Adventures with “I Don’t Know”

“I don’t know” is the battle cry for adventure.

“I don’t know” are three words that can lock you into idle mode. You reach a problematic sticking point in a task, and the words “I don’t know” (IDK) come to your lips. IDK can be a real trap when you are fighting for more focus. In truth, the declaration is only half complete. The full statement is, “IDK, but I am curious.” Your curiosity is the saving grace from the impending trap of IDK. Curiosity brings in new questions. Curiosity opens the mind to be more resourceful.  Curiosity compels us to reach out for answers and collaborate with others when we are typically happy to stay in our quiet little bubble of comfort. Suddenly, IDK becomes “IDK, but I can find out.”  

Several triggers can bring on IDK. First, you are asked to perform a task that is new to you. Your “IDK, I have never done this before” might be a gut reaction without checking the facts. For example, you may be tasked with a public speaking engagement for 200 people. This could freak you out if you have never spoken to that many people before, but that doesn’t mean you are without previous experience. You could have lots of public speaking experience that you are not aware of. Did you ever read aloud in grade school to the class? That’s experience. Have you ever prayed at the dinner table in front of your family and friends? That’s public speaking experience.  Did you ever coach a kids’ sports team full of munchkins with parents watching? That’s more public speaking experience.

Being able to relate your new task to previous experience lessens the impact of fear that comes with IDK.  While you may not have performed this specific task, it doesn’t mean you do not know what you are doing.

What else brings on an IDK statement? You may be encountering a new experience. Start recognizing you have an IDK message. When my clients tell me IDK as a response to a question, I reply, “Great! IDK is a great place to get curious.”

Let’s use an example. I need to shop for a health insurance plan, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to start. Well, let’s determine the answers to some simpler questions first. Curiosity loves questions, constructive questions. 

First question, do I need to know more? Yes. I need to select an insurance plan that works for me, and I need to know that my plan covers my needs.  Second question, how much do I need to know? I need an insurance plan covering my ADHD meds and my visits to the psychiatrist, but I am healthy otherwise. I need a program that doesn’t break the bank and covers my spouse and children. 

Third question, where can I go to find out more? There are plenty of resources for finding insurance information. There are insurance agents, online searches and forums, talking to friends and family who have similar medical needs as you, and more.  

Fourth question, how do I know when I know enough? This is where many of us disappear down the research rabbit hole. We need to know when we know enough.   The truth is, there are always unknowns that will only reveal themselves when we find ourselves in a particular situation that we hadn’t planned on and couldn’t foresee. We need to understand enough to decide, but not so much that we are locked in “analysis paralysis.” Analysis paralysis is when we have too many choices and insufficient time/energy to review them all.  Sometimes our need for knowledge is time limited. You have a deadline to choose a plan for the year. You can only do so much research during your lunch hour. After that time is up, a decision must be made. We must plan within the limitations we set for ourselves, and yes, we all have time limitations, or else we will never get around to doing what we need to do. We have restraints on budget and availability. Without those limitations, we would never be able to sort through all the options available to us to decide.

As we all know, IDK statements don’t help with our fear of doing “the thing,” but it doesn’t mean that IDK needs to exacerbate our concerns, either. IDK statements do not make “the thing” disappear or get better. IDK is simply recognizing where you are and presents an opportunity to take stock of what you do know and creates a desire towards understanding. Only our curiosity gets us out of the IDK state and moves us to the point of learning.  

I hope this helps alleviate some of your fears and gets you moving to the land of knowledge. 

Nate Hooper

Nate Hooper, CALC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach

Would you like to get our blog posts delivered right to your inbox each week?

Add your name and email to subscribe here: