Feeling empty, lost, and confused can be terribly unsettling, especially when others around you might not feel the same. You are in a secure, well-paying employment. You and your family are generally healthy. Your relationships are sound and healthy. Yet, you feel at a loose end and you can’t pinpoint why—you feel like you’re unable to fill that void. Having these feelings makes you feel guilty and ashamed. You don’t think you have a right to feel this way. Yet, you do. If you have been feeling lost or a sense of emptiness—unable to fill that void—and confused as to why, recognizing this feeling serves as an incredible starting point from which to instigate change. That void, emptiness, or confusion is a signpost, and that signpost is telling you it’s time to pivot and change course. Here are ways on how you can fill the void in you when you feel lost and confused.
1. Acknowledgment and Validation Must Come First
Many of us have not been taught to live life by our own design. Having the freedom to even entertain choice is a grand luxury for a lot of us. Not having the necessary resources and opportunities may have left you kissing goodbye to the goals you had. Someone may have once said to you that you’re living in a dream world—that to get through life you need to stop chasing fantasies. You need to maintain a level head, get your feet back on the ground, and ‘get real’. Now, it’s time to get real with what you’re feeling and experiencing. One of the hardest things to face is that you feel this void. However, honestly acknowledging that this feeling exists within you can bring you catharsis. Recognition of the discomfort and validating its existence can be incredibly liberating and empowering in itself. Through self-acknowledgment, you start to soften resistance you might have held if you were in denial. What you now need to be ready for is leaning into the other layers of discomfort you might be experiencing. On a deeper subconscious level, your emotional intelligence is telling you something’s amiss, missing, or in misalignment. It’s time to learn to really tune into and listen to your own story of how you got to be where you are now.
2. Learn to Recognize if Your Needs Are Being Met
In 1943, humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow first published his paper The Theory of Motivation. According to Maslow, our choices, actions, and behavior are based on primarily meeting core, basic needs. But as these are met, we move to satisfy more advanced that are higher on our priorities list. This came to be known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.((Very Well Mind: The 5 Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)) Over time, there have been debates about which needs are basic and which are more advanced. However, there is minimal controversy about the existence of core emotional needs that we all need to satisfy to live as emotionally and mentally healthy and content human beings.
3. Love, Social Acceptance and Belonging, Validation—We Matter
Being part of a community where we feel embraced and loved on some level is essential for all of us. We need to feel bonds—a sense of genuine connection and mutual respect with those who you believe matter most. Whenever you think about your relationships and friendships, which of these features are present? Outside of personal relationships, many of us seek recognition in some form in our work, careers, or individual projects. Being seen and heard often comes through how we serve others in our vocations. Purposefulness and having a role that matters in our communities validates our existence and gives us feedback that we are important and have value. Ask yourself how you define what types of bonds are important to you.
- How do you know the bonds you seek are there?
- Are they strong enough?
- Are they deep enough?
- What are your measures of knowing this?
- Are you experiencing enough of this to feel contented—that you are ‘ok’?
If not, you might need to consider ways to invest in increasing the quality of connectedness. Also, recognize that it is as much about you receiving investment from others into your relationships as it is you making deposits into them. When you look through a magnifying glass at each of your relationships, you’re qualifying and quantifying your emotional portfolio. Look at your working relationships. Look at your family and friends. Look at your intimate relationships. If you identify there’s been a void, you now have potential opportunities to start turning things around to fill that void.
4. Take on Challenges That Allow You to Feel a Sense of Achievement
One main reason you might have this feeling of the void is that you have an absence of opportunities that allow you to experience a sense of accomplishment and personal growth. Having grand goals with complex mind maps of action steps is not the missing ingredient here. However, it’s highly likely you derive greater emotional and mental satisfaction from exerting some level of effort to achieve some sort of change or result. A degree of challenge in the journey allows you to experience more personal satisfaction when you overcome it. Your confidence will grow as your skills expand. You start recognizing you have the capacity to achieve different things—more things if you choose to. A complete absence of challenge can leave us feeling lost and empty. If you feel bored and stagnant, it’s time to look for inspiration to fill that void. Schedule and dedicate time to explore and experiment. Reconnect with your childhood playfulness to test and try new things or experiences you might have always wanted to do but never made the space or time for because you had to be an “adult.” As you might start creating a list of next adventures and pursuits, take two approaches:
- Allow yourself money, time, and space to experiment and explore.
- Allow yourself money, time, and space to identify and start something where you can experience gradual progress and personal growth.
Ensure that your list energizes you and brings you a sense of fulfillment that is independent of anyone else’s approval, participation, resources, or decision-making. Let it be yours to own and control alone. Let it validate and allow you to feel good about yourself. Also, be wary of putting pressure on yourself to follow through with a new pursuit until the end. Have you ever started and not finished something because you lost interest? Accept that. Recognize that the dwindling inspiration to follow through could be a sign what you’ve selected turns out to be an ill fit. However, be mindful of being flippant and make sure to commit to giving due effort to something before deciding to opt-out or continue.
