When in Doubt....What to do When You Don't Know What to Do.
Unpleasant emotions that can be defined as questioning, indecisiveness, doubt, hesitancy, fuzziness can leave you with a sense of paralysis. Confusion or doubt makes you feel like you can't think clearly and make a decision about what to do.
To have clarity is to feel energised, resolved, focused, settled, decided. Anchored. This is holy grail - it's what we all yearn for in life.
Confusion, doubt or hesitancy feels the opposite. Unpleasant emotions that can be defined as questioning, indecisiveness, doubt, hesitancy, fuzziness can leave you with a sense of paralysis. Confusion or doubt makes you feel like you can't think clearly and make a decision on how you feel about something.
Confusion comes from reaching a point, where you can no longer stand by a belief you have held for a long time. Confusion leaves you with a sense that there is something you should know or explore, but not wanting to dig deeper because what you uncover could feel unpleasant or overwhelming. It's something that's there in front of you and can't be denied, yet it's shaking a fundamental belief you hold, that you're not quite ready to let go of yet.
Doubt is lack of conviction. Something is holding you back. You don't feel certain enough to act and follow through. So you remain undecided or 'stuck' waiting for something to come along and clarify the situation for you.
When doubt or confusion arises there are two main ways out of these unpleasant emotions - denial (continue to choose the belief you have held for so long and ignore the situation) or curiosity (opening your mind for a minute to explore further and new possibilities in order to make a more informed and resolved decision).
Doubt is easy to push down at first, but when new evidence keeps presenting itself all the time that shakes the belief you have, it becomes confusing, and confusion then leads to the point where you HAVE to be open to a different and new belief. Yet you still resist opening your mind to a different belief - hence, you now feel STUCK.
Are you Avoiding Confusion or Feelings of Doubt?
Confusion and doubt, like all emotions, is a call to action. Confusion and doubt are the first clues in a weird kind of treasure hunt. The first clues telling you that there is something that you are yet to discover if you choose to follow the clues and are brave enough to open the treasure box at the end.
Confusion and doubt for me, over the last ten years, have been by far the biggest and yet most brutal, teachers. They are the key to the biggest growth stages in your life... IF you embrace them with positivity not fear. Embracing doubt and confusion is enlightening. Sure it's painful at first whilst you adjust to the new truth that is uncovered. But then life feels so much lighter. Denying them just continues to cause you long term pain.
When you avoid confusion or the feeling that something 'isn't quite right', you constantly have this nagging feeling like there's something you need to do or find out. You feel weighed down. You feel scared. It feels heavy. You try to escape it, but things keep cropping up to remind you that 'things aren't right'. Life feels hard, and it's like you have a dark cloud following you around all the time, no matter how good everything else is.
You usually find, when you are avoiding doubt / confusion / facing an unpleasant truth / making a decision, it's because it feels too hard to face the truth that something might not be the way you want it to be. OR that if you confirm what you suspect, you will need to make tough decisions and probably have to go through a bit of a painful process to resolve it. If something is wrong, (and you admit that to yourself consciously) then you need to do something about it. AND IT IS THIS, that we are avoiding. Taking action may be unpleasant, challenging, uncomfortable, or mean facing a fear.
Do You Often Avoid Decisions?
Living in a way where you are avoiding decisions all the time, is a sign you are not managing your life and taking control. Perhaps you don't want to be seen to make a 'mistake', or fear the pain of making the 'wrong' move so much; that you stay stuck permanently. The problem with living like this is that you give all your personal power away.
If 'I am confused' 'let's wait and see' or 'I'm just not sure' is something you are saying or feel a lot, then you probably aren't managing your mind (or life). Instead of taking charge over the results you WANT, you are hoping things will magically happen the way you want them to. You are living at the mercy of whatever life throws of you, trying to simply dodge any pain; instead of preparing yourself for what may come and deciding how you want to live your life IN SPITE of it.
The truth is nobody can avoid all pain, all of the time. Life is about mitigating risk. And when you know exactly what you want, you learn how to weigh risks much more effectively.
One reason we stay confused and stuck (or stick our head in the stand) is that we don't want to have to take responsibility for what happens next. We're terrified of making the 'wrong choice'. We don't want to be blamed or feel accountable. But again, if you want to be in charge of the results you get, you have to learn to take control and make yourself accountable. This means learning to embrace the negative emotions when they hit and seeing them as a 'call to action' instead of something to avoid. See them as clues leading you to a better life. Instincts pointing you in the direction of your true authentic North. Your real spirit talking to you.
