Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

What To Do when You Don’t Know What to Do

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The alarm goes off and you immediately hit the snooze. Not because you need more sleep, in fact you haven’t been asleep for awhile now. Your thoughts become a dizzying spin of questions without answers. You couldn’t stop thinking if you wanted to.

How will you make it through this day?
How will this ever turn out okay?
How can you keep moving on?
What do you do now?

Your heart is full of questions, but your head is void of answers.

photo by Andy Wilson

photo by Andy Wilson

Better stories lead to these kinds of days. Days without hope. Days when all seems lost. Days when you question the point of your efforts. Days when you wonder why you keep trying. Days when starting seems like the worst idea you ever had.

At some point, everyone feels this sense of impossibility. Emotions take over. Fear and dread rule the day.

And, unfortunately, it is at this point that too many quit.

In his Modern Library top 100 novel, The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler gives us an idea of how to discover what to do next.

“If people who are in a little difficulty will only do the first reasonable thing they can clearly recognize as reasonable, they will always find the next step easier to both see and take.”

There are two steps.

1. Identify the first reasonable thing.

It doesn’t have to be the solution to the problem. It doesn’t have to be what anybody else would do. It doesn’t even have to work. All you need to do is to see something reasonable. Something that makes sense. Something that isn’t clearly the wrong answer.

And of course to see something, you have to have your eyes open. You have to keep looking. Even when your vision is blurred and when the path isn’t clear.

Don’t stop.

2. Do this reasonable thing.

Even when it seems pointless, even when it seems impossible, you still need to do. Nothing good ever happens through inactivity. Nothing happens by staying put.

Your bias should always lean towards activity, even if you aren’t sure it is the right thing to do. You need to begin even when you don’t have the answers. You need to continue down the path, even when you can’t see it clearly and don’t know where it will lead.

Doing forces us to move, to get out of the current place. Doing helps us to see. Doing helps us to breathe.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t know what to do? What helped you get through it?

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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6 Replies

  1. Katharine

    Is waiting not also an activity? I find when I barge ahead, I often miss direction that would have come to me if I’d been still.
    Of course, there is always washing laundry, the second step, of course, being to dry it–probably another form of hitting snooze. Except we keep dirtying clothes, right?

  2. Thank you. I needed to hear this today. I was indecisive about what to do about a situation and this advice is helpful.

  3. Just taking that first step (the one that you know to do! as you mentioned today) has helped me to get clarity on future steps, especially if I am tackling a large project with ambiguous guidelines. Getting rid of distractions is also helpful so that your mind is free to imagine next-step possibilities.

  4. hasmukh

    just prayed and trusted the Good Lord

  5. Mike Petty

    I felt this way most of last summer. I was so depressed I wasted many days of my summer break burdened by questions. I finally realized some of what you’re saying here. I realized that I have to live with questions rather than wait for answers. Two things helped get my mornings back:

    -I (once again) read Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. I highly recommend this book.
    -I quit drinking coffee. I love coffee, but I gave it up and I can’t believe the difference it made. I understand it doesn’t work this way for everyone, but I always mention it because it’s something I wouldn’t have expected.

  6. Good stuff, Jeremy. I like this “And of course to see something, you have to have your eyes open. You have to keep looking. Even when your vision is blurred and when the path isn’t clear.” I think this willingness to not stubbornly shut down or pridefully stop looking is definitely key to getting where we need to be.

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