If you are like the rest of us, you sometimes find yourself in situations where you don’t have a drop down menu. Your drop down menu consists of all the options your brain scans when you are confronted with an opportunity or a challenge. It works great unless your drop down menu doesn’t have an option that fits the situation, or if the drop down menu you have used previously is no longer helpful.

While most of us feel quite alone and sometimes a bit off balance when we don’t know what to do, we can assure you that this feeling is universal – regardless of your role, education, or experience level. We’ve coached a wide range of C-suite executives, leaders and managers, professors, experts, authors, public figures, parents, and individuals exploring what’s next who regularly find themselves in the position of not knowing what to do. What differentiates the people who don’t know what to do and succeed from those who don’t know what to do and fail is the way they handle the experience.

There are three things that successful people do when they don’t know what to do:

  1. They don’t do anything. They wait, watch and explore what’s possible before making a decision – sometimes taking no action is a very good option.
  2. They take action. They use the experience and expertise on their drop down menu that most closely approximates the current experience to guide their first steps and then they modify their next steps accordingly.
  3. They reflect. They continuously assess the impact of what they did (doing nothing or doing something) and they modify future behaviors based on that assessment.

It seems simple, but it’s not easy to calm or soothe your anxiety in the moment, especially when you believe there is one right thing to do and you don’t know what it is.

In the upcoming week, we’d encourage you to watch how you handle those moments when you don’t know what to do. Observe what you feel and how you react to those feelings. If you are able to calm or soothe yourself so that you can move forward, bravo, but if you find yourself reacting to not knowing what to do in ways that are counterproductive, consider following the first step: Don’t Do Anything. Wait, watch and explore. We call this Active Pausing – a process that allows you to explore how to successfully respond (vs. reacting) in ways that are in alignment with your vision for the future.