“He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.” ~Chinese Proverb
Here’s the thing: I don’t know what to do.
About this thing, about that thing. About big things and small things.
Actually, to be honest, even the smallest thing seems big when I don’t know what to do about it. The state of “not knowing what to do” is like some kind of Miracle Grow for small things in my mind.
This is not a new thing. Not knowing what to do is a particular and well-honed talent of mine. I can even juggle several not knowing what-to-dos at once.
For example, at the moment I don’t know whether to go away with my friends this weekend or not. And if I do will I take the train? Or get a lift?
I don’t know whether to take that new job. And if I do, when should I start it? What about all those other job offers that will flood through the door the minute I say yes to this one?
I don’t know whether to start the diet tomorrow. Or today. Or next week. Or not at all. I don’t know whether to call my counselor or ride this one out alone.
I don’t know what is best, what is right. I don’t know what I want to do.
Do you know what else I don’t know? I don’t know what to do about not knowing what to do.
And whenever I feel like this (which is not always, but often), I start not knowing what to do about things I did know what to do about before. Things I had already made decisions on, things I felt excited and sure about before, now feel wobbly and wrong. Even though I know the decisions felt right when I made them.
My brain starts questioning it all: What if I didn’t really know what to do then either, and just decided on something that wasn’t really the right thing to do after all? What if it turns out to be “wrong”? What if I acted on impulse and didn’t think it all through properly?
It’s like I’m mourning all the other possible options that will never, ever happen now because I didn’t choose them.
The little voice in my head chides me: If you choose option a, then such and such might happen, which could lead to x and then that may mean y. Had I known in the beginning about y, maybe I wouldn’t have chosen that original thing. Or would I? How do I know?
And this uncertainty, the worry, the anxiety, the not knowing, it isn’t picky. It doesn’t just stick to the thing I’m not sure about. It leaks. It seeps into everything else, so instead of feeling uncertain or anxious about one thing in particular, about one decision specifically, I feel anxious, uncertain, and worried full stop. I forget what started it. I just feel it.
I feel it in my chest, near my heart. In my throat. It feels like guilt, muddled with regret, with overtones of panic and an undercurrent of fear. It feels hard and cold, like a vice-like grip.
And I don’t like it. But I just don’t know what to do about it. So I do nothing. Except worry and be anxious that doing nothing is not the right thing to do. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and it’s totally and utterly unproductive.
And the only thing that makes it stop? Is to just decide and do something. To just do anything.
And the only way to know what to do? Well actually, there is no answer to that one.
Other than to not worry about worrying. To not feel anxious about feeling anxious. To accept that there is no right answer.
To breathe. To try to feel beyond the worry, to try to feel the answer rather than (over) think it.
To stop trying to second-guess every possible outcome of every possible decision. To stop trying to control and account for every accountability. It just isn’t possible.
I can’t know what will happen. I can’t know how I will feel about any of it. I can’t know whether the decision I make is any better or worse than any other decision I could have made because I am only ever going to experience the one path I do choose.
So I can only react with what I have, what I know, and how I feel, right here and right now. And I don’t need to know how to do that; I just need to do it. I just need to allow it to happen.
Back to my decisions. Well, I still don’t know what to do. I still don’t know what the “right” thing is.
But maybe that’s not so much of a problem after all.
Because I do know what the wrong thing is. And that’s to make no decision at all. Even if the decision I make is not to decide just yet—that is still a decision. Own it.
A friend once said to me, “Whenever the time is right, it will be the right time.” It helps me relax about my decisions.
I often wonder: Am I the only one like this? I don’t know that either, but if you’re with me:
Stop thinking it through. Stop making up what might happen. Because that’s what’s happening here, you’re just making it up. Just make the decision instead and enjoy the ride. Whatever it turns out to be, it doesn’t really matter—you can change it later if you really have to.
Whatever the decision is, just make it. What’s the worst that can happen, really?
Just make the decision and then be glad you did. Enjoy the freedom and the relief that follows.
Enjoy the present, indecision free. Because while you’re busy worrying about what might happen tomorrow, guess what? You’re missing out on all the great stuff happening today.
So just decide. Just relax.
Want to know the good news? The decision thing is just as leaky as the indecision thing.
Once I get going again, I know there’ll be no stopping me. I’ll breeze through decisions that floored me before. I’ll put those small things back in their place. And if it feels wrong, I’ll change it. I won’t worry about it. Things that felt a bit wrong and weird before just won’t matter anymore.
I won’t know where this whole confident, decision making thing came from. I’ll just feel it.
I’ll feel it in my chest, near my heart. It will feel like contentment, embracing joy, tickled with peace and flavored with lightness. It will feel soft and warm, like molten honey trickling through my veins. It will make me smile.
And I will love it. And I will do all I can to hold on to it.
That I do know.
So let’s just get started. Let’s just relax. Let’s just decide. And let’s never look back.
Photo by J. Tegnerud
About Emma While
Emma is passionate about positive psychology, avidly learning and applying its lessons to her life and work. Her own personal journey through stress, growth and discovery inform both her ChattingHappy blog and The Happy Catalyst facebook page with the hope of spreading happiness to others, one spark at a time.