When you’re a kid, you have many questions—and you assume that you’ll have all the answers when you grow up. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, a decision can leave you feeling completely “stuck” and unsure of what action to take.
Sometimes the issues are minor, like what to eat for dinner or what to do on the weekend. However, sometimes the problems are big, like career decisions, relationship choices, or considerations about where to live.
Sound familiar? Read on to find out what to do when you don’t know what to do.
Don’t Know What to Do? Try These 7 Steps
Facing a tough choice isn’t just frustrating. In the worst-case scenario, it can leave you paralyzed with uncertainty. Delaying action can leave you in a constant state of stress. In some cases, waiting too long to make a choice can cause an opportunity to slip through your hands.
If you’re facing a decision and don’t know what to do, implement the following steps.
1. Gather Additional Information
Sometimes you’re unable to decide because you don’t have all the information you need to make an educated choice. Think about it. Do you have all the facts you need? Do you still have questions or concerns?
For example, say you’ve gotten a job offer and are thinking of switching companies. You know the basics like what the job’s duties entail and what salary you can expect. But what is the company culture like? Who will you be working with? Is remote work ever possible? Getting additional facts can help make this kind of big decision more manageable.
If the issue you’re handling is more general than personal, you might have to do some external research to get the facts you need. For example, say you’re trying to decide what restaurant to have your anniversary dinner at. You’ve narrowed it down to two choices. To make a decision, you might look up pictures of each venue, check out the menu, and read reviews online.
Whatever the issue at hand is, you have many resources available to gather additional information about all kinds of topics. Google, social media, podcasts, digital publications, websites, and more are valuable modern resources.
You can also look to “old school” resources like print magazines or books for more information about general topics. Last but not least, you can gather data from people. Talking to other humans first-hand is sometimes a great way to get unstuck when decision-making.
2. Seek Out a Mentor
As mentioned, talking to other people can be a great way to get additional information when you feel stumped over a decision. Even better, you might consider talking to a mentor. Seek out a more experienced person who has already faced the problems you’re dealing with. They may have valuable insights into how to go ahead.
How can you find a mentor? You might consider talking to older friends, family members, or more senior professionals at your office. You can also consult online communities. If you connect with a person on the internet, you can always ask for a one-on-one chat to discuss the topic at hand.
Be honest with your mentor about the issue and explain that you don’t know what to do. Invite them to offer their insights, explaining that you respect their opinion. They can provide you with honest feedback that you can take into consideration in the future.
If your mentor went through similar experiences in the past as you are going through now, ask them pointed questions, like:
- How did you overcome the challenge?
- What strategies did you use?
- What steps did you take to achieve your goal?
That said, don’t expect one conversation with a mentor to solve everything. Further, realize that your mentor’s opinions or decisions don’t bind you. Sometimes, your mentor may make a suggestion — and your gut reaction may be that you want to do the opposite thing. That’s perfectly fine! You’ve still got valuable feedback that has helped spur a decision.
Finally, do your mentor the courtesy of following up on your discussion. They will likely genuinely care about the outcome and be curious as to what choice you took. Even if you didn’t follow their advice, it’s perfectly fine to say that and explain why you feel the choice you made was right for you. Last but not least, don’t forget to thank them for their time and thoughts.
3. Consider Your Values
When you get caught up in a “this or that” moment, it can be easy to forget the big picture. Take a moment to pause and consider your values. What’s important to you? This should factor into the decision-making process. Not sure what your core values are? There are simple exercises you can do to help you figure it out.
Here are a few ways you can start to identify and formulate your values:
- Create a list of general values, like financial security, loyalty, beauty, family, work, success, gratitude, love, nature, freedom, calm, etc. Then, choose your most essential values from the list.
- Think of people you genuinely love and admire—ideally, at least three. Then, consider why you respect them so much. It could be their honesty or their loyalty, for example. This is also a way to identify values.
- Think back on the most painful and the most rewarding moments of your life. They might be able to tell you what you care about. For example, if that big promotion was a highlight in your past, you likely place a high premium on your career.
- Talk to a professional. Sometimes, talking to a professional like a therapist or career counselor is the fastest way to unlock your core values. This can be more effective than talking to a friend or family member because you will get purely objective feedback.
