The 'I don't know' mindset: Why we do it and how to stop it

I’ve had the pleasure of coaching well over a hundred people and in every conversation at least once I see the same thought process happen when a person feels fear or doubt about something they want to do. On some level and at some point in our conversation their brain goes, “I don’t know how to do XYZ right now and so I won’t ever be able to do it”. 


Every single person I have ever coached, literally ever, does this. They all do it in relation to different things but we all do it. It could be, “I don’t know how to start my own business so I’ll never know” or “I don’t know how to say that to my boss” or “I don’t know how to present to people” or “I don’t know how to go about finding my dream job”. 

It doesn’t matter what your problem is – chances are your brain is doing this on some level. It’s forgetting that, if you take a risk, you won’t adapt, you won’t learn and you won’t grow during the process of change. 

This mindset makes us believe that we lack something crucial to succeed or that we must have all the answers before we can proceed. 

I see a key part of coaching as helping with this mindset and helping clients see the impact of this trap and take a step forward to embrace growth and change. 

In some ways, this thinking is a form of 'all-or-nothing' thinking – a cognitive bias where individuals perceive their situations as starkly binary: success or failure, all or nothing, now or never. This rigid thinking pattern is often fueled by factors such as perceived inadequacy, fear of failure, and risk aversion. It leads to missed opportunities, unfulfilled goals, and a sense of stagnation.

Why do we experience this? 

This form of thinking is often linked to the following: 

Fear of taking action

All-or-nothing thinking can paralyse individuals, causing them to fear taking action due to the perceived risk and potential failure.


The belief that everything must be perfect before starting can delay progress or prevent people from even beginning their journeys.


A lack of self-confidence and a fixed mindset can make individuals underestimate their capabilities and hinder personal growth.

Missed opportunities

The unwillingness to explore incremental steps can lead to missed opportunities and prevent individuals from evolving.

How can coaching help change this mindset?

In coaching sessions, we often pause to explore what is going on for a client when I see them project their current self onto the future. We look at the evidence that leads them to conclude whether they’ll be the same or not this has the benefit of: 

Promoting self-awareness

Coaching encourages individuals to become mindful of their thoughts, emotions, and tendencies, helping them recognise when they're falling into all-or-nothing thinking. This heightened self-awareness is the first step in challenging this cognitive bias.

Building emotional intelligence

In sessions, we sometimes look at the emotions behind the thought “I am not enough to do this” and “I won’t learn or adapt or change”. By understanding and managing emotions, individuals reduce the emotional intensity that often triggers such patterns of thinking.

Offering alternative perspectives

I work with clients to provide fresh, external perspectives on a client's situation, offering insights and possibilities that the client may not have considered. This external input broadens their view and encourages them to explore alternative approaches rather than resorting to all-or-nothing decisions.

Fosters incremental progress

When brains slip into this pattern of thinking, it can feel challenging to get out. It feels hard to assume or believe that we will learn or grow and that we’re capable of it – even when we 'know' this, our brains on some level don’t believe it and so I work with clients to create incremental change through small, manageable steps.

So if this resonates with you, see if you can take some of this guidance and apply it to your own situation. Where are you forgetting you'll learn? What small steps can you take today to show your brain you'll learn as you move along toward your goals? 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW1V & NW1
Written by Rebecca Cockayne, BA. (Oxon), MSc, GDL | Delphi Coaching
London SW1V & NW1

Bex is a coach who loves journeys. She's done a lot and has been on many internal and external ones. She loves to help people long their path too.

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