Underneath every "I don't know" there's an "I do know" waiting to be found.
When you catch yourself saying "I don't know" next time, ask yourself, "What am I scared of?". I don't mean any tangent like being afraid of spiders, heights, or holes in things. I mean relative to this I don't know.
For me, it's usually because I'm avoiding something. For example, recently I said "I don't know" to someone who came across very confident in what they were talking about. I felt intimidated which made me nervous and even though I did know, when that question came out of their mouth I froze and replied, "I don't know".
What was I avoiding? In that instance, being judged. I'm currently working through being my authentic self and that starts with being true to myself. It also means I feel like I'm in a constantly vulnerable place which has lead to a sensitivity increase and had impacts in other places in my life. But, working through this will enable me to achieve my goals.
Other things I tend to avoid when I say "I don't know" are:
Confrontation/conflict - this is a big one for me! If I feel threatened by someone in any way, my instinct is to either run away or try and stand up for myself (this one usually resulting in an adrenaline-fuelled body, anxiety sky-high, and stress levels being felt all the way through my body).
Rejection - a scar from my childhood that I've learned to live with but occasionally crops up in relationships and work if I feel unwanted or out of place.
Unwanted feelings - I'm also now starting to work through making all of my feelings my friends rather than just the good ones as recommended by fellow Coach, Anthony Miller. This has shifted my perspective and will enable me to feel more settled in my mind when things get rough.
Other reasons include:
Wanting to control people's perception of me
Wanting to be accepted
Not wanting to make a decision
Not feeling comfortable to share with that person/people
Feeling out of my depth
Of course, there is always the option of not actually knowing... I've always found that I and everyone involved with the "I don't know" I use when I really don't know, benefits from me finding out what the "I do know" is. Sooner rather than later.
Sometimes I can utilise me time and mindfulness techniques to do this. Other times I need people I'm close to, to ask me questions and to help figure it out.
When I figure out the "I do know" and why I didn't know, it feels like I've achieved a goal. It gives me a feeling of excitement and fulfillment similar to what I used to get when I was a kid on stage and I'd just finished a show. I used to get these rushes of emotion when the applause started and I knew everyone had enjoyed the performance I was part of (where the wanting to be accepted comes from!).
At the end of the day, the most important person we're doing a disservice to when we say "I don't know" and don't take the time to learn what we do, is ourselves. The better we know ourselves, the better we can be of help to others in a multitude of ways.
A way we can become better at seeing this as a question rather than a statement we never face and encourage ourselves to seek answers is to replace what we say. Here are some examples:
When it's not your area of expertise: "I'm not the best person to answer that" and help them find who is so you too can learn the answer.
When you partly know the answer: "Here's what I can tell you".
When you really don't know: "I don't have the answer for that right now" or "I need help with that too" or my favorite "Let's find out" (of course these are circumstance specific).
Why don't you know? Because you haven't yet taken the time to figure it out. You may not have needed to or not seen any urgency to find out. Every time we say "I don't know" we add to suppressing our curiosity in life. Being curious is how we learn.
So, next time you feel an "I don't know" brewing. Pause, take a breath and commit to holding yourself accountable to find the answer.