What to do when you don’t know what to do.
Sometimes you just get into a rut. It might be a mental roadblock for something you’re working on solo. Or it could be an organizational bottleneck that has turned everything upside down and now has your team questioning just about every little thing. Whether the challenge is crafting an appropriate email response, or as big as a career change, these 12 action steps will help you to jumpstart creative thinking.
My mom used to tell us, “When you don’t yet know what to do- don’t do anything.” Sound advice. It asserts that you are part of a broader eco-system and that multiple factors and actors are in motion that can have some sort of cascading effect on you. There is huge value in pausing, waiting and taking a day or two to revisit something that has been on your mind,
Going for a walk, a swim or out dancing can have a miraculous effect on re-jiggering your neural pathways. In part it is because you have allowed your focus to wander off elsewhere; the other part is biological. Exercise has the physiological effect of releasing endorphins in our system which reduce stress, make us happier and more alert.
Doodling is a type of yoga for the brain. The great part is that we can all be good at it- after all, there’s no such thing as a bad doodle! Doodling elevates focus and concentration. And because it engages associative thinking instead of linear thinking, you will be amazed and what new ideas occur to you after engaging in a bit of doodling. You may emerge having felt as if you have just meditated.
4. Talk to A Trusted Advisor
Get the issue you are stuck on out of your head and talk it out. Saying your ideas out loud, and hearing how it sounds to someone who you trust and will tell you the truth is golden.
5. Go on a Listening Tour
This is a variation on the former idea. Instead of doing all the talking, shut up and show up with eyes and ears wide open. Identify a range of people who you admire and respect and get their perspective on the idea. You will begin to pick up on patterns of feedback.
6. Get Out of Your League
I mean this in two ways. First, in the vertical direction: get out of your league by gaining perspective on the challenge from someone much more senior to you. Second, in the horizontal direction: identify someone from another sector who would ask the naive questions about the issue that is causing you to break out in a nervous sweat. Thinking in questions can open a world of perspective.
7. Make A List
I love lists: to-do lists give me a small sense of accomplishment when I can check off a completed item. Try making a binary list. Draw a line down the middle of the paper and list the pros and cons of acting in one direction over another; or what you like versus dislike about a situation. Seeing the situation deconstructed on paper into parts will help you make better sense of the whole.
8. Enter Someone Else’s World
Visit a museum or art gallery. Stare off into space and imagine the situation displayed before you. Stop focusing on yourself, marinate your eyes and brain in visual data and then later revisit the challenge at hand with a fresh perspective.
9. Get Lost
This can be done on foot or in a car. The point is that by wandering we relinquish control, and call on our capacity for problem solving in an entirely new context. This can be a very helpful way to pause (tip #1) and move (tip #2).
10. Go See A Movie
Preferably, see the movie by yourself. And to up the ante, watch a genre you typically don’t engage in: rom-com if you’re an action flick type; and science fiction instead of your typical attraction to political thrillers. Foreign films are the ultimate wonderful distraction in order to engage later with renewed perspective.
Go outside: sit on the stoop or a park bench; stare at passing clouds or the trees. Trains are also great for daydreaming out the window. If you’re finding this tip too open-ended, then time yourself. A five minute daydream will do wonders for your day!
12. Time Travel
Visualize yourself in the future having made decision A. Then ask yourself, “How do I feel in that scenario?” Next, visualize yourself having made alternate decision B. Ask yourself, “How do I feel having made that choice?” This is a form of visualization. It is really important in this exercise to pay attention to how you are feeling- and for the moment, leave logic behind.
We are guaranteed to revisit moments of being at a loss about what to do. Practicing these tips will ensure that you will better navigate those times of ambiguity.