If you’ve heard of Isaac Newton, you’ve probably heard of inertia — the tendency for an object’s trajectory to remain unchanged.
While human behavior isn’t quite that simple, it’s true that we tend to stick to what we know. Unfortunately, that means that when we don’t know what we are going to do, we can get stuck. Then, moving forward seems impossible.
Whether it’s your next step in this day or your next step in life, we’re here to help you break the inertia. If you’re stuck wondering, “What am I going to do?” then you’re in the right place.
Figure out what to do by finding the reason why you don’t know what to do, on this page. It could be that you’re indecisive, grieving, fighting with family, or just plain overwhelmed:
- I’m overwhelmed: 3 Approaches
- I can’t make a decision: 3 Steps To Help
- I’m fighting with friends or family: 3 Things To Do
- I’m uncertain about my future: Make the Most of Right Now
- I’ve lost someone: Baby Steps You Can Take
Scroll down the list, or click to jump to what speaks to you, and you’ll get a few initial steps you can try to get unstuck.
I’m overwhelmed: 3 approaches
Cognitive approach: make a to-do list
Sometimes your thoughts get tangled up like a set of headphones you left in your pocket too long. You have so much on your mind and don’t know where to start unpacking it all. “What am I going to do?!?!”
When you’re overwhelmed and don’t know what you are going to do, make a to-do list. The simple act of writing things down helps you feel more organized, in control, and prepared.
Once you’ve got your list, you can play with the order of your tasks until you’re comfortable. For instance, if you’ve got a huge paper to write, break it down into sections. Or, if you aren’t feeling motivated, start with something small to give your energy a kick-start (how many cups and bowls are sitting in your bedroom…?) .
Physiological approach: relaxation exercises
Our bodies have a stress response that is super helpful when we need to run for our lives. Not so much when we have a big test to study for and we’re so anxious we can’t focus.
When you feel too restless and tense to get anything done, start by calming your body.
There are tons of breathing exercises out there, but an easy one to start with is 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8. Repeat.
This type of slow, deliberate breathing signals to your body that there is no impending threat and allows your muscles to relax.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another effective and easy technique for winding down. For each part of your body one-by-one, squeeze your muscles to tense up and then release to relax. This will help you concentrate and then release your pent-up energy.
Behavioral approach: just do something
You ever have so much to do that you just decide to take a nap instead?
Sometimes thinking of everything we have to do feels so draining and stressful that we can’t even bring ourselves to do the easy things.
Then we just kind of do nothing and feel bad about it, which makes us even less likely to want to do things. When this happens, using the behavioral activation technique can help.
The idea behind behavioral activation is that our avoidance will continue to compound until we change it.
The technique is simple: pick one thing, and just do it. Separate it from everything else you have to do. It is your one goal right now. Go for a walk. Call a friend. Sweep the floors.
Once you do any one thing, chances are you’ll feel better, have more energy, and be more motivated to continue.
I can’t make a decision: 3 steps to help
Step 1: Pros and cons list. It sounds cliché, but writing out all the benefits and drawbacks of your options allows you to process the details of your decision and get some clarity going forward.
Step 2: Get a sounding board. It can be a family member, a friend, or a stuffed animal. It doesn’t really matter what they say. What’s important is your chance to verbalize your inner thoughts — sometimes we don’t realize what we really think until we hear ourselves say it out loud.
Step 3: Trust your gut. You’ve written out all the pros and cons, and you’ve talked through the decision. You know all the details and what they mean to you.
Look at your list and then listen to what you feel toward each option. Your instinct is there for a reason. Go with what feels best and don’t second guess yourself.
I’m fighting with friends or family: 3 things to do
Contextualize. Before you work through the problem, make sure you’re thinking about it realistically. People tend to let issues snowball in their mind until they seem unsolvable.
For example, if your best friend snaps at you, you might think “they seem mad at me,” then “maybe I’ve been a bad friend to them,” then “I guess I’m not a very good person.”
But take note: “I’m not a good person” is miles away from “they snapped at me.” Make sure to focus on the issue at hand and avoid ‘fortune telling‘.
Communicate. When expressing your feelings to others, use “I” statements. When we tell people “you made me feel bad,” it makes them defensive and likely to disagree with our thoughts.
Leave accusations out of the conversation; explain what you feel, not what they did.
Listen. Recognize that they also have a different perspective. Ask them how they interpreted the situation. Ask how they feel about it. Ask what they want to happen next.
You don’t have to agree with them, but coming from a place of understanding is much better than trying to debate the validity of each other’s feelings.
I’m uncertain about my future: make the most of right now
Make a plan
If you’re not sure what you want to do for your career, start by thinking about what have been your biggest challenges and goals. What have you overcome? Where have you succeeded? Can you make a career out of helping others do the same?
Tease out your values, goals, and ideal lifestyle. Then figure out what your priorities are — income, location, self-employment, big vs. small company, advancement opportunities, personal growth, working with others or alone, travel opportunities, etc.
Ask yourself what you don’t like. Figuring out what you want to avoid can help you realize what you want to fight for.
Do your research. Once you’ve identified your priorities, start searching for jobs that fit them. Read up on how to start your own business, or what jobs you can do from the comfort of your own home, or about moving to a big city to get a fast-paced career.
Narrow your list down to the jobs that fit you the best, and start emailing!
No matter how much preparation we put ourselves through, some parts of our future are out of our hands.
Sometimes we don’t have the ability to relocate, or access higher education, or take a financial risk. Sometimes we do have the ability to do so, but we’re afraid it’ll be a mistake.
Regardless, the future can be host to a lot of anxiety. This is where acceptance comes in.
Remind yourself that you’ve handled everything that’s come your way so far. Even if you end up somewhere other than you expect or hope to be, you will be able to make the best of it.
Look for joy in everything you do, and always keep your eye out for opportunities for personal growth and change. You’ve got a lot of time to figure out your whole life. Take it slow. Nothing is permanent.
I’ve lost someone: baby steps to take
Many people report an initial feeling of numbness after a loss. Breakups, ending friendships, and death make us redefine who we are and what our place is in the world without the other person. It’s easy to feel stuck or lost in this process.
First and foremost, time will be your best friend and worst nightmare. It may take weeks, months, or years to feel better again, but eventually — you will. Until then, make sure to take care of yourself.
- Visit the doctor regularly. Loss can cause or worsen physical illness, and it can be difficult to take care of yourself when experiencing grief. As best as you can, keep goals of eating well, exercising, and staying on top of your health. Take a walk whenever you can.
- Allow yourself to feel. Repressing emotions is unhealthy, stressful, and ineffective. Speak your feelings to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or support group (Supportiv is a good place to start).
- Take a step. In any direction. Cook yourself a homemade meal. Go to the movies. Clean the house. Read a book. When you feel like you can’t do anything, pick one simple thing and do it. Remind yourself of your strength, determination, and will. If you can take one step, you can finish the walk.
Moving forward when you don’t know what to do
Still asking, “What am I going to do”? If you need a blanket statement about figuring out how to move forward, it would be this:
1) be honest and thorough in thinking about your options, 2) trust yourself, and 3) start small.
Once you start moving again, it’ll be easier to keep going. Practice acceptance, self-kindness, and patience. Don’t go through it alone. And lastly: don’t give up.