If you ever go to a Tony Robbins event and say 'I'm confused', you will be met with an uproar of spontaneous applause of thousands of people clapping and cheering in celebration of your confusion. Why?
Confusion is the gateway to clarity. It is the willingness to open your mind for a second and leave an old way of thinking, and move towards a new one. Growth is messy, uncomfortable and extremely challenging. But if you want to grow and expand, you need to embrace the confusion you are experiencing and explore it. You have to start looking at confusion as 'getting curious' and see decisions not as life and death; but just 'learning experiences'
Uncertainty and walking towards the unknown gives us the chance to think, reflect, question, research, try something new, get feedback, and expand and grow. There is no 'wrong' choice. Only feedback that you learn from, in order to make a better choice next time.
Unfortunately in this last year during the pandemic, especially in the UK, people have become completely risk adverse. Now overthinking everything. Even something like booking a holiday (that is protected if you have to cancel it for reasons that are out of your control) has become a major mind-bending, painful decision. Some people have gotten out of the habit of taking ANY risks, so are permanently living in doubt.
Many people avoid confusion and doubt, because it feels too overwhelming'. They brush those feelings of confusion aside, and avoid confronting the situation. This only works for so long, and then you find that actually staying still is causing more pain!
If you are struggling with the changes that are facing you at this moment I can highly recommend a book called 'Who Moved My Cheese' by Spencer Johnson It's only a short read, but really empowering if you find yourself feeling very confused, frustrated with a situation, and powerless to do anything.
Different Types of Crisis
Sometimes there are crises in our lives, that come out of nowhere. We aren't prepared at all. Like pandemics.
Other times, there are crises that happen, because in spite of the fact all the warning signals that were there (the questioning, doubt and confusion), we ignored them, hoping something would just resolve itself, someone would take care of it, or it would just go away. Like the way some people are handling the pandemic. It won't just go away.
I'm going to quote one of my favourite inspirations, Oprah Winfrey :
“There are many things that happen in life that are beyond our control: natural disasters, death, unexplained events. But there are also many, many, many things in life which we can control and become out of control because you’re just not paying attention. You are sleepwalking through your life.
Life whispers to you all the time. Your life is speaking to you all around, from the time you wake up in the morning, in every single experience that’s coming into your personal space. All of those experiences are speaking to you. They’re telling you something about your life and about your circumstances.
It whispers, and if you don’t get the whisper, the whisper gets louder. If you don’t get the whisper when it gets louder, I call it like a little pebble — a little thump — upside the head... If you don’t pay attention to the problem, the pebble then becomes like a brick. The brick upside your head is a crisis,. [If] you don’t pay attention to the brick upside your head, the crisis turns into a disaster and the whole house — brick wall — comes falling down.”
How to Feel Hopeful Again
There are two ways out of confusion, hesitancy and doubt - stand still (stay in the comfort zone, even if it's painful, it's what you know) or move forwards towards the unknown.
It's obvious that to stand still is far easier than moving forward. To stick with 'what you know' is always the path that requires much less effort. Less research. Less emotional turmoil. And reduces the risk that you might discover something that will lead to emotional pain. However it also carries the risk that you are ignoring the 'pebble' that could quickly turn in to a 'brick'.
If you can overpower your brain's hard wired instinct to keep everything 'the same' and 'secure', you will make more creative and innovative decisions.
To feel uncertain is to feel in 'limbo', unsure, doubtful, fearful, hesitant. To embrace it is to discover something new. That can be exciting and full of opportunities to improve your life in some way. Those opportunities are just sometimes hard to see when you are feeling gripped with fear.
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”
— Henry Ford
1. Ask MORE Questions and Ask the Hard Questions First
Kids tend to embrace confusion and uncertainty more in the main, by asking questions. That's why if you have a child who asks 'why?' followed by 10,000 more questions, you should see it as a positive thing. When you are confused and uncertain, the ONLY way you can feel more certain about your situation is to get more information by asking more questions.
You get out of confusion not by avoiding the hard questions, but asking them. For example 'why am I getting cold feet about my wedding?' and seeing where this takes you. Or 'what will I do if I am told in 6 months from now, I have to close my business again?!' It's an unpleasant situation to face, but facing it as a worst case scenario ahead of time will give you options and possibly a chance to prepare. Embracing uncertainty but preparing for as much as you can feels good.
The way to achieve certainty and the feeling of control in your life, is ironically in direct relation to your openness about embracing uncertainty.
2. Tune in to Your Instincts
When something feels 'off', explore it, don't ignore it.
Good decision making is like a muscle, that needs to be worked regularly. If you find yourself often unable to make important decisions (or even small insignificant decisions) it's because you are out of practice, and have now come to view any decisions (small or large) as potentially life or death experiences, rather than viewing decisions as a way of gaining feedback.
Just think of an animal. Lets say a rabbit. A rabbit senses a threat (a fox) he runs off and hides (fight or flight response). However, I'm not sure I know a creature that retreats FOREVER, without ever considering it's options on how to get back out there to get the best food sources. They don't want to merely exist for ever - they learn to mitigate risk. The rabbit may tentatively stick it's nose out, have a sniff, be on red alert. But it EXPLORES the threat. It gets information about the threat. It monitors the threat regularly. It finds safe haven from the threat, and tactics to avoid it. This is all done through curiosity.... and curiosity - a wonderful tool for survival and expansion - comes from FEAR and CONFUSION. However those who remain frozen by fear, don't tend to thrive...or sometimes survive.
Those who get their certainty by not moving, staying still and waiting for danger to pass, can find in the end, that in fact they have become debilitated, and their delay in taking action has left them with less options... like the frozen rabbit, now surrounded by predators.
3. Work on Your Self First, and Always
The only real thing you can ever focus on growing, with any real sense of certainty - is YOU. Your sense of self. If this year has shown us anything, it's that all of the external stuff around us, can be taken away. Our selves are the only thing we have control over - body, spirit and mind.
If you know who you are and who you want to become, that becomes your anchor in any storm. It will keep you grounded and your sense of self will be your certainty. No matter what happens around you, if you are secure in yourself and are able to reveal yourself authentically to others, instead of living a life where other people's opinions of you means more than your own happiness, you will always feel grounded.
You have to know who you are at your core. If you attach your sense of self or define yourself by your career, appearance, how many followers you have, kids, your parents, any relationships, money, your job etc. then you will feel like a boat lost at sea whenever one of these things changes. Because these elements of your life WILL at some point CHANGE.
Kids will get older, you will change jobs (by choice, design or force), your face will age, your parents will at some point pass away, you may lose all your money, fans and followers may judge you negatively, pandemics may come along, your body may go through challenges... There is one certainty in life. CHANGE. All of these things in your life will ALWAYS be changing and moving around you. Always. So you must have an anchor when everything around you is moving. That anchor is who you are at your core. Your essential spirit.
We all know many stories of someone who had it ‘all’ and lost it ‘all’ only to really find who they really are at their core. It’s what Hollywood’s best stories are made of. Whilst I realise that we all have responsibilities in life, it is important to remember that your main responsibility should be to yourself. To being the best you can possibly be. To grow and expand that core of yourself into someone you really love. A core that is certain and secure, no matter what is happening around them.
That does not mean being The Best. The thinnest, the richest, the most educated, the kindest, the most thoughtful, the most self sacrificing or hard working. No. That is still working from a competing place. A place where you are still looking outwards and trying to compete with other people’s ideas and society’s views of what you SHOULD be.
I mean way more simple that this. Who do you want to be?
At your funeral, would you want everyone to say “she was highly successful and rich, and lived in a massive house. She wore designer clothes and was thin. She worked out a lot and ate really well.”
People don’t care about what you do.
Read that again. People don’t really care about what you DO.
People care about how you make them FEEL.
This is the potential you need to unlock that would give you an anchor. The gift of knowing who you really are allows you to walk in to any room and approach anyone with an open heart and a warm feeling of love no matter who they are and how they behave. You can stay centred despite the madness happening around you.
So if you are not in your centre and at your core, all it takes is for you to see a post on social media and it makes you feel like you are 'not enough'. Or to watch the news and hear about a new potential threatening variant, and fall to pieces locking yourself indoors again. Like the rabbit, it's time to really work on what you want, and then slowly poke your head out from the hole.
This is a journey you will be on for life. Always asking yourself ‘who am I?’ and ‘who do I want to be tomorrow?’ How can it be a better tomorrow? But you don't get to make a better tomorrow, by avoiding the challenges of today.
