Why the phrase “I Don’t Know” really means that you know, but don’t want to say, how it hinders reaching our full potential and what to do to overcome it.
In this video coaching newsletter, I discuss what it means when someone says “I Don’t Know” in response to a question, especially when asking people what they want out of life and what they want to accomplish. I sometimes hear this phrase during my coaching sessions from clients who have created a false story in their head about themselves and what they really want in life, but are stuck.
I discuss what I say to get them past this self created mental block, so you can use it to help yourself and those you care about to dissolve and move past false mental constructs that prevent us all from reaching our full potential.
What typically causes people to not reach their potential in life? Let’s take losing weight or getting in shape. At the end of the day, people who are overweight know they are overweight. They can see in the mirror, and they’ve heard enough comments that they’re bigger than most people. If you ask somebody like that why they don’t try to lose weight, why they don’t go to the gym, often what you’ll hear is, I don’t know. And when someone says I don’t know, what it really means is I know, but I’m too scared to say. It’s too painful to contemplate doing something about it.
If they’re not going to the gym or doing anything about it, what is probably in their mind? Well, I’m fat and when I go into the gym, people that are really in shape might look at me funny or laugh at me. I might look stupid, and that’s going to be painful, and I don’t want to experience that. They create a story that insulates them from even having to try, because the potential pain is going to the gym, working out, watching your diet, and obviously anybody that does any training or exercise knows that staying fit and in shape, 95% of it is having the discipline to control what you put in your mouth. That’s the reality.
Common excuses you’ll hear are, I’ve got a thyroid condition or I’m big-boned. That’s their story. In other words, the story justifies doing nothing. But the reality is, if you want to be healthy and in shape, you have to overcome them with diet and exercise. I love running. I’ve got a Woodway treadmill in my house and I run 3-4 days a week, but I hate weight training. The process of going to the gym and thinking about going there is not something I look forward to, but when I get done, I always feel better, I feel a sense of accomplishment, I feel good about myself, and I feel stronger.
If I take a week or two off from doing weights, I can feel it. My muscles don’t feel as tight, and they’re not as pumped as they were before. I don’t like the way that looks in the mirror, so I’m associating pain with the tone in my muscle starting to go away, and I don’t feel as strong as I did before. That is pain that motivates me to move towards what I want. And after working out, I feel good and a sense of accomplishment. Those are positive things, so I re-wired my brain to think, what are the consequences of not taking care of myself? I don’t look as good, I’m not going to be as healthy, my clothes aren’t going to be tight. When my clothes start to get loose, I know I haven’t been going to the gym and taking care of myself.
If you’ve read my second book, Mastering Yourself, I go into extensive detail about all of the health challenges that I used to have when I was younger, with hay fever, runny nose and all those things. This weekend, I’ve got family coming in town, and I’m probably going to be drinking, I’m probably going to be eating some junk food, and what’s going to happen? My nasal passages are going to constrict. I’m going to feel it in my body, and I like feeling good, so it’s important to think in terms of the potential pleasure you’re going to get, but also the pain you’re going to experience if you don’t do what you know you should do.
The person who’s obese and wants to lose weight knows they need to lose weight, but they think about the potential pain of going into the gym and getting laughed at or people looking at them, so there’s a lot of pain they associate with actually going in there instead of thinking, After I work out, I’m going to feel better about myself. If I watch my diet and make sure I’m eating mostly proteins, veggies, green juices and nuts, over time my body chemistry will change. Everyone that’s worked out knows, sometimes you’ll hit a plateau strength-wise, and you’ll stay there for months. The key is, you’ve got to stick with it. It becomes a way of life.
Just like thinking about any kind of problem, whether it’s motivating yourself to stay in college and take classes you don’t want to take, because you don’t feel like you’re learning anything really relevant, at the end of the day, you’ve got to have an emotionally compelling reason why you want to graduate college. Or you have to have an emotionally compelling reason why you want to start a business, go for that job that you want in life, hold out for a really great girl if you happen to be single now, or to take the time and be patient and communicate with your girlfriend or wife in a way that opens her up, like I talk about in my first book, How To Be A 3% Man.
