What to do when you don’t know what to do?

Man stood in clearing

It is very normal and human to come against a wall and at a cross roads and not know which direction to take. This can be an entire tapestry of variations from having a great day and then feeling lost or uninspired the following day, to not knowing the next best step in a relationship, whether to take that new job and much more. It is very natural to say things like, ‘i don’t know what to do anymore,’ and ‘I don’t know what to do for a career,’ and so on. Rest assured there is always a road to travel down and at first glance such a road may look challenging and scary, albeit the journey itself can be the most fruitful. In this article we will explore emotional awareness and what to do when you don’t know what to do?

THREE RULES OF WORK

1. Out of clutter find simplicity.

2. From discord find harmony.

3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

Albert Einstein

A recent personal example of a big decision I had to make that may help you:

Several years ago I had a reasonable pot of money I had worked very hard and long hours for which on convention put me in a promising position to consider my first mortgage and gave me options to consider. Without direct pressure but subtle pressures of society, loved ones, conventional teachings and more the decision to use that money for a home made complete sense and logic. With a lot of passion and emotional energy putting the finances at hand to work for projects (businesses and corporate social responsibility models I was creating) made sense. I later focused on logic and the positive and negatives and most importantly the plausible realities of my decision based on my life, my values and real world scenarios. From this I backed myself to use this money on my vision and not convention. This certainly was not a situation that had come from a trauma; break up, job loss, bereavement and so on. I started out in a reasonably good, happy and healthy position, albeit, this was a very big cross roads for me that could define much of my future life.

Most of our cross roads will either come from a relationship stance; family, our love, friendships, colleagues and so on or via a financial decision based on survival or prosperity. Which ever path you choose, personal growth can be found.

Thick forest in autumn

Why do you feel this way?

On Many occasions in life our mind thinks of the worst case scenario which in reality never comes true. Stress and anxiety come from thinking of the past (through a personal lens that has certain truths and falsehoods) and also through worrying about what might happen in the future but has not in reality come true. We can have feelings such as guilt, feeling shame, powerless and much more based on our decisions leading us to feel trapped in life.

For more information on the science behind guilt and shame please see – The Scientific Underpinnings and Impacts of Shame – Scientific American.

For more information on how to overcome guilt and shame please see – Why Shame and Guilt Are Functional For Mental Health (positivepsychology.com)

We can break our emotions down into thoughts, bodily sensations, action tendencies and also the intensity of the emotion. Once we begin to understand why we feel the way we do, we have the capacity to not feel trapped and to have a foundation whereby we can make our next decision from a calmer place.

Thoughts: Our emotions produce thoughts and our thoughts produce emotions. We can appraise our situation as positive or negative and from this appraisal have thoughts based around this and cause emotional change. For example if we don’t get a promotion we have worked vey hard for we may assess this as detrimental to our character and think less of ourselves which will in turn cause negative emotions and further critical thoughts. If however we assess this situation from another lens we can be grateful for the talents and skills we have, accept that we are worthy and good enough but just on this one occasion we were not quite ready, and new opportunities will arise and you can gain strength from this situation.

Our Body: Do we have an increase in heart rate, breathing from our chest instead of deep in our lungs, perspiration, and so on. We can often become lost and entangled and feel like ‘everything is lost,’ but if we can pause and assess our bodily sensations and assess the situation from a new lens, then we can begin to see light appear in between the trees. Our heart rate racing could be caused by our thoughts and emotions thinking that everything is over and it cannot tell the difference between real world danger and the danger that your mind has created. It is not easy to create a pause, but the more aware we become of what body parts are hurting then we can focus in on what actions we can take to prevent that from happening.

Our Actions: What actions are caused as a result of our emotions and what actions are taken calmly and logically? If we can pause to assess why we feel the way we do and why our bodily sensations are changing then we can find room to assess what healthy actions can be taken. The key here is our awareness of what is going on so that we can begin to understand why we act the way do and how to get out of a negative cycle of negative emotions and actions that can cause further negative emotions. Anger can cause a common tendency to want to attack and fear can cause a common action tendency to escape. Feelings of pride may want us to savor a moment or connect with others. By understanding what is happening further we can have the capacity to adopt change. The more we understand what is going on, the more control we have over our next steps.

