The Message of Hesitation

What’s happening when we’re not sure, when we actually find ourselves stopping on the way to something we thought we wanted?

I asked myself this question today when I found myself feeling agitated and hesitant in the face of an opportunity that presented itself. And, to complicate things further, that age-old question I tend to torture myself with reared its head: Am I just procrastinating?

As I’ve written about previously, when we are truly procrastinating, there is a simplicity to what is going on. We know we want, or need, to do something (say, the laundry), but we’re enjoying sitting on the couch. Or, maybe I know I want to work on that chapter of my novel but I’m not sure where to go next. So I find I’m not getting over to the desk.

Today was different, though. An opportunity showed up and a part of me said, “Maybe I should jump on that.” But I couldn’t seem to do it. My body actually seemed to move away when I tried to move myself toward the opportunity. And then it didn’t move at all. I stalled.

The first tip-off was my use of the word should. Should is often (though not always) an indicator that some part of me is afraid. Yes, believe it or not, should frequently equals this: I’m afraid I’m going to miss out. I’m afraid someone (maybe me) is going to think poorly of me if I don’t. I’m afraid this might be my last chance to do X.

When I hear myself using the word should, it’s very likely my inner lizard is freaking out. “Should” is one of those words that almost always requires some investigation.

The next tip-off was my use of the word “jump”. Now, jumping can feel fun and exciting, but in this case, I noticed it was frought with a kind of urgency, a tangle of knots in my stomach that felt heavy as bowling balls. Some of my worst decisions have come from that urgent place. I highly recommend not making decisions (especially big ones) from a place of urgency or panic. If you’ve ever been in a true emergency situation, you probably noticed in retrospect that you simply acted. You grabbed your child or your cat or your goldfish and you left the house where you smelled smoke and called 911. You felt a pain in your stomach and you knew something wasn’t right and you got yourself to the ER.

Urgency and panic come up when we feel like we should be acting, but we’re not clear enough about what we want to know which action to take. And our minds start spinning out stories of future deprivation, poverty, hopelessness, madness, isolation.

When I noticed today that I was feeling urgent about taking a certain action, but hesitated in the face of it, I knew my hesitation was good. It was a message: you’re not clear. What do you need? Do you need more information? Do you need to give yourself a day to think about things? Are you trying to deny or ignore your intuition?

I know that when I answer these questions and come to a place of relative peace, I will know what to do. And if this opportunity wasn’t the right one, I can be sure that more will present themselves. That’s the cool thing about opportunity: not only does it knock twice, it knocks every freaking day, if you’re open to it.

8 thoughts on “The Message of Hesitation

  1. Jill, your article rings true to me. I have done some things that weren’t right for me because I thought I “Should” do them or I was nervous. My life goes better when I truly listen to myself. I have also instinctively acted and gotten out of trouble when something wasn’t right. Great article!


  2. Jill, I love the way you explained this concept, especially what “should” usually means. Really insightful and helpful for me cuz I tend to should on myself more often than I care to acknowledge! Thanks for an important message!


  3. Good food for thought, Jill. (I think that I need to name my inner lizard.) lol

    It’s interesting to examine the reasons why we do stop ourselves on the way to something that we thought we wanted. Many of options that we are presented with involve creativity in some form, I think, as creativity can often include processes that people might not always categorize as the creative.

    You’ve reminded me of a tape that I’ve enjoyed listening to and I found the quote on-line.

    “The main struggle that people have with creativity is that they stop themselves from doing what comes naturally,” says Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her CD The Creative Fire. She talks of “la chispa,” the creative impulse or spirit at the center of the psyche, “the ember [that] can be fanned back into a blaze with the very smallest breath blown upon it,” and she tells in her own wonderful voice a handful of myths and stories that illustrate the creative process. “The truth of the matter,” says Estes, “is that all you have to do to create is to stand out of the way.”


    • Marie, thanks so much for stopping by. Such interesting thoughts. I love that Clarissa Pinkola Estes quote, it’s wonderful! “…all you have to do to create is to stand out of the way.” — that is awesome — so very true. Sometimes I believe we stop ourselves because we think it’s going to be a struggle, and that what we’re creating comes from us, rather than that we are a channel the creation is flowing through. I’ll have to check out that CD, I love the title!


  4. I love your writers voice. Yep, doubt means no, another Oprah-ism I often remember when a sense of hesitation stops me from moving to the right or the left. Sometimes the middle is where the juicy parts reside.


Comments are closed.