4. There is No 'Right or Wrong'. Only Results.
There is no such thing or right or wrong - the reality is you make a decision and get a result. You get feedback from your choices. Catastrophising the results of your decisions will only lead to paralysis. You need to look for 'options' instead of feeling like you need to make a choice; and believing that the choice you make, will be final or irreversible.
Good judgment is usually the result of experience. Experience is usually the result of bad judgment.
Confusion is caused by believing one decision is right, the other is wrong. Confusion is about two choices.
Choices are always hard and it can feel fearful to make one espeically if your health, happiness, heart depends on mkaing the 'right one'.
However having options feels good. It feels empowering. Especially when you choose, ahead of time who you want to be, how you want to live your life, the example you want to set for those around you. It makes it so much easier to decide how you will approach, think and feel about any given situation.
For example it's not just 'do I quit my job or not?'. It could be 'do I want to work?' 'how much do I want to earn?' 'can I work two jobs?' 'Should I start a business?' 'How would I fund that?'
5. Get a Better View
Sometimes you need to get to get a better view to see what's really going on; and then you can make a better decision.
To get prepared in any situation is to have an informed, accurate idea of what is happening. You need the answer to MORE QUESTIONS. So grab a pen - you must always do it on paper, otherwise just thinking about these things, tends to lead to more confusion. Here are some questions that may help you:-
What is the actual situation here?
Where am I now and where do I want to get to?
Why is it happening?
What have I done in order to find myself here?
What could I have done differently?
What has that taught me?
What are all the possible outcomes?
What would I like the outcome to be?
What resources do I have at my disposal to achieve the desired outcome?
What is the actual decision that needs to be made today?
What will I need to commit to moving forward?
What should I therefore do now?
Then you start evaluating your options, and trying things out.
6. Progress not Perfection
All you need to do is TRY. You don't have to know all the answers - just be open to discovery. You don't have to do anything perfectly. Just make progress today, from where you were yesterday.
Some days you will make no progress, other times you will feel invincible. But living in the limbo of confusion and uncertainty (otherwise known as personal instinct Vs what everyone else is doing) will just stifle your potential.
Uncertainty doesn't have to equal pain. It can lead to a journey of discovery and expansion and learning. You just need to view it differently.
There are ALWAYS alternative views. You just need to find one that makes you feel better.
Sometimes its as simple as
But you never get success, when you don't try.
7. Stand Guard on the Door of Your Mind
Stand guard on the door of your mind. Be careful about what you feed it. Don't focus on the main stream media or fearmongering. Instead look at the real facts, figures and situation with your own eyes, ears and brain and decide how you want to live 2021 and beyond.
There may be restrictions, but there is still plenty you can achieve at home, with your relationships, health, creatively, personal growth.... look for the opportunities that exist NOW, instead of waiting for 'when this is all over I will....'. Find a way to make your life happen, and increase your happiness TODAY.
If you are still in the same place or worse off that you were at the beginning of the pandemic, now is your opportunity to change that. DECIDE.
You can not keep stopping and starting your life / job / fitness etc every time you are told you can do this / can't do that. Find work-arounds that still get you positive results when you find yourself in the worst case scenario.
"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
8. Paralysis of Analysis
Sometimes you can over analyse something so much ,that you become stuck in the cycle of research or decision making, and never actually coming to a conclusion. That's why I always tell people to journal when they have a problem. Get out of your head, get on to paper. I can't tell you how much this has helped so many people I have worked with over the years. They don't say 'you're too much in your head' for nothing. Make things more real and more productive - an action - by engaging your body as well as your mind.
Paralysis of analysis is forever being in the 'I need to make a decision, but can't' zone, and leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
The best way to handle this, when you don't know what to do for the best, is to just try something new and different to what you have been doing. Just take some sort of action. Forget the perfect solution. Forget having all the answers. Just go with your gut. Anything that will get you un-stuck! It may be something small and insignificant, but you will try it and then you will have feedback to go off.
How did it feel? Good or bad?
What were the positives?
Where there any negatives? If so, that's fine. What were they?
Did the action feel healthy and cathartic or draining and pointless?
What have you now learned from taking this action?
Was it as bad / scary as you feared?
Do you feel more capable and a bit braver now?
Are you happier because of it? Would you like to do it again?
What are you going to try now?
This is how human beings grow and expand. And this continuous cycle of try, outcome, try, outcome, is what leads you to an ever more fulfilling life that is based on becoming the best version of you.... not the version you THINK you should be.
And the best version of you always knows the right decision to make for you, and those you love.