You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

 You may THINK you know more than you actually know.

It may sound like common sense. But once you start thinking about it, it’s actually a little bit more complicated than it seems. 

What do I mean by that?

There are lots of things that we believe are facts.  We probably learned them when we were small children, and we stored them in our mind as fact when they are actually beliefs.  We don’t think about why we believe these things are true. We are not made to question what we have already accepted. Think about it.  When was the last time you tried to prove yourself wrong?

Here are some examples.

two boys with books and markers and a globe
Image by White77 from Pixabay

Beliefs About Sleep

Sleep is for the weak. That is what I grew up hearing. I believed I was weak because I needed so much sleep, and I was constantly fighting it.  Now research is showing that its one of the most important things we can do for our bodies. Going to sleep felt like giving up on the fight, and handing over the power to an unknown entity. I believed I would spend the rest of my life fighting a battle with sleep.

Now, I feel as if I have mastered sleep and it is my strength most of the time.  I have consciously taken control of my sleep schedule, and I meticulously take care of my sleep needs. When people are complaining about their sleep habits, I generally feel I have mastered sleep in a way that many people without a sleep disorder have not.  I never believed I would get to this point.

Beliefs About Food 

a dish with sausage and flames in a restaurant
Flaming Sausage in Portugal

“Foods with fat will make you fat.” How many people spent the last 20 years believing this? Low-fat yogurt and cheese exist because of the belief that fat is bad.  I don’t know exactly who told me that, or when I bought into it. But if you look at the food pyramid, you will see a whole lot of people accept it as truth.  Recently, they are proving this theory wrong with a huge surge in people eating low carb high fat, or even following the ketogenic diet

In my early twenties, I tried it for myself. Fat isn’t bad.  At least not for my body.  After switching out fat for carbohydrates, I felt amazing!   However, unconsciously I would fall back into old beliefs that fat is bad and realize I wasn’t eating enough of it.  Without carbs and without fat, the brain has no fuel. This is where the ketogenic diet can get dangerous.  I really had to challenge my belief that fat is bad so I could give my body the energy it needed. If you have ever tried eating low carb, you may have had to notice this same truth changed within you.  Now I would avoid the “low fat” label on anything!

But I didn’t know that fat would actually help my brain function better until I learned it. Fortunately, I even figured it out a few years before the current Ketogenic diet trend started!  You don’t know what you don’t know.  That is why it’s so important to explore and challenge your own beliefs.

Beliefs about Mindfulness

Another belief I used to have was that meditation and mindfulness were for people with too much time on their hands.  I thought it required money to learn how to do it correctly and incense and a guru to follow. Turns out, that was a belief I had picked up way back when I was a kid, and there wasn’t any real fact behind it.  In reality, I was able to teach myself mindfulness with online courses and youtube videos. I don’t need a lot of time to practice mindfulness. I get huge benefits from as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day! Sometimes I even take just 3 minutes to be mindful and feel the shift in my mood.  

I didn’t pay for any expensive courses. I don’t burn incense because I have a tendency to set my apartments on fire. And I adapt the “postures” and breathing for what works with me depending on how I’m feeling any given day.  

In the past, I thought I couldn’t possibly meditate because I might fall asleep! The truth is, sometimes I do fall asleep, but only if I’m laying down.  And, if I fall asleep meditating, I don’t see it as a failure like I used to. I embrace that I did something positive for myself, and I listened to what my body needed.  If I still am lacking headspace, I may try the meditation again after the nap and see where it goes.

Beliefs About Travel

I used to think that it was impossible to travel the world unless you were rich.  I thought I would never get the chance to go anywhere unless I could make a lot of money.  Travel is expensive. Well, full disclosure, I still have never made a lot of money.  But I have found creative ways to travel the world and live abroad on an income that would be considered below the poverty line if I stayed in my hometown.

street art of flamenco dancer with a fan
Málaga, Spain

I spent 4 years living in Spain, where there are plenty of holidays to enjoy trips around Europe. I’ve taken flights for as little as $15!  I have stayed in hostels for just $6 a night!  Just last year I rode an overnight bus in Vietnam for less than $20! Just because traveling in the United States is expensive, doesn’t mean the whole world is the same. I’ve been to more than 30 countries without winning any lotteries, sweepstakes, or giveaways.

Knowing This Has Changed My Future

You don’t know what you don’t know. The beliefs I have outlined above are examples of ways I have challenged my own beliefs and allowed them to change over time in the past.  But this statement has powerful benefits for the future that I didn’t anticipate.  Here are some unexpected ways this phrase has taken root in my life and benefited me.

Turn Failure into a Learning Experience

When I have a negative experience, I often berate myself with the phrase, “I should have known better”.  Then I waste time thinking of all the things I should have done differently. But when I assume I don’t know what I don’t know, I can go away with the experience and plan how I WILL do it differently, the NEXT TIME I try.  It automatically turns failures into learning experiences without any extra effort.

Being Willing to Try New Things

When I think about trying something new, I may assume it will go as poorly as a similar thing did the last time I tried. Feeling this way can lead to not wanting to have new experiences just in case they turn out poorly and I beat myself up later. This phrase has freed me from that cycle along with the statement “The past doesn’t equal the future.”  Just because in the past I always give up on my fitness goals or run out of steam before I reach the finish line on big goals I set, doesn’t mean I have to in the future.

Lots of people in Myanmar like to take selfies with Westerners
Meeting new people used to be harder for me

Being Open When Meeting New People 

When I go to meet new people, I may start to assume things about them based on how they speak, where they tell me they work, or where they are from. This stops me from actively listening and puts a filter over my thoughts where I am already categorizing the individual before I even give them a chance to speak. But when I remind myself that I don’t know WHO I don’t know, it allows me to open up and give them a chance before I filter out their words.

Realizing I Don’t Need to Compare Myself to Others

I’m figuring out life one step at a time.  When I look around me, sometimes I think everyone around me has it figured out.  It’s easy to get caught in the cycle of comparing myself to them.  But then I remember, they don’t know what they don’t know either.  

Sometimes when I am writing posts such as tips for living with narcolepsy I ask myself – who am I to give tips and advice? I always try to keep in mind that I don’t know what I don’t know. So hopefully you will share some things with me that you know that I don’t!

Share in the comments below if you have had any similar experiences changing your beliefs and accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know.


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