So if you’re stuck at some point in your life, for example somebody who is trying to find out what their purpose is, and you ask, What do you love to do? And they go, You know what, I don’t know. My mind’s coming up blank. What they’re really saying is, I’ve thought about this before, and I’ve considered doing what I really want, but I had some negative, painful experiences in the past. In their mind, they’ve associated pain with thinking, doing or going for the things they want. So in order to avoid that pain, they say, I don’t know. The reality is, they do know. When you say, But if you had to guess, what would it be? and they say, Okay if I had to guess, it’s not really an answer, but I’ll humor this guy, that kind of cracks the door.
I’ve had countless phone sessions with clients over the years, especially people who are trying to find out their purpose, and I’ve talked about this in Mastering Yourself. What is it you really love to do? What do you really enjoy? And when you hear, I don’t know, that’s not going to cut it. You’ve got to participate in your own rescue. Nobody can do it for you. There are excuses for everything like, I don’t have enough time, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the connections, I’m not smart enough, I don’t have the resume, or I don’t have the experience. Those all sound like logical reasons, so if you accept those reasons, then you feel good about yourself, because you have a logical reason that keeps you from moving forward. But the reality is, if you want to go from where you are to where you want to be in life, you’re going to have to do things that are really fucking uncomfortable.
You’ve got to think in terms of your whole life. You’ve got a starting point when you’re a little kid and an ending point at the end of your life, and in between, time is going to pass whether you’re moving forward, or doing nothing, or even going backwards in some cases. Eventually, you’re going to run out of time in your life. When they talk to people at the end of their lives, typically what they say is I wish I had taken more risks, I wish I would have stayed in touch with my friends, I wish I would have spent more time with my family, all things that revolve around what could have been, what they should have done.
If you’re somebody who is reading this, and you’re not where you want to be in your personal life or your professional life, think in terms of what is the pain I’m going to experience down the road if I’m not honest with myself, if I’m not brutally honest? In other words, what are you okay going to the grave with having been undone? Are you okay with going to your grave with never having been in love? Are you okay going to your grave feeling like you never reached your full potential in your career? Are you okay going to your grave with never knowing what it was like to be an entrepreneur, to have control of your own life, your own destiny, your own time?
Are you okay going to your grave without learning about a topic that’s always been a passion of yours? Maybe someday you’d like to be an artist, but I don’t really have the time to do that, I’m not very good at that. Everybody, no matter where they are in life or what they want to do, anybody that’s an expert at anything, at some point, they were a total novice. You have to start somewhere. Repetition is the mother of skill. Our lives become a summation of the actions that we either take or fail to take. The reality is, you’re going to end up somewhere in the future. What you do today and what you fail to do today is going to determine the trajectory of your life and where you want to be.
Everything I do in life, I always think in terms of, what is the pain I’m going to experience if I don’t do what I know I need to do, and what is the potential pleasure? The key is, you’ve got to make the potential pleasure so awesome, so exciting, so compelling that it enables you to do the things you know you need to do. I don’t know is basically an excuse. I don’t know is basically, I’ve completely fucking given up, and I don’t even want to try. The reality is, you’ve got to give yourself permission to fail and make mistakes.
You’ve also got to accept the reality that everything you want to do in your personal life and your professional life is going to take way fucking longer and way more money than you think it’s going to take. There are several things in my life, whether it’s something new I’m starting or something new I’m training with, where I’m going to get just as frustrated as the next person that things aren’t happening as quickly as I want them to, but that’s reality. You have to accept that. You have to give yourself permission to fail. You have to give yourself the acknowledgement that things are probably not going to go the way want them to.
When you finally arrive at your destination and you look back on your life, and you see the path that you had to take, with all the twists and the turns, the failures and the successes, and the things that didn’t work out, that at the time seemed like they were surely going to work out, that’s going to be surprising. If you had told me at 18 years old that I would be doing what I’m doing right now, I couldn’t have even contemplated that. I couldn’t even imagine that. And I’m the result, just like you are, of all of my choices.