5. Build Enough Certainty and Security in High-Priority Areas of Your Life
Life can feel empty, even though you may find yourself chasing your tail daily. In a world where we are constantly ushered to move faster, produce more, and do so with fewer resources, feeling a sense of certainty and stability have become highly prized commodities. Proverbially spinning all the plates in harmony becomes harder and harder. Emotionally and mentally, we feel less and less secure—we feel less safe. Self-disappointment can creep in as goals that hold more fun and pleasure always seem to get pushed to the wayside. Stephen Covey’s Circle of Control (aka Circle of Influence) can greatly help us recognize how to direct our thinking and efforts in ways that best serve us. Imagine a target with three concentric rings. The outermost ring represents things that we feel concerned about because they influence us. However, we basically hold no control over them. The middle circle represents the things we influence. This might be our work circumstances and how we contribute to relationships. We still don’t have full control as others are privy to also influence outcomes, decisions, and actions that are taken. The center circle—the circle of focus—is the place where you have the most power to be effective. Only you can control your thoughts, your decisions, your behavior, and your actions. When you feel lost and confused, go back to working on your center of focus. When you do, expect to be liberated but also feel the weight of accountability you didn’t realize you have. You’ll discover what thinking patterns, decisions, and actions you took got you to where you are now. As you start identifying and exercising better ways of thinking, you can consciously make decisions and different action steps that you feel much better about.
6. Contribution and Service to Others
It’s time to change your perspective and shift and lift your mindset. Research has shown that certain parts of our brain’s reward centers are more activated when we give support and serve others compared to when we receive support.((PubMed.gov: The Neurobiology of Giving Versus Receiving Support: The Role of Stress-Related and Social Reward-Related Neural Activity)) Engaging even in just small scale, short-term activities that temporarily take your focus away from your problems gives your brain a rest from feeling the weight of confusion and frustration you’ve been drowning in. Choose something that allows you to exercise your natural gifts and abilities. It might be helping a neighbor or relative out to do domestic projects in their home. It might be helping to organize or coordinate an event to ease the toll you can see it’s taking on someone you care about. In doing so, you are reconnecting with your sense of purposefulness and value by doing something meaningful for others. As you operate in this newly awakened mindset, check to see if the void you’ve been feeling and experiencing looks different through this new lens. More selfless acts of service help to widen your perspective. The weight of emptiness and confusion you might have felt may start to feel less heavy. With some of the mental and emotional toll lifted, you’ll be in a better mental state to explore ways to claw out of the swamp of stagnation.
7. Practice Daily Gratitude and Review Your Life
For gratitude practice to be effective in helping you fill the void, it needs to be relative to your situation and involve identifying things that are important to you. Yes, you can be thankful for having a roof over your head, having food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and relationships with people who love and respect you. However, such recognition can often guide you to complacency and feeling guilt for feeling ungrateful even amidst our quality living conditions. Exercise retrospect to contemplate:
- What obstacles have I managed to overcome to get me here?
- What skills and attributes do I possess that enabled me to overcome those obstacles?
- What unique traits and characteristics allow me to have developed the connections I have with people I love and respect?
- What accomplishments do I have a license to be proud of? (These include work-related feats, recognizing personal skills and talents, overcoming challenging situations, and personal growth in relationships.)
Don’t simply exercise gratitude for tokens and trophies of achievements. Expand your recognition of your efforts and experiences that these symbols represent. Review the current state of play in each of the main areas of your life — which we call the Wheel of Life (i.e. work/career, finances, intimate relationships, friendships, personal growth, health and fitness, spirituality), and check your level of gratitude for where things currently sit. Then, ask yourself for each area: where do you want to go next? You might find inspiration and reminders of goals you set but had lost sight of or forgotten. Confusion can quickly transform into better clarity. Before you know it, you’ve got plans and a new-found excitement to get started.
8. Be Wary of Seeking Quick Fixes to Fill the Void
Many of us feel that we operate best in productivity mode. We are making something, creating something, achieving something, and changing something. We’ve been conditioned to think that there is something wrong with us if we are not. Constantly trundling and moving on to the next thing at lightning speed without much thought is often what leads us to where we are. As you make changes, be wary that should you start doing things that primarily replenish your emotional and mental tanks first. You might be met with disapproval, judgment, and opinions (potentially unwelcome) from others. Changes that better serve you may upset the normal rhythm others are used to experiencing with you. Manage your expectations of yourself and exercise gradual consideration where you see changes are required. Give yourself and those around you time to adjust. Friendships and relationships may change. Some may disappear altogether, while others become strengthened. Just as the accumulation of time and experiences has led you to feel a void in your life, so will the accumulation of time and new experiences be required to fill it. However, this time, you’ll be doing so by your own design, not by default.
It is normal to feel lost and confused at some point in your life. What matters is how you face challenges along the way. These tips can help you fill the void whenever you feel like life’s not working out. It needs to be said that if you have felt chronic emptiness and have found it increasingly difficult to do what you normally find quite simple and easy, it may help to consult a medical and/or mental health professional. There may be other physical and mental health-related changes developing from sources that aren’t easily visible.