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

Do you panic and get stuck into figuring out what you should do next?

Does your mind go into problem-solving mode, looking at all the options, everything that might go wrong in the hope that you come out with the right answer?

This used to be me – and to be honest still is sometimes. But a couple of weeks ago while working with a client I discovered that my reaction is changing.

My client was stuck. Things were moving fast and beyond the limits of his knowledge. He was looking for guidance on what to do next, but this was beyond my knowledge too. I don’t know how many times in that session he said “I don’t know”, but it was a lot.

Finally, I said, “What if you do nothing?”

“????” was about the response I got!

I’m was serious. “What if you do nothing?”

“But isn’t that procrastination?”

I found this a really interesting response. I explained that to my understanding, procrastination is avoiding doing something you that you know needs doing. If you don’t know what to do, then consciously doing nothing about it is not procrastination.

Why is it that we’ve been taught that doing nothing is such a bad thing? Mindfulness and meditation are becoming more popular as ways of managing stress and overwhelm, and they’re ok because they have a recognised label. But essentially the aim is to sit with a blank mind and allow space for new thoughts to come through – i.e. do nothing. “Doing nothing” just doesn’t sound powerful enough though does it?

But it is powerful. By choosing to do nothing what you’re really doing is telling your conscious mind to stop chewing away on the problem. Your unconscious mind can keep on whirring away and will do, but you won’t be conscious of this – so it will feel like you’re doing absolutely nothing.

However – and this is the critical thing – there’s a point when your unconscious mind will deliver you the most insightful answer. “Ping”. You may have experienced this in the shower, or out on a run, or some other time when your conscious mind has been distracted and quietened. The ping is often pretty quiet, especially against the backdrop of your whirring thoughts, throwing up possible solutions, discarding them, looking at pros and cons, getting scared about the all the terrible things that might happen if you don’t solve this thing right here and now. So you often don’t hear it, until things quieten down.

The sooner you can get used to knowing that your unconscious mind is working on it in the background, and has way more brainpower to throw at it than your conscious mind, the sooner you can accept that doing nothing is the answer – and then your mind will quieten, so you’ll hear it when you do get the answer!

So if you have a problem that you don’t know how to solve. My advice is to sit with it, don’t search for the answer. Do nothing (to solve the problem itself). That way when the ping comes you’ll be rested and inspired and ready to take action too.

Does this resonate with you? Have you experienced chewing on a problem, only to find the answer appear when you’re not thinking about it? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.