Intensity: How intense are the emotions we are experiencing? How long does a particular emotion last for? Does this particular emotion re-appear again and if so with or without the same intensity? What actions has that emotion caused? Has this experience caused long term behavioral change for example a relationship break up or job loss may result in you losing faith in areas of life?

Please take your time to sit quietly or lie down in a room or space with no distractions and ask yourself some of the above questions. Please do not judge any of the emotions you are experiencing and do not judge yourself. Visualise each thought like a cloud on a clear blue sky and let each thought gently pass by without judgement.

Silhouette of person in front of galaxy

What to do when feeling trapped?

  1. Take a breath and accept that life is uncertain. Accept that although big decisions you make can define part of your life, they do not have to define the rest of your life and they do not need to define you as a human being. A simple example of this can be found from this report that 30% of college students change their majors – https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf.
  2. Practice meditation, mindfulness and being still. Our page Calm is full of video and audio meditations and breath work for you to try for free.
  3. Make a commitment to continually grow as a human being, to be kind, to help others and to be the best version of yourself. We can often stop learning as human beings as adults and ‘accept’ ourselves as we are. The more we grow in life, the more we understand other human beings, the more we understand about our planet and the more skill sets we acquire not only will we become happier individuals, help others in our social circle be happier, but we will have an increased capacity to move forward in a healthy manner when we feel trapped in life.
  4. Sometimes taking a step away from focusing on ‘our problem’ and expressing ourselves in a different hobby, domain or skill set can help us stop ourselves from feeling trapped. For example if I had a bad game of tennis I would take a few days off and enjoy another sport This then allowed my game to flow well on the next occasion as my mind was not focused on ‘what I was doing wrong’, my mind instead was present minded and I had improved my fitness and health in another way in between each game of tennis. Another example might be to switch off your phone and all technology and go for a long hike. Try not to focus on anything specific, soak up the scenery, nature, breath in the fresh air and enjoy being in the moment with nature. This allows us to find space, health and a place of calm, and from this space we can make better judgments and decisions.

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How do I find out what I want to do with my life?

  1. Explore your values. Our values often guide us and our decision making in life. To explore these further please read our blog post – What is a Meaningful Life? – Meaningful Paths. From daily values we can discover deeper meaning and finding your purpose.
  2. Grow your social circles and human connections. Volunteer to help a charity or charity project with your time and skills. Be positive and kind to others and become better at connecting with others. The more daily interaction you have and diversity of social circles and hobbies you will understand more about life and also yourself.
  3. Choose three small hobbies that are tangible to organically add into your weekly life even if this is once per week. (1) A hobby that improve your physical health (hiking, tennis, yoga) (2) A hobby that improves your mental well-being (reading, painting, meditation). (3) A hobby that improves your financial knowledge (read financial books, create Excel sheets on incomings & outgoings, create a colourful vision board and create a savings plan). By doing these three things you will become a healthier individual in a more holistic manner and from this foundation you will have the more strength to make healthy decisions that are right for you. For example if your finances are strong then you can make your next big decision based on what is right for you and not through anxiety of money worries. If you practice meditation you will be better placed to make calmer decisions. If you exercise regularly your mind and body will function better as a whole for future decision making.
  4. Take our free course on meaning – Free Meaning Course – Meaningful Paths.

A conclusion of thoughts

No matter what big decision you have to make right now or no matter what you are feeling at present; there is a healthy option and path for you to take. Although that final choice is yours, I truly hope this article and Meaningful Paths as a whole can help you create a safe space to explore why you feel the way that you do and how to find values, meaning and purpose within your situation to aid you in making the right choice for you. It is often our early appraisal of a situation that starts our negative or positive thinking patterns. It is important when faced with a change or big decision to pause and assess the positives and negatives from this situation. It is also important to become more aware of what is really happening and what our minds projection of a plausibly false negative future might be resulting in our anxieties. Choose to be happy, act based on compassion and kindness, grow your social circle, help other people, increase your skill sets and practice becoming more present minded. From these foundations you will create stronger foundations and a safer space for your future choices in life.

Wishing you health and well-being.

David

References

https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf

https://positivepsychology.com/shame-guilt/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/decision-making

https://www.psychreg.org/meaning-cupid-arrow/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-scientific-underpinnings-and-impacts-of-shame/

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