn’t get any worse. As we all know too well, the longer we prolong getting it checked out and figuring out the problem, the greater chance we have of ending up causing more damage and costing us way more than if we had gotten it checked out sooner. This is a real-life story for me. Prolonging action when we don’t know what to do often leads to greater consequences and damage. What to do? What are some practical steps we can take when we don’t know what to do, when we find ourselves in that place of not knowing?
A Latin proverb says it shortly and succinctly as possible. It says, “If there is no wind, row.” I thought that was a sweet way to say it as simply as possible. Fred Rogers also said some insightful things on this. He said, “I’ve often hesitated in beginning a project because I’ve thought it’ll never turn out to be even remotely like the good idea I have as I start. I could feel how good it could be. I decided that for the present, I would create the best way I know how and accept the ambiguities.” That’s speaking to the heart of what’s at not knowing what to do is the ambiguity around it. I wanted to offer a few suggestions for you and things to think about when we find ourselves in this place. The question is how we can take action even if we don’t know the best choice to take action on.
First, we must know that taking any action is better than no action. You don’t have to do everything or wait for the perfect thing. The point is to do something. That goes back to that Latin proverb, “If there’s no wind, row.” Often, we are paralyzed by not knowing that we end up being stuck in a place for a prolonged period of time. With the Law of Entropy in place, we know that if we aren’t moving in any direction, we’ll be slowly digressing and decaying. It is true of all things in life. When you don’t know what to do, do something. If you don’t know what the answer is, tell the person that’s asking, “I don’t know.” If there’s a problem that you can’t solve, start experimenting. If there’s an issue with your car, do some research or investigation. These are not novel things, but it’s amazing how often we avoid doing even the smallest something when we feel like we don’t know the right or the best choice.
That takes us to the second suggestion I have, which is there isn’t a right or best choice. There is simply the choice you make and that was the right choice because you made it. If we are able to learn in life, aka learn itself, then there is nothing we cannot learn from. This frees us up to embrace even the bad decisions or failures as an opportunity to learn and grow. Perfectionism, which I am as guilty of as anyone else, robs us of the ability to take the next step, even if it’s a small step. Big steps are not the goal. They are rarely ever taken well. Usually, if we try to take too big of a step, we end up hurting ourselves later on because we weren’t ready to be at the place we found ourselves in since we skipped the necessary training of the longer path that it takes to get there. The point is, small steps or baby steps are the keys to making big progress. Big leaps forward occur when enough baby steps accumulate over time to add up to that leap and progress or innovation. It is the little steps that matter. You can check out more on this concept by reading the blog I wrote titled Hope, Part 2 – Progress: Why the Little Things Are The Big Things.
Thirdly, we must stack the deck in our favor. This means we make it as easy as possible to take that next step however small it is. When we don’t know what to do, the most important thing to do is to take a step regardless of the size. In order to take that next step, we must make it easy on ourselves to do so. There are many different ways we can make things easier, but here are a few ideas. First, take a timeout. Force your mind to stop ruminating and seek stillness, quiet and solitude. Conscious breathing is a great way to gain stillness in this area. Seek input from others. Gaining objectivity from outside sources and perspectives is one of the most helpful ways to feel good about taking the next step, especially when we don’t know.Embrace even the bad decisions or failures as an opportunity to learn and grow. Click To Tweet
Gain confidence by doing something in a different realm. Pick a task that you know what the next step is and then take it. Use this experience of satisfaction from making progress or gaining clarity. Allow that to empower you and give you the confidence to make the next step in the area in which you don’t know what to do. Finally, show yourself grace. Be okay with not knowing the right answer or the right next step because you are only human. Being in a place where you can recognize that you don’t know is a much better place than pretending like you do know when you don’t know, which is also known as ignorance.
To sum it all up, not knowing what to do is a part of being human. It will be an experience we have in daily life. The most important thing to remember when you don’t know what to do is doing something. The next reminder we need is that there isn’t a right or a wrong choice to make. Rather, there is the choice that we have made, which was a right choice because it was a decision we made. If it didn’t work out like we hoped, then we will learn and grow from it, which are both great things. Finally, there are different strategies we can use to stack the deck in our favor and give ourselves the best chance at moving forward in the times when we don’t know what to do. Sometimes you have to move backwards in order to move forward.
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