When in Doubt Try Doing Nothing

A friend of mine, a retired nurse, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. As she was telling me her next steps, she said she had a meeting booked with her doctor. “I’ve got a list of questions to ask,” she told me, “including the most important one: What happens if we do nothing?”

And I thought, “Ooooohhhh…. this new friend of mine is wise.”

Doing nothing is not looked on as a viable option for anything these days. We’re told to grab life with both hands and make it do our bidding. Waiting and seeing is looked on as the lazy person’s option, chosen by the morally weak and emotionally fragile.

But sometimes, many times, it’s the best option.

Late last summer, I developed a rash on the back of my hand. It itched a bit and started to spread, so when I was at my doctor, I showed it to him. “Any ideas?” I asked.

He prescribed an antibiotic cream. It stung a bit and made the itch worse, but I followed the instructions to the end. At which point it got so much worse. The entire back of my hand was an open sore that I had to wrap thoroughly before going out in public.

The goop my naturopath recommended didn’t make it any worse, but didn’t really make it better either.

I read somewhere that keeping it moisturized would help it heal, so I moisturized it every couple of hours for weeks, with no real improvement.

Finally one day, feeling tired, I skipped the nighttime application and in the morning it looked a lot better. And continues to improve while I, lazily, do nothing to improve it.

This reminds me of the way Alan and I make decisions. We learned a long time ago that if we don’t know what to do, it’s not time to make a decision and when the time comes to decide, we know what to do.

We will nose about, casually gathering information, but if we feel like we don’t know whether we should buy a house/sell a house/get a new car/paint the kitchen or whatever it is we’re thinking of doing, we hold off, we wait. We do nothing.

A forced decision often leads to regret as does the wrong kind of cream.

Waiting and seeing is a viable option, but it often frustrates and confuses the go-getters among us. You need to be strong to withstand the pressure.

“When ya gonna paint that kitchen?” they’ll ask, as if it’s any business of theirs. “Have you been looking at houses?” “Shouldn’t you get that looked at?”

Smile. Breathe. “We’re waiting for a sale,” you can tell them. “We need to gather a bit more information.” “The doctor says it’s fine. Would you like a cookie?”

And as you’re enjoying your snack you can remind yourself and them, if they’ll listen (often they won’t) that waiting is not the same as neglecting. You fixed the leak in your roof because not doing anything would have wrecked your house. When you broke your finger, you went to the hospital and had it set, because that’s what you do with a broken bone.

And then, as you help yourself to another cookie, you can remember that most of the problems in this world come from doing, from the excessive shopping and consuming to the war-mongering and rampant polluting, it all comes from go-getters like your friend going out there and grabbing life by the throat.

Maybe if we all held back a bit, were just a bit more lazy, the world would be in a better state.

Not sure if I’m right? Well, maybe it’s not time to decide yet. Cookie?

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9 Responses to When in Doubt Try Doing Nothing

  1. Tom Dean says:

    Delightful perspective, Barb. I think it may be a Dean DNA thing to ponder the possibilities until the best approach becomes evident. Not all issues require immediate action. This may be a “cottage mentality” as well. Keep up the good thoughts… well appreciated.

    • Barb says:

      Thanks Tom!

      I think it’s more a cottage mentality than a Dean DNA thing. My mother viewed this approach as baffling, lazy and morally suspect…

  2. Alice O'Connor says:

    As my husband always says ” let it come to you”. Don’t rush into things all the time. As you say, maybe it’s just not the time for it. Great post, Barb.

  3. Ann says:

    What an excellent read. Thanks, Barb. Hugs..

  4. catherine craig says:

    i want a cookie!

  5. Mary Ann says:


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