Wise Inaction: Knowing when not to act
â€œWhat should I do?â€ My client was almost begging me for an answer. He was really frustrated. â€œI keep playing the pros and the cons out about taking the new position and I can argue both ways! This is driving me crazy!!!! I need to stop feeling like I am dying in my job, I need something fresh. But I donâ€™t know about this offer. The moneyâ€™s good and I need the change, but Iâ€™ve heard the boss is a jerk and others have left because of him. But I need to do something! I have to make a decision now and get on with it!â€
â€œDo you?â€ I asked. He looked at me with surprise and a touch of annoyance. â€œWhat if you didnâ€™t do anythingâ€¦.for a while?â€ I thought he was going to slug me.
Have you ever been in a situation like my clientâ€™s? Locked up in total stalemate about a decision? You feel the pressure to get into action, but what action? You can argue both sides and it makes you want to throw something in frustration. My client was desperate to get into action â€“ almost any action at this point.
A lot of us, especially us men, are hard-wired to get into action – fast. Itâ€™s what we do. And itâ€™s helped us get to where we are today â€“ both the successes and the screw-ups. But there are times when the smartest thing to do is not jump into action, but wait and learn more about the situation.
When you get to the point where you feel desperate to just make a move on something, and are willing to do anything just to get movingâ€¦.DONâ€T! Thatâ€™s right, donâ€™t do anythingâ€¦.for the moment.
I know there are a lot of strategies out there for quickly getting into action. The wisdom being that if you get moving, you can always make course corrections. And that wisdom is good, but not all the time.
There is another part to â€œWise Actionâ€ that most folks miss. And that is, knowing when not to act. That is â€œWise Inactionâ€.
In working with the Disquiet, either in myself or with others, I often see the strong urge we have to quickly make changes to â€œfixâ€ the pain of the Disquiet. I have quite a laundry list of actions I took because I felt that if I just made it different, Iâ€™d feel better. I have quit jobs to take bad ones, left relationships, started others, bought expensive toys, signed up for year-long programs, and even entered into some questionable medical treatment programs, all to help â€œfixâ€ the â€œproblemâ€.
At the time, I patted myself on the back because I took action. I did something about it. And later, the very pain I was trying to get rid of was back and often on top of the burden and additional suffering of whatever I had gotten myself into.
When it comes to the Disquiet, fast action is usually not the wisest course of action. In fact, it often compounds the problem. I have written here a lot about how I believe the midlife crisis is a result of not engaging the Disquiet. I believe this jumping into action and re-action is a key contributor to a midlife crisis. .
So what am I recommending? What are you supposed to do when you are like my client up there who is struggling? Wait. Donâ€™t jump into action. Not yet.
Hold off on your desire to do something to alleviate your suffering. Donâ€™t jump into making big changes in your life. If there is any action to take, itâ€™s not on the outside; itâ€™s on the inside â€“ with yourself. You must engage your Disquiet. You want to learn or â€œhearâ€ the message thatâ€™s in your uneasiness. The pain is there for a reason â€“ itâ€™s a signal that something is out of whack. Donâ€™t be like some doctors who are quick to prescribe pain-killers instead of looking at the underlying cause.
You need to ask questions and wait for the answers. What is my unease trying to tell me? What is the longing that hasnâ€™t surfaced? What do I keep ignoring? What is being smothered or buried that is a key part of who I am and what Iâ€™m about? You want to work with that before rearranging the deck chairs of your life. You have some thinking, uncovering and learning to do before you change jobs, relationships, cities, etc. If not, you will feel the same nagging unease re-surface â€“ again and again.
This â€œwise action of taking no actionâ€ can be helpful in other parts of your life as well. The next time you feel stalemated by both sides of a decision and you are really feeling pressured to just to get on with it, ask yourself â€œDo I have all of the facts?â€ And I mean the real, verifiable facts, not what you think or assume. If you donâ€™t, go get them.
And if you have all the information you can get and are still stuck, WAIT. Something needs to happen or show up that will then crystallize what you need to do.
This became a guiding principle I use a lot now: If I donâ€™t know what to do and I have looked at both sides as best I can, I may need to wait. I will wait and watch for something to shift or unfold. Then I trust I know what I will need to do.
The next time you are stuck and your head is screaming to make a decision, take a deep breath and â€¦.wait! And be on the lookout for something happening, changing or showing up that will make the decision much easier to make. That is wise in-action.
Try it! Let me know what happens. Post your comments or questions below.
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