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

Life is full of uncertainty. Risk is a part of every choice. The threat of failure looms around every corner. If you’re not careful, these hazards can stop you. You can get stuck before you start, not knowing what to do.

Cliff Diving Photo
Photo credit: John O’Nolan (Creative Commons)

So what do you do when this happens, when fear assails you? Do you stand still or start moving? Do you hedge your bets or go “all in”?

The struggle

As a writer, I face this decision every day. Do I wait for perfection? Or do I decide to publish? Do I stall or ship? When trying to make these choices, my mind goes through the following process:

  1. What if I fail?
  2. What if this sucks?
  3. What if no one cares?

These fears can lock me dead in my tracks. I can think myself into a hole and before too soon, I’m stuck, immobile. The way out is painful, but necessary.

The process

How do you act when the promise of failure seems so real? The main trick, I’ve found, is confidence.

When you aren’t sure what to do, be sure of what you’re doing.

How do you do that? Here are three steps to making bold decisions when you don’t have all the information:

  1. Just pick something. Be honest. Very few choices in life are make-or-break decisions. Hard to believe, but sometimes there is no wrong choice. You just need to do something.
  2. Move forward. Don’t get stuck in self-doubt or feeling sorry for yourself. The best way to beat indecision is to build momentum. No hesitation, just motion. Move.
  3. Accept the consequences. If you fail, own it and move on. There’s nothing productive about wallowing in self-pity. Don’t be burdened by regret. Fail forward. Learn from your mistakes. And move on to the next choice.

The more decisions you make, the less scary deciding becomes. Turns out the fear part is entirely up to you.

The choice

The reason you don’t know what to do is you haven’t learned how to act. Once you start getting things done, the doing isn’t as hard as it once was. In fact, it becomes habitual. You may even enjoy it.

There’s a “snowball” effect that happens here: once you start moving, it gets easier. Doing begets more doing. You stop seeing life as a series of danger signs and instead view it as a canvas.

So go. Create something beautiful. Start deciding.

Challenge: Share one brave choice, big or small, you’re going to make today. Share in the comments.