The hardest thing you’ll ever do in life is getting to a place where you’re comfortable doing the things that feel interesting, that you’re curious about, that seem cool and exciting. And some of the things that you finally get to experience that seem cool and exciting, eventually you get bored of. The key in life is to learn to trust what you feel internally. Your feelings are your truth.
The key is to always be thinking, what is my next step? Where am I going next? What do I need to try or explore next? The idea is to learn to trust your inner voice, and see where that leads you. It takes a lot of courage to do that, because the consequences are, if you ignore your feelings and the things you’re curious about and interested in, and you move away from them because you’re scared that you’re going to experience pain, there’s going to come a point of your life where you experience ultimate pain.
I’ve lost a lot of friends of mine over the course of my life who died way before they should have. And the reason being is they got to a point in their life where year after year, decade after decade, they made choices that were opposed to going into the direction that they wanted to go. Therefore, they got to a point in their life, and they completely lost hope. When you lose hope, what’s the point of going to the gym? What’s the point of being healthy? What’s the point of taking a risk to ask that person out that you want to go out with? What’s the point of applying for that job you’ve always wanted or going back to school?
When you lose hope, you’ve got one foot in the fucking grave. You can even see it in people’s faces. Think about all the people that you know when you look in their eyes. Are they happy? Are they optimistic? Are they looking forward to the future? Or are they totally defeated, have given up and are just trying to get through the week and get some peace on the weekends before they have to do it all over again?
A metaphor I like to look at is those Galapagos turtles. There was one of them that just died in the past few years that was around when Charles Darwin was alive. I think it lived to be around 174 years old. A fucking turtle can live to be 174 years and people are dropping dead at 40, 50, 60 years? That fucking sucks. You’ve got to have a way to move forward. If you’re stuck, and you feel like giving the excuse of I don’t know, I don’t know is just bullshitting yourself. It’s making an excuse for being lazy.
There’s no such thing as I don’t know. We all have things we’re curious about. We all have things we’re interested in and we’d like to explore, and we either move towards those things, or move away from those things. If you’re moving away from the things that you want in life, it’s because you’ve created a bullshit story in your head that prevents you from even looking at the possibilities or even exploring the things that you want to do.
I highly encourage you to sign up for my email newsletter and you can read both of my books for free to get started on your journey. And if after you’ve read the books, you still feel like you’re hitting the wall, there are some obstacles in your way, I’m happy to do a phone or Skype coaching session with you, no matter where you are. You may be able to bullshit yourself and your friends and family, but you’re not going to be able to bullshit me. I’m going to tell you exactly like it is.
If you’re stuck and unable to move forward, you’re going to have to face some things that are uncomfortable. I’m not going to blow smoke up your ask and tell you it’s okay and it’s just fine if you don’t go for the things that you want in life. If you don’t go for the things you want in life that are emotionally compelling to you, it’s going to shorten your life. The majority of the people in the world that we are surrounded by have completely given up on themselves, and completely given up on the dreams that they had when they were younger, and that’s a fucking tragedy.
The more people that come alive inside and are doing the things they want to do, the more we’ll have people like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerburg, and even Donald Trump or Barack Obama, doing those kinds of things that we all envy, admire and aspire to.
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Author, Speaker, Peak Performance Coach, Entrepreneur
“When you ask someone what they really want in life, what they really love or why their lives are not the way they really want them to be, and they respond with “I don’t know,” it means they know, but they really don’t want to say. What keeps people from reaching their full potential in life is the story they tell themselves. We create excuses that justify continued inaction, fear and doubt. People will do more to avoid potential pain than they will do to gain potential pleasure. The best way to help yourself or someone else to get past this self created mental obstacle is to ask, “but if you had to guess?” Average people who don’t know any better can’t get past their limiting beliefs and the negative self created stories that they tell themselves to even examine or contemplate a plan of action to reach their full potential. Therefore, they never start. “If you had to guess?” cracks the door to considering possibilities and contemplating what could potentially work. To achieve what you really want in life, you must first know what you want and then come up with emotionally compelling reasons why you want it. Then you can create a plan of action to make it a reality.” ~ Coach Corey Wayne
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