What to do with your confusion

To say we do not like feeling confused is an understatement. We’ll do anything to avoid disorienting, panic-filled feelings of uncertainty and confusion, even when it means being wrong.

We try to fit the uncertain world and our changing work into the mental frameworks of what we already know. In some ways, we’d rather be incompetent than feel incompetent.

I could tell you that to avoid being confused, you need to think differently. While that’s true enough, it’s annoying and not helpful.

So let me propose a different path: just be confused.

Be confused.

Seriously, it’s OK. The world is a disorienting place. And the rules aren’t clear at all. On some level, you suspect this or you wouldn’t feel confused.

It’s not that you have no ideas or thoughts. You have so many disorganized, random, repetitive thoughts and questions, compounded by messy emotions and prickly concerns.

It feels like special torture. But it’s only confusion.

And confusion points the way to creativity, ideas and new thinking.

You can work with confusion.

Confusion lets us know we’re trying to resolve a problem with jumbled thoughts, conflicting emotions, and ideas that are still unformed. And while supremely uncomfortable, it’s also not a big deal.

You’ve been confused before. You will be again.

Confusion tells us we’re missing something. It lets us know our focus is too broad or too narrow or in the wrong direction.

And we even describe our thoughts as fuzzy with squinting eyes and a furrowed brow. To bring things into focus, we have to pull up or narrow in. We need to experiment and compare.

Confusion lets us know it’s time to focus. And fine-tuning your focus is a far cry from being incompetent.

Trust the mess.

Confusion feels chaotic and messy, which is why our first instinct is to push it away. A wise teacher I knew called this ‘the mess in the middle.’

This mess is when things seem upside down. And it’s when we’re tempted to settle with what’s known and familiar, with soul-sucking work our lizard brains can handle on autopilot.

But it’s in the mess of confusion that we can see things in new ways. It’s like cleaning your closet where everything first comes out on the floor in random piles and heaps. Yet you know with focused attention, an organized closet lies within the heaps. And you remember how satisfaction and clarity feel even before the order takes shape.

The mess allows you to sort and bucket and organize, making space for new connections, fresh ideas and clearer thinking.

So sit with the mess and give yourself permission to think.

Give yourself permission to think.

Stop. Just take that in for a minute, maybe two.

Breathe. Sip your coffee. Get up and walk around. Resist the temptation to problem solve.

Give yourself permission to think. When was the last time you did that?

You’re creating a bit of space, cracking open a moment of mental clarity. A moment where in the middle of the mess, you can begin to see order and new possibilities. You’re giving yourself permission to think, note despite the confusion, but because of it.

And you’re slowing things down so you can think clearly.

In this space and at this pace, you can begin to see what fits and what doesn’t. What to keep, what to throw out, and what to box up for later use. And you’ll know you’re re-ordering the mess when the emerging clarity feels subtly and completely different from the anxious, jumbled, scrambled thoughts.

So the next time you’re feeling the discomfort caused by confusion, don’t panic.

Let your smart, creative, but slowwww conscious thinking catch up. Be confused, trust the mess and think.

Then, when someone asks in response to your furrowed brow and serious look, “What’s wrong?”

You can calmly reply, “Nothing, I’m just confused.” 

carolyn solares
My brother calls me a workshrink. Work with me at murphymerton.
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Inspiration: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman |Photo by Allistair MacRobert on Unsplash