How to Find Clarity When You’re Confused About What to Do
By Dr. Amy Johnson
“Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” ~Cicero
You know that state of confusion where you feel really unsure about what to do—you’re talking about it with all of your friends, making lists, weighing options, lying awake all night?
As truly confused and unsure as you may feel in those moments, you’re not. You have much more clarity than you think.
Re-read that last line again. You have a lot more clarity than you think. You see, clarity is what you are. It’s what you’re born with, it’s your true nature, and it’s what is always there underneath the mess of confusing thought that sometimes dances on the surface.
Confusing thought is there in spades. Being lost in your own personal thought is what produces the feeling of confusion.
But are “you” actually confused? Nope, not in the least.
If I Am Clarity, Why Do I Feel Confused?
The feeling you call confusion is a big to-do that’s created in your mind when you have all kinds of conflicting thoughts (for example, do it, don’t do it, take a chance, why fix what’s not broken?) and you seriously entertain each of those as if they are helpful or important.
You innocently treat those thoughts as if they are each deserving of consideration just because they happen to be there, forgetting that thoughts are just blips of energy—they don’t possess qualities like “deserving.”
When you’re in a big thought storm and you grab onto each disagreeing thought that wizzes by, it feels like serious brain muddle.
Real as it seems, the confusion is an illusion. You nearly always know what you want to do—but you have too much thinking about it all to just go with what you deep-down know.
For example, I have a ton of thinking about leaving my kids for a few days. I mean a ton. My separation anxiety is unenlighted to epic proportions.
I can very easily rattle off a dozen or more reasons to not travel without them, even for very short trips. If I were to make a decision based on my emotions or on the availability of solid “reasons,” I would surely never go.
So when an opportunity for me to learn from some incredible people next month—for four and a half days, thousands of miles away (the kids will go to bed without me tucking them in for five nights; it literally makes me nauseous to type that)—I knew I couldn’t do it.
But just a tiny bit more than that, I knew I had to do it.
And so I told my husband about the opportunity. That was a huge step because, although it’s ultimately my choice, he rarely lets me bow out of things I truly want because of something as minor as insecure, wavering thinking.
I was right. As soon as I told him, he told me to stop being ridiculous and book the trip. Even though it means he’d be alone with two toddlers for four-and-a-half days, he said “It’s a no-brainer, book the trip.”
I can’t. I can. I can? Can I really? I couldn’t. I went on and on like that for the better part of an hour, while he lovingly said, “You’re a basket case; just book the trip already.”
That basket case state where you are honestly entertaining the flurry of competing thought and you’re completely unaware of the calm and clarity beneath the thought—that’s confusion.
Although it still seems wrong on many levels, I booked the trip because something deeper and calmer tells me that the wrongness is narrow and subjective. Not just because my husband tells me it’s crazy, but because the wiser part of me sort of knew it was all along.
Why I feel conflicted couldn’t be less important.
I’m sure I felt abandoned as a kid and don’t want my kids to feel that way, or something along those lines. But it couldn’t matter less because what happened in the past is not the reason I feel the way I feel now. My current, in this moment thinking—and nothing else—is why I feel the way I feel now.
When I jump on the “Can I? I can’t. I can?” merry-go-round, I get whipped all over the place in a grand gesture of confusion and uncertainty.
But here’s the magical thing I found: when I stepped away from that merry-go-round, something else was there.
I want to be very clear about how that something else looked, felt, and sounded. It did not speak loudly—in fact, it was very easily drowned out by the “I can…I couldn’t” tug-of-war.
It was not an overwhelming feeling of conviction, and it certainly did not erase all my doubts and fears. The doubts and fears were—and are—still spinning.
Here’s the best way I can think to describe it:
If I were to pit the knowing voice that arose from the confusion against the confused voice, the knowing voice would be like me after eight hours of sleep and a good breakfast, and the confused voice would be like me with no sleep and a shot of tequila.
The former just feels a little more trustworthy, a little sounder, and a little more grounded. The latter is louder, more repetitive, and maybe even a little more passionate, but it lacks substance. I get the very clear sense that I might be better served by the former.
That’s how I know that the knowing voice was clarity.
Well, that and the fact that I know enough to recognize insecure, personal thinking by now.
I recognize the merry-go-round. I’m quite familiar with the feeling of jumping on board with flip-flopping, fast-moving, fear-rooted thoughts. And I definitely recognize the fast-talking, passionate-sounding voice that feels like me with no sleep and a little mind-altering substance.
I’m familiar enough to remember that when I stay grounded and off the merry-go-round, the thoughts eventually die down. They sometimes come back and rev back up, but then they simply die down again.
And when they finally die down enough—which tends to happen faster the more I stand back and let them do their thing—that knowing voice is still there. That voice is constant while the others aren’t.
Yet another sign that it’s my always-there clarity.
Multiple Versions of Reality
Since I’ve committed to going on the trip, it’s been really fascinating.
There are ways I can think about it that make me break out in a rash. When my mind creates images of my kids feeling abandoned, or when it creates feelings of those four-and-a-half days being the slowest….days….ever, I suffer.
But those images and feelings always fade at some point and I stop suffering.
There are also moments when my mind creates totally different images and feelings, and I feel enthusiastic and eager to go on the trip.
What has become very clear is that there are multiple versions of reality available to me at any given time.
Luckily, I know that. I know that even in the middle of an anxiety-provoked rash, I’m only experiencing my own very biased perception of events, not events themselves. This is especially obvious when I consider that I haven’t even gone on the trip yet. I haven’t been away from my kids, and yet I’ve suffered over being away from them. How crazy is that?
So, knowing that my suffering is only due to my current-moment version of reality helps a lot. It also helps a lot to remember that nearly every time I’ve been totally positive something will be a horrible experience—yet that tiny knowing voice suggests I do it anyway—it ends up not being so bad.
You can remember these things too, because I’d bet anything they are also true for you.
The more you learn to recognize your own knowing voice and distinguish it from the loud, repetitive, flip-flopping doubts, the more you naturally cut through what looks like confusion and simply do what you already know to do.
Photo by Aya Demeter
About Amy Johnson
Dr. Amy Johnson is a psychologist, coach, and the author of The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit, and Being Human: Essays on Thoughtmares, Bouncing Back, and Your True Nature. Please sign up here to receive free weekly insights and wisdom from Amy.