What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do In Business

peter profile (square super small).jpg
Peter Shallard
CEO | Commit Action |

Three simple in-the-moment journaling exercises to reduce entrepreneurial anxiety and inspire action

There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s career where mental paralysis strikes.

It could be fear and the lizard brain. It could be the crushing overwhelm of too many things to do. It could even be a tremendous lucky break where opportunity itself brings forth the demons of imposter syndrome and self sabotage.

Either way, every business owner eventually finds themselves frozen in their tracks.

The paralysis isn’t real of course.

It’s really just chronic hesitation. That hesitation is caused by not knowing what to do next. The fear of making a mistake prolongs entrepreneurial hesitation into frozen stuck-ness.

The measure of an entrepreneur – and the success of their ventures – hinges on their ability to keep moving in the face of uncertainty.

Execution is everything. The successful entrepreneur is the person who is able to take action despite not always knowing the precise right move to make.

You need to become that person.

In the darkest moments of I-don’t-know-what-to-do paralysis, the best thing is to lean blithely into the paradox: Find something to do.Take an interim action that thaws you out and gets you moving.

Here are three simple journaling exercises – accessible in any moment, for any biz owner, at any time – that will clear your thinking and make it easier to execute:

1. Describe the (realistically possible) worst case scenario

Feeling like you don’t know what to do is the symptom. Fear is the root-cause.

And fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear there is.

When you sit down to write out a description of the worst case scenario you’re facing, you shine a light into the dark corners of your imagination where your worst fears and anxieties hide.

None of your worst fears stand up to the bright light of even slightly clear thinking.

Of course, journaling a worst-case-scenario description means being a realist: Don’t allow your imagination to run wild with some homeless-in-the-gutter outcome. Nor a zombie apocalypse where it’s not just your business that fails, but civilization itself.

When you write down your realistic worst case scenario, you turn ambiguous fears into finite real concerns.

This is a tremendous upgrade.

The bubble of anxiety will rapidly deflate when you evaluate the sticky situation you’re in by describing – in detail – the realistic results of everything shaking out just about as badly as it might reasonably go.

It sounds weird, but you’ll suddenly see two powerful truths:

First, that even the worstcase scenario probably isn’t that bad.

And second, that there are plenty of simple – immediately obvious – no-brainer actions you can take to mitigate this worst, worst situation and turn a guaranteed bad time into a possibly okay-ish one.

Those actions – simple and obvious – become your to-do list.

It’s that simple: Shine a light by writing it down. See that it’s not that bad. See what you can do to improve the odds.

Now, you know what to do.

Go do it.

2. Ask yourself what your mentor or role model would do

This is a little trick therapists use when they recognize that a client doesn’t have a “lack of resources” problem, but a “lack of resourcefulness” problem.

In times of stress and crisis your mind develops peculiar tunnel vision: You can’t see anything but the problem itself, even when the solution is well within the grasp of your talents and resources. You can’t see the forest for the trees.

You can hack your brain to break out of this myopia by asking yourself who you knowor even who you’ve heard of – who would absolutely crush in this situation.

(Think of someone you admire who’d act on their talent, grit and smarts… this exercise doesn’t work if you simply imagine a bajillionaire who can just buy their way out of any problem.)

Then, you journal like you’re role playing.

Act “as-if” you were them:

What would they do in this situation?

How would they think?

What philosophy or axioms would they rely on to stay focused and strong?

What would they do if they were in your shoes, with all the same resources (and obstacles) you possess… but retaining their smarts and hustle?

Writing this stuff down instantly opens up your mind’s ability to see possibilities.

The magic of it is that it’s all still coming from within you. It’s not your mentor or hero who has the resources, it’s your internal representation of them.

Fear and imposter syndrome prevent you accessing all your greatest resources in a crisis, when you (unconsciously) tell yourself a story about your personal smallness and unworthiness.

Asking “What-would-this-rockstar-do?” bypasses any deeper self-worth (“baggage”) issues and opens up the mental resourcefulness that has been within you all along.

Whatever you write that your hero would do… is your brain actually knowing what to do.

Now go do it.

Read also: Struggling with too much on your plate? Learn how to cure overwhelm with our effective strategies for gaining clarity and peace of mind.

3. Take stock of what you have agency and power over

Feeling frozen in a crisis – or just not knowing what to do or where to go next – is a kind of mental shackle. You feel trapped. Stuck.

One of the best possible exercises is to simply make a list of things you’re in control of. At times like this it’s easy to feel alone and surrounded by forces larger than you. That mental experience of “smallness” is precisely what has you so paralyzed.

Listing off the things you can control in a crisis – that you have power, agency and volition over – is highly personal and contextual. For example:

A stressed out startup founder will do well to remind themselves that they alone have the authority to pivot the business if they think it’s best.

A solo-freelance web designer has the agency to fire any client who isn’t treating them right.

Your personal power and agency will be different, and that’s why it’s important to write it out.

That said, there are a few universal examples of personal agency available to almost any business owners:

  1. The power to say yes or no to customers

  2. The power to get rid of a problematic employee

  3. The power to find another contractor or vendor/supplier

  4. The power to phone a friend for support

  5. The power to just take a break without anything too crazy going wrong

  6. The power over your body and the power to move it and change it

  7. The power over your physical environment (to leave it or change it)

As you write your list, it will dawn on you that your stuck-ness/paralysis is likely self imposed. That at some point the decision you made – wholehearted and willingly at the time – to work with this customer, to take on that team member, to scale your business or even just to be an entrepreneur… was a choice you made.

That choice was made with deliberate vision and volition. You chose to be here. And you can choose to be somewhere else.

Sometimes remembering this alone is enough to un-stick yourself and persevere with what needs to be done. Sometimes though, reminding yourself of your autonomy and power is what’s needed to make the hard decision to change things.

Either way, when you remember the agency and power you have in your life and business… you’ll also remember what you need to do.

So go do it.

Three fool-proof paths forward. No more excuses for inaction.

Deep Dive into Your Entrepreneurial Traits: Gain an in-depth understanding of what makes you tick as an entrepreneur. Take the free Entrepreneur Personality test for a deep dive into your unique traits.

Achieve Your Goals Faster