Sometimes the answer is clear; sometimes you just don’t know what to do about a problem or decision. These tips for what to do when you’re confused, scared, or anxious are inspired by The Parable of the Warrior and the Pineberries.
The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli is one of the books I’m currently reading. It’s filled with practical information and tips on how we think, as well as applicable ways to make decisions about anything easier. If you become aware of your cognitive and emotional biases, you will think more clearly and find it easier to move forward when you don’t know what to do.
“Making decisions is exhausting,” writes Dobelli. “Anyone who has ever configured a laptop online or researched a long trip – flight, hotels, activities, restaurants, weather – knows this well: After all the comparing, considering, and choosing, you are exhausted. Science calls this decision fatigue.”
If you don’t know what to do – whether you’re deciding what to pack for an all-inclusive resort vacation or struggling with what to do after a breakup – don’t consider your options when you’re tired. Make decisions when you’re fresh, energized, and focused. That’s the best thing to do when you don’t know what to do.
Read the following parable. It’ll help you decide what to do when you’re confused or anxious – or even threatened or terrified of the consequences of your decision.
The Parable of the Warrior and the Pineberries
Once upon a time, a young warrior was chased by a streak of snarling vicious tigers. They were big. They were mean. They were hungry. The warrior ran for a million miles through jungle and bush. He was exhausted.
The warrior came to a cliff at the edge of the jungle. Behind him he could hear the tigers crashing through the underbrush. He knew there was no turning back. He saw a thick vine growing over the edge of the rock face cliff.
He scampered down the vine, out of reach of the streak of tigers above.
The warrior lowered himself further down the vine, and glanced below. He saw a big gray wolf sitting at the bottom of the cliff, patiently waiting for him descend. He stopped. Pondered. Above, a snarling streak of tigers. Below, a hungry wolf. What to do when you don’t know what to do?
Above, a movement caught his eye. He saw a big fat black rat chewing on the very vine to which he clung. He only had a few moments before certain death – the vine was sure to break, the warrior sure to fall into the drooling jaws of the wolf below.
The young warrior noticed a luscious patch of pineberries (a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple) growing on the side of the cliff face, right next to him. They were without a doubt the plumpest, juiciest, most gorgeous pineberries he ever saw.
Since he was always hungry, he figured he might as well spend his last minute on earth eating. He reached over, picked a pineberry, and bit into it. Pineapple juice dripped down his chin and onto his chest. It is the best thing he ever ate.
Revived by the pineberry, the warrior swung over to the narrow ledge of the cliff. He plucked another pineberry, savored the flavor. Another one. Each one tasted better than the last. He sighed, stretched, and suddenly saw a trail leading down the mountain.
The warrior followed the trail, which led him away from the snarling streak of tigers, the hungry wolf, and the big fat black rat. He was free.
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
What came to your mind when you were reading The Parable of the Warrior and the Pineberries? Here’s what I think about making decisions when you just don’t know what to do.
While I wouldn’t recommend that you stop running if you’re being chased by a streak of tigers, I do think it’s important to take a “time out” when you don’t know what to do. You’re spinning your wheels. You’re running on empty. You’re confused and tired. You’re scared of making the wrong decision. This is the best time to stop running. Slow down, take a deep breath, and halt. Did you take a deep breath? Take another one. Relax your shoulders, un-tense your face.
Don’t make an impulsive decision when you don’t know what to do
The worst thing to do when you’re confused or anxious is to make an impulse decision. Don’t let your fears, insecurities, concerns, or weaknesses push you into making a fast decision that you could regret later. Even if you’ve stopped running, you’re still in danger of deciding what to do on impulse – and this can have disastrous long-term consequences. Be in the moment, like the warrior was.
If you don’t know what to do about a romantic relationship, read How to Decide When to Leave a Relationship.
Focus on something else – like the taste of a pineberry
When you don’t know what to do is the PERFECT time to do something totally unrelated to your decision. Don’t eat a tub of ice cream or a bag of Fritos in front of your television – that’s not healthy. Instead, find a healthy way to distract your busy monkey mind from the problem at hand. Go for a walk without your iphone, headphones, or anything. Just walk. Eat a bowl of berries without ice cream or chocolate sauce. Just taste. Write three pages about your problem in your journal or on a piece of paper. Just write what’s in your head. Let your mind work in the background while you distract yourself in healthy ways. Remember the warrior in the parable, who escaped after taking time to eat a few pineberries.
Seek wise counsel
Sometimes the best guidance comes from people who have “been there, done that.” If you’re making a big career change, for instance, talk to mature students about going back to college after age 40. If you don’t know where to invest your money or who to put in charge of your will, talk to a financial advisor or your rich Uncle Bert. If your marriage is falling apart, talk to a mentor or professional counselor. Don’t keep to yourself!
Seek help when you don’t know what to do, and give yourself time to talk through the problem and possible solutions.
Ask God what to do when you don’t know what to do
This is my favorite thing to do when I don’t know what to do: I ask God. I haven’t been doing this for very long, to tell you the truth. Usually I make snap decisions and pray about them later. But I’m recently learning how to talk to God, how to include Him in my life, and how to read Scripture so it actually applies to the situations I’m facing. Learning how to hear the voice of God and discern His will for your life isn’t something that happens overnight, and it can feel weird at first. But, connecting with your Creator is by far the best way to know what to do when you don’t know what to do.
If you don’t know what church to go to, read How to Find a Church After Being Hurt by Church Leaders.
Even if you don’t believe in God – or you don’t have a relationship with Him, or you don’t trust Him – take time to be silent and still. You may be tempted to get busy when you don’t know what to do, but the best thing is to stop. Re-read The Parable of the Warrior and the Pineberries. See how he ran and ran…it was only until he stopped running that he could see what to do.
I welcome your thoughts on what to do when you’re confused, anxious, or scared. I can’t give advice, but I’m happy to pray for wisdom, peace, and guidance when you don’t know what to do!
May you take time to take a deep breath, connect with God, and find wisdom for what to do in your life. I pray for courage, strength, faith, and energy to make good decisions – and follow through with your plans. Amen.