- Use an online values inventory tool. Online tools like this one can help you identify your values, providing personalized results on what’s important to you. This can be faster than talking to a professional
4. Hone In On the Bright Spots
Often when people make decisions, they focus on the negatives. They think if they take X decision, they will miss out on Y. If you find yourself falling into this trap of negativity, it’s time to reframe your mindset. Instead of considering the negatives (missed opportunities, lost money, forgotten dreams, etc.), think about the positives.
Play through the imagined scenarios in your head from start to finish. What is the best case outcome that could come out of either option? How does that make you feel? Take the time to read and feel your emotions. Ultimately, decision-making is often about feelings. As much as humans want to believe they are rational and logical, emotions often win out.
It’s perfectly fine to admit that fact and to use it to your advantage. So take a moment to focus on those bright spots when decision-making. After all, shouldn’t your life decisions be guided by what makes you happy?
Ultimately, that’s all most people want in life—to be happy. The decisions you make along the way to attain that happiness are up to you. Focusing on the positives can also make the decision process less scary. This will help you feel paralyzed with worry as to which option is the “right” one. Don’t let your fear hold you back.
5. Clear Your Mind
When you’re stressing about a decision, it’s easy to get fixated and stressed out. Unfortunately, by putting even more pressure on yourself, you can make it even harder to reach a conclusion. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to not think about it at all!
Find a way to clear your mind. You can sleep on it, for example. If the decision isn’t required urgently, give it a night. You may find that you wake up in the morning refreshed and know just what to do.
Changing location can also be a great way to reset your brain and refocus. Get out of your house, office, or other familiar space. Take a solo drive, go for a walk, or sit in a park by yourself. A change of scenery can help give you a fresh perspective.
Here are some other ways you can try to clear your mind:
- Write down your thoughts on a piece of paper. Tear up the paper and throw it away. This is a symbolic exercise, giving you a visual representation of your ideas being cleared.
- Spend some time with a pet. Kitty cuddles and dog kisses can quickly distract you from your problem.
- Go for a run or do some other kind of exercise you enjoy. The endorphin boost will improve your mood and help you get out of your head.
- Express your thoughts creatively. Try creating something, whether it’s a painting, drawing, sculpture, or other artwork.
- Try meditating. You can also combine yoga and meditation, distracting both the mind and body.
6. Take the Obvious Action
Sometimes, the best answer is the most obvious one. Your brain doesn’t want to believe it. People may shy away from obvious choices because they seem too simple. Life can’t be that easy, right?
Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right one. You can avoid a lot of stress when you skip long, drawn-out thought processes and planning—and pursue clear common sense instead.
So, if you don’t know what to do, ask yourself: What’s the obvious next step or solution? Don’t dismiss it because it seems overly simple (which might be your gut reaction). Give it a chance. Seriously consider whether the “easy” solution is the right one for you. There’s no shame in taking that option.
If you’re still unsure whether the apparent answer is correct, take a step back from the immediate problem and look at the big picture. Instead of considering the means, look at the ends. Think about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve, whether it’s a question of relationships, careers, or life goals in general.
Will the apparent solution or step get you closer to that goal or further away? It doesn’t have to get you there immediately, of course. Especially when it comes to big dreams, these are usually achieved one step at a time, in small increments. It’s simply a question of whether the apparent decision will be moving you towards or away from your goal.
7. Trust Your Gut: Act, Learn, Repeat
You’ve probably heard the saying, “go with your gut.” The fact is, sometimes, when you don’t know what to do, the answer is to do precisely that. People do have an innate instinct; your brain is cluttered with all kinds of thoughts, rational, and reasoning. It can be difficult to reach conclusions in that environment.
However, your innate instinct isn’t held back by this. Start by taking an intelligent step. This is a small move you make using whatever resources you have at your immediate disposal. Then, take a moment to reflect on what you just did. What were the results of what small action? How did it make you feel?
Collect that internal feedback. Then, make the next gut-instinct decision. Keep repeating this process until you’ve reached your end goal—a final decision. This procedure of taking action, learning, and repeating allows you to balance the practical impact of a quickly driven gut instinct with rational reflection.
This is an excellent solution if you’re feeling stuck or paralyzed by the decision-making process. Often, people need to make the first move, and things get easier from there. Let your gut lead the way.
The Final Word
Dealing with a situation where you don’t know what to do can be frustrating and, in some cases, scary. However, there’s no reason to get stressed and let your indecision paralyze you. Follow the above steps to get “unstuck” and figure out what path to take.
If one step doesn’t work for you, move on to try another one. Different solutions work for other people. With this toolkit of options, you don’t ever have to face an impossible decision ever again.