LIFE SKILLS: WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

Life skills usually are not taught in school. So how can we learn how to cope? Or how to grieve? Or how to find our way in life? How do we know if we will fit in with the rest of the world? How do we know how to be happy? Or what we are really emