What To Do When You Don’t Know The Answer

I want to give you some tools for dealing with the moments where you don’t know the answer or what to do.

It feels uncomfortable when we don’t know what to do and/or we don’t have the answers.

Decision making is delayed. You want more info. It needs to be the right time. Someone else will make the decision for you. Best to err on the side of caution, right? Wrong.

The key is accepting you won’t always know what to do, nor will you have the answers. There are, however, strategies to help develop your decision-making skills. I want to share with you some of my personal tips.

Go Grab a Shower

I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Stuff I have been tussling with for days will  become clear. I have no idea why and what magical power this small rectangle box has, but it works. Find out where you do your best thinking. I have a friend who parks up near an airport runway and watches planes land and take off. Let your mind float wherever it wants.

Get Physical

Get your minds out of the gutter. I’m talking about exercise to get the ideas firing in your brain. Studies show that walking for 20 minutes increases brain activity. The part of the brain responsible for decision-making goes wild, it loves exercise. So whether it is walking, swimming, running or rock climbing just get out there. Oh, you also have the added bonus of that shower afterwards.

It Can Always Change

In my experience the decision you make is rarely something you have to stick with. You can change your mind. You have the ability to flex and bend with the plan. You won’t know whether change needs to happen until you commit and live with the decision you have made.

What Are The Red Rules?

My mentor would talk about blue rules and red rules. A blue rule means the rule exists but it could flexed depending on the circumstance. A deadline for example.  A red rule means breaking the rule is forbidden. Doing so would be a breach of integrity and likely to cause lasting damage. Being abusive to a colleague for example. Think about the decision you want to make? What are 100% the red rules? 

In others words what don’t you want to experience in making this decision? This will allow you to focus on what you do want. From there you can focus on how you will go about achieving it.

What’s The Fear?

Most of the decisions we don’t make are driven by fear. A fear of not knowing, getting it wrong, and many other scenarios you worry about. Fear is holding you back and is preventing you from leading the type of life you want to lead. This decision you are wrestling with is just a small example of how this fear is suffocating you.

Can I Get a Rewind?

When we are in the thick of dealing with a problem it is difficult to take a step back and breathe. If you can breathe great, it will help gain some perspective. You may be able to rephrase the problem, opening up different solutions. If you can’t do this, speak to a friend or someone you are close to at work. I guarantee they will be able to remember several moments. Moments of decisive action, owning the problem and ignoring the nagging voices in your head. What was it about these situations that made it different to how you are feeling right now? Pinpointing this will be key to knowing what to do right now.

What Would Nelson Do?

One coaching method I use involves thinking like someone else. The exercise starts with four pieces of flip chart paper. On each piece of paper I would write down four names. It can be any four names, but well-known people can be effective. For example: Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Stephen Hawking. You ask your coachee how each person would deal with the problem. What would their thinking be like? What words would they use? How would they tackle it?  

The reality is the names you choose are unimportant. What’s important is the coachee starts to think differently. It also releases them from some of their own negative thinking. They give themselves permission to be wrong. They can play around with different options and experiment. It is a powerful way of accessing parts of the brain that otherwise may be blocked.

Are You Talking to Me?

Here are some key questions you can ask (write down the answers) when you believe you don’t have the answer:

Past Focus

What is preventing you from making a decision?

What is holding you back from making progress?

What difficulties have you comes across (real and imagined!)

What obstacles seem impassable?

Present Focus

What is really important?

What resources or support do you need?

What behaviours are holding you back?

How can you overcome the obstacles?

Comparison Focus

What are you dealing with that is similar?

Where have you had success with a similar problem? What did you do?

What one step could you take today, that would make a big difference.

Future Focus

What would you like instead?

How will this help?

What will be the effect?

How important is that?

What are the main benefits?

Once you have achieved this, what will you do next?

What support do you need?

Working through these questions will help reveal your thoughts and feelings. If you can have someone else ask you the questions, even better. They dig deeper under the surface helping to address fear and other unhelpful emotions. The importance is focusing on what you can control, rather than what is of concern.

I would love to hear from you if you used the techniques and cracked a problem you had been struggling with.

Happy problem solving!

Believe and Take Action

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Ian Ruane

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