When you don't know what to do next

So many of us stay stuck because we "don't know."

 - We don't know HOW to do it
 - We don't know WHAT to do next
 - We don't know what we SHOULD do

Whatever the flavor, the effect is the same:

"I don't know" keeps us rooted very firmly in place. 

But the thing is... you don't know HOW to do something until....wait for it...YOU ACTUALLY DO IT. 

If you didn't already know this, I'm sorry, friends, to be the one to tell you. But it's true. 

We all want the map. The list of steps that we need to take to get from A to Z. And when we're feeling overwhelmed, especially if we are in transition (and let's face it, when are we ever NOT in transition...), the easiest and most natural response is to say "I don't know."

Like so:

  • "I need to find a new job but I'm already so busy. I don't know how I'll find the time to do it."

  • "Our mornings are miserable and so chaotic. I know something needs to change but I have no idea what. "

  • "My family needs to relocate, but I don't know where we should go."

  • "The house is a freakin' capital D-Disaster. I don't even know where to start to fix it."

  • "I want to start working out again but I don't know how I'm going to make that happen with all of my other commitments."

  • "I'm ready to go back to work after being home with my kids, but I don't know how to choose what to do next."

  • "I have to have a hard conversation with my boss and I don't even know how to start to prepare."

(Real talk: whenever I used to feel felt stuck career-wise, I felt so confused and frustrated and would lament, "I WISH SOMEONE WOULD JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!")

Is any of this familiar??

If so, here's the really, really good news: YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW. 

The ONLY thing you need to know is the best next step to take right now

And a great way to figure out your best next step is to ask Future You. 

Yep. That would be You. In the Future. 

Imagine yourself as the person who has already done the thing in front of you. They have already lived it and they have the wisdom of the experience. 

  • They've already gotten the job.

  • They've already lost the weight.

  • They've already completed the project.

  • They've already solved the problem.

Ask them, "What do I need to do to get to where you are?". You can do this in your head or out loud, but if you do it out loud in a public place, be prepared to get some strange looks. 

Future You may not be able to tell you every step down to the most minute detail. But, they will definitely share wisdom on practical actions that you can take right now

So, why does this work?

Einstein is quoted as saying, "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."

Meaning, you need distance from the mindset that keeps you ruminating on your current problem. Future You forces you to get out of your current state of mind and gives you the space to brainstorm more effectively.

Now, your best next step might be (and very likely will be) something small. Something that may seem so insignificant it makes you balk. 

But have you ever done a crossword puzzle? You don't usually start with the longest word that spans the width of empty boxes. You start by ticking off the small, easy-to-solve little words. And as you start filling those boxes in, you begin to see how those build upon one another and give you enough information to answer the harder questions.

So start by applying this same principle to your life. 

Don't worry about solving the whole puzzle all at once. Don't go for the hardest riddle first. Take the best next step, usually something small, and start to get momentum. 

But whatever you do, don't block yourself by saying "I don't know."

Give it a go and let me know what happens! The worst case scenario is that you stay exactly where you are. 

Catherine FergusonComment