What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
It’s an understatement to say that the second half of 2019 took several turns I didn’t expect. I stood at multiple crossroads that I had absolutely no control over. I thought I was handling everything in the best way possible, but things initially didn’t seem to be improving.
We’ve all been in those situations. Am I in the right relationship or the right job? Should I maintain friendships with certain people? Should I take a leap of faith in how I live my life? Why is this person no longer talking to me? I’m sick, and I don’t know how to feel better. I don’t know know if I will feel better.
What do I do? What should I do?
This isn’t a flippant comment. And this isn’t a demand that you make a decision. Sometimes the problem with trying to make a decision is that we not only get mentally stuck; we get physically stuck, too.
We lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, lost in thought. We eat meals, churning the problem over and over in our heads. We may even turn on the TV–not to watch it, but to distract our own anxieties.
I am notorious (well, in the tiny world that is me) for going on very long nature walks when I’m trying to clear my head. I can walk for hours. I don’t consciously think of a destination, although I do have to keep tabs on how to get back. The change in scenery and the exercise/activity itself helps me focus on something outside of myself, while the brain continues to work subconsciously.
Another option is to journal. I’ve journaled since I was 10 years old, and the glory of this action is that there’s no wrong way to do it. My scribblings range from budgets to pages upon pages of streams of consciousness. What you write about doesn’t have to relate to anything near the problem you’re lamenting. That being said, you may write about your feelings concerning it.
Maybe your indecision on what to do stems from lack of knowledge about the situation. Unsure of whether you are capable of living on your own? Take the afternoon to research your finances and set up a plan for the future. Worried about an upcoming trip in a new city? Read about the city online and learn more about what is available to see and do near where you’re staying.
The point is, calm your mind by using your body. You know what they say about idle hands. They’re…you know…idle.
If walking can’t get me far away enough from agonizing over the problem, I hop in my car and go for a long, long drive. As with doing something, going somewhere–potentially away from things that are constant reminders of the issue at hand–lets you focus outside of yourself.
If you have a destination in mind, go there and immerse yourself within it. Even just the drive allows you to narrow your focus. Muttering curse words to the driver who just cut you off without a blinker. Watching in disgust as said driver flicks a lit cigarette onto the road, then feeling Tibetan monk-level calm as you imagine all of the glorious karma he’s going to receive due to his self-centeredness.
Watch office parks meld into groves. Count the stoplights as they increase or decrease in frequency. Get lost on a country back road and admire the architecture of the homes you pass. Grow frightened and thank goodness for your tinted windows when you pass one with a Confederate flag posted next to the driveway.
If you can afford to go further for a few days, take the opportunity. Visit friends in a nearby city. Visit family in another state. Take a weekend retreat. Go on a week-long holiday. It’s never healthy to try and escape your troubles, but sometimes it’s best to just…get away for a bit.
Throughout childhood, one of my fondest memories was coming home from school and finding the furniture in one of the major rooms in the house completely rearranged.
“Ooh!” I’d drop my backpack on my bed, then head back to the room to take a closer look at the new layout. Lurking in some nearby corner was my mother, the one-woman moving machine and natural-born interior designer.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” She would beam proudly at her handiwork, as well she should. Aside from her natural talents, my mother is also instinctively well-versed in Feng Shui. As far as I am aware, I’m not sure if she could have even told me what Feng Shui was.
Or maybe she could have. (*Makes a note to check with her.*)
My mother had various reasons for spontaneously rearranging rooms. She wouldn’t always tells me the reasons why, but I have a feeling that she used the redecorating as a symbolic way to gain a new perspective on a situation. How often do we walk through our homes, not pausing to appreciate the layout? We’re on automatic, day in and day out. Everything is the same, and everything is mundane. Nothing changes.
Even if we don’t know how to change what we really want at the moment, maybe we can slightly change something else in the interim. Something that will at least shake us out of the “automatic pilot” trap.
When I was recovering from one of my biggest relationship heartbreaks, I decided to get a tattoo. It wasn’t an impulsive decision; I’d known that I’d wanted to get one for years, and I’d known what I actually wanted for months. When the heartbreak was too much to bear every day, planning and setting up for getting the tattoo was a relief to my stress levels. It would also serve as a marker on the type of person I wanted to be from that moment forward.
I didn’t tell anyone in my family that I was getting the tattoo. In fact, no one in my family found out about it until about 8 months after, when summer arrived and I could wear tank tops. My mother–who was visiting at the time–joined me for breakfast one morning, and I asked her if she wanted any eggs as I rose from the table and strolled towards the kitchen. My shoulder blades and the upper part of my back leered at her from beyond the camisole straps, but I didn’t think of what that meant until I heard her call my name.
“…B,” she said slowly.
I knew that tone of voice but continued my movements towards the stove. “Yes, mother?”
Deliberately, I turned and walked back to her, clasping my hands primly before me and willing my halo to glow unnaturally bright.
She was trying not to smirk as she spun her index finger in the air. “Turn around.” When I did, there were a few seconds of silence as she took in the handiwork. At last, I glanced behind me to see her gaze, a mixture of motherly accusation and an aura of something almost gleeful. “Is that real?”
“Uh huh!” I exclaimed, bursting with self-pride. “Looks good, doesn’t it?”
Her only response was to sigh loudly and shake her head, but the grin on her face proved my point. She would never get a tattoo herself, would have never even considered it, but even she had to admit that it wasn’t a bad choice.
Of course, there is the ever-faithful option of telling someone about your problem and gaining an outside opinion. Consulting a trusted family member, a close friend, or a respected professional can give you insight that you, in your own mind, would have never considered. Even if they don’t have a solution, they may be able to provide perspective that you have yet to consider.
Of course, asking someone doesn’t mean you have to take their advice, but it can be nice to know what someone else would do in the same situation. That being said, be aware from your own side that asking someone for feedback or advice may cause the person to try and tell you what to do. At the end of the day, your struggles are both your responsibility and under your jurisdiction. Don’t be afraid to gently yet sternly tell the person that you appreciate their advice, and you will take their thoughts with you as you–you–make the decision that is best for you.
Don’t do anything.
Sometimes the hardest thing a person can do is absolutely nothing–especially when they’re used to doing absolutely everything at once, all the time.
But when you have friends, family, doctors, coworkers, colleagues, therapists and correspondents all telling you, “..stop,” the best thing may be to just….listen.
Or, you can do yourself one better.
You can tell yourself, “Maybe I should, at least for a little while…just…stop.”
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to sit. Rest. Watch the sun rise. Let the wind blow.
One of my favorite shows of all time is Scrubs. General spoiler: In the first episode of the second season (“My Overkill“), the main character J.D. laments at the troubles happening to the people he cares about the most. At first, he works tirelessly to fix everything, but his efforts just seem to make things worse. Finally, through an act of a dumb lucky break, J.D. realizes that doing nothing can actually fix many troubles.
Sometimes, time itself is the answer. And letting time pass–while trusting in the power of those around you to act on yours and their own behalfs–can lead everyone in the direction needed.
A river doesn’t stop flowing when you stand in the middle of it. You can either spend time trying to force it to flow in the opposite direction, or lean back and accept the joy of the current.