“I Don’t Know”

Mr. Hand: Why are you continuously late for this class, Mr. Spicoli? Why do you shamelessly waste my time like this?
Jeff Spicoli: [
long pause, but then with complete truth in his answer] I don’t know.
Mr. Hand: [Mr. Hand goes to blackboard and writes the words ‘I Don’t Know’, then underlines them]
Mr. Hand: I like that. ‘I Don’t Know.’ That’s nice.
Mr. Hand: ‘Mr. Hand, will I pass this class?’ Gee, Mr. Spicoli, I don’t know! You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to leave your words right up here for all my classes to enjoy, giving you full credit of course, Mr. Spicoli.
Jeff Spicoli: All right!”

Often is it so hard for people to just say, “I don’t know!” In my industry, the fitness, health and performance industry, there are many experts out there.  Some have earned that title, and others, well…lets say they are very good at self promotion. Some of these experts, you will find in gyms, others in hot, musty old training dungeons, and a lot on the internet. Many of these ‘experts’ spend time answering countless questions on message board forums. I have gotten my share of questions via email and across some message boards too. Many questions are straight forward and easy to answer and others, not so easy. With that said, I have yet to see many of the experts out there say those three words when they get one of those tough questions… “I don’t know!”  

Why is it so difficult for people to say those words? Ego probably. We never want to position ourselves as not knowing something we think we should. It’s a tough thing to do.  Some questions I get almost daily that probably deserve an “I don’t know” answer occasionally: 

  • Why am I not losing weight?
    • I lift weights, eat properly, do extra cardio, I even do HIIT training, and still not losing, why?
  • Why am I not getting any stronger?
    • After 4 weeks on this program, I am not much stronger, why?
  • Why does my low back hurt so much?
    • I stretch everyday, I have lost weight, and do everything I am supposed to, yet my low back still hurts, why?

  • How come I am so slow? I train hard, run everyday, but I am still so slow.
    • I do plyo’s, weights, running drills, but my 40 still stinks, why?

Each of these questions could probably be broken down into parts and answered by a number of professionals out there without much problem. I could answer all of these with a lot of confidence and would probably get to an answer that would help solve the problem, but with that said, sometimes the answer to questions like these is truly, “I don’t know.” Some people can and will do everything you tell them, and for some unknown reason, there biochemistry inhibits them from losing those extra pounds. Maybe this is something you cannot help this person with. Maybe this is truly beyond your expertise and something you need to just admit you might not know.  

Why is this important to you, the reader of this blog article? It may not be, but I feel it probably is. Many of you are going to ask a coach, your trainer, or me or someone you really trust for advice on training, fitness, or health issues. You are going to get answers from many people. Many smart people out there know quite a bit about a lot. These are the people for you to seek out. However, beware of the person that never says, “I don’t know.” Beware of the person who never seeks out help, never has to reference an article or ask a peer for assistance. Beware of the know-it-all person who can tell you everything all of the time. Again, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know.” There is nothing wrong with saying that, and it does not make that person or you for instance any dumber or less knowledgeable about a subject or problem. On the contrary, with some people I think it demonstrates that those people may be smarter.  You see, smart people that can say, “I don’t know” will always seek out the answer and educate themselves later. They will seek out additional help to find that answer. When I do not know something, I do not just drop it. If a client of mine has an issue or problem that I do not know the solution for, I will search day and night until I do. This will include the internet, phone calls to peers and other experts out there that truly do know. I ask questions all of the time, trying to learn more and be better at what I do.  

When dealing with the human body, adding in emotions, psychological issues, problems, etc. there are few absolutes. Everyone is different and everyone should be seen as such. A good coach, trainer or specialist will recognize immediately when they are in over their head and refer to someone that does know, or get some more help. Know-it-all people rarely do this. They will try to solve every single problem there is by themselves. This can be dangerous to the consumer. Although many mean well by doing this, not knowing when to say “I don’t know” and getting help could be the difference between  success and failure.  

Again, there are many great and knowledgeable trainers, coaches and specialists out there that know a lot about many things…but I am willing to bet the good ones always question and have no problem saying “I don’t know.” These people have the confidence to be wrong and the intelligence to find the right answer. That all starts with the ability to say “I don’t know” sometimes. “I don’t know” isn’t a death sentence…rather it is the start of your learning if you are good at what you do and motivated to learn more.

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