I don't know mindset

Have a Growth Mindset and Be Unafraid to Say I Don’t Know

Erik Personal Development and Lifestyle, Personal Growth, Thoughts of a Mastermind 8 Comments



“Erik, stop running to the corner away from the basketball. Run to the ball!”


“You don’t know otherwise you wouldn’t do it!”

I didn’t know.

After each 9th grade basketball game, my dad would tell me what I could improve on. He’s been coaching for 20+ years, and playing sports his whole life. I was 14 years old and still learning about life.

I thought I knew.

I didn’t.

Adopting an I Don’t Know Mindset for Personal Growth

I’m a smart guy. This isn’t me bragging, this is a fact. I can pick new topics and skills up quickly, I received A’s in school, and am able to connect with others on many different levels. I have 2 math degrees, am a reader of 100s of books, and someone who is always looking to grow and improve my situation through what I’m learning on a daily basis.

I spend hours each week learning new things and apply them in my daily life.

All of what I just mentioned doesn’t matter.

I’m self-aware. In particular, I’m self-aware that I know very little.

That’s right.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know much about anything. That’s why I push to have an I don’t know mindset in life and to live without ego towards my ideas and thoughts.

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing, and I am no quite sure that I know that.” – Socrates

The Dunning-Kruger Effect and Perceived Knowledge

There are so many things I do not know. As humans, we tend to overestimate what we think we know.

There are two concepts I want to share with you now to illustrate my point.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is shown in the chart below:

dunning-kruger effect

When starting out in a new field, we start to learn a little bit and become very confident in our ability to perform. Think about when you first started learning math. What was the first thing that was taught? Counting! 1, 2, 3, 4…

We were confident because we could count, but then came addition. Then came subtraction, and then came word problems and all the other mumbo jumbo math stuff I don’t want to talk about here.

As we learned more, it became more difficult, and we became more weary of our ability to perform.

As our level of experience grew, we tend to be less confident in our abilities.

Many of us stay at the initial level because we feel confident where we are in our knowledge.

There are so many people in America who think they are experts on what’s going on in Washington DC, or in the C-Suite at their company, and yet don’t have political science degrees, MBAs, etc.

As You Start to Know More, You Realize You Know Less

What’s interesting to me is that as you learn more in a subject, you realize you actually don’t know anything in the subject. In addition, you realize how much more there is to know and find out.

We go from “I know nothing” to “I’m an expert” to “I know nothing” as our actual level of knowledge increases! See this illustrated in the chart below:

adopt an i don't know mindset

Like I mentioned above, there’s quite a bit I know and am looking to improve my knowledge on. What I’m realizing more and more though is that I really don’t know anything.

Adopt an I Don’t Know Mindset and Become More Successful

Would there be a point to learning if you knew everything? No.

There would be no point to being curious or asking questions about the world or other people. Frankly, life would probably be pretty boring.

I’m suggesting working on adopting an I don’t know mindset for success.

How can you do this?

There are a few strategies that I’ve employed over the years to adopt an I don’t know mindset myself.

  1. Live without an Ego
    • There are 7 billion people and counting on this Earth. Do I really matter in the grand scheme of things? Does anyone actually care what I think? Am I better than anyone? The answer to all of these questions is NO.
    • Believing that everyone is unique and no one is below you will allow you to live without an ego and put yourself in the proper mindset.
  2. Ask Questions to Clarify the Situation
    • Where are you from? Why did you pick that major to study in college? What excites you about life? Why are you doing this job and not that job? How many kids do you have? Where is your favorite place to visit? Ask 100 people these questions and you will get 100 different answers.
    • Many of my mistakes at work came from a misunderstanding of the problem. Would you please clarify this piece? I think I know what you are saying, is it this? Is this problem similar to this other problem? Asking questions like these will help you get clarity into the situation.
  3. Become More Self Aware
    • As I’ve learned more, I’ve realized that I’m right with my intuition and thoughts quite often. That being said, I’m also cognizant that even if I’m right, there can be something I can add to my knowledge base.
    • Realizing when you are right and when you are wrong will allow you to navigate various situations with ease.
    • For more information on becoming self aware and increasing your emotional intelligence, see these books for emotional intelligence.
  4. Always Look to Learn Something in Every Interaction
    • One thing I’ve tried to do is whenever I go to a new website, pick up a book, or start talking to someone new, I try to play investigator and try to learn something from that person. Everyone and everything has a story. There are many reasons she is like that or he is doing this. Asking questions and getting to the root of the situation is a great strategy to add to your repertoire.

Confidence is Still Key

One clarification point I’d like to make here is if you know something, I’m saying if you really know it, then be confident.

Self-doubt and a lack of confidence will hinder your ability to succeed.

If you know something, it’s important to share what you know and help others. Whenever a knowledge gap exists, there is an opportunity to teach and learn.

If you are at work and your boss asks you a question, please don’t say “I don’t know” if you know the answer. But if you don’t know the answer, instead of lying, make sure to say, “I’ll get back to you with a clear answer.”


Adopting an I don’t know mindset will help you grow. Being curious, asking questions, and uncovering the details for yourself will allow you to become more knowledgeable and valuable over time.

Even experts never stop learning – there is always something to learn and add to your portfolio of knowledge or skill set.

I ask that after reading this post, that you go out and recognize how you act when you are in conversation with someone who incorrectly says a phrase or fact. I’d ask that you also recognize if you start to talk about a subject you don’t know too much about and talk about it like you are an expert.

While I do believe there exists a learning and teaching opportunity whenever a knowledge gap exists, being able to say, “I don’t know if I’m knowledgeable in this area to speak on the matter”, and then to go and figure out the problem or idea at hand will set you up for success more often than not.

The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all.

Be curious, be courageous and be tenacious.

Readers: when you approach a new problem, do you assess it from various angles? Are you set in your ways? When is it okay to say “I know”, and move on?


I don't know mindset







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Comments 8

  1. Excellent post, Erik!! I got to this point of thinking there was nothing more I could learn in personal finance after about three years of blogging and reading blogs. Then somebody wrote a post that was a total “Eureka” moment for me. It was at that moment that I realized that we are never done learning, and if we can accept that fact we can truly excel.

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      Thank you Laurie for your kind words! 🙂

      I feel the same way sometimes, and then I google something and feel stupid again… ha!

      Have a good one!

  2. Great stuff, Erik! This reminds me of the Buddhist concept “Beginner’s Mind”

    “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”
    ― Shunryu Suzuki

    We can always learn more, even as an expert.

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  3. What I love about this community is that it’s filled with the most inquiring minds — which is what it takes to be a true learner. Curiosity. A sense of wonder. And no ego, as you pointed out. When I finally figured out I wasn’t special — that is, I’m no more or no less special than anyone else, life became much easier.

    Great post, Erik.

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  4. Erik, This is great stuff for personal development. It’s ironic the older I get, the less I seem to know and the more there is to learn. My poor parents when I was 16. I knew everything back in that day and I’ve gotten a little less intelligent every day since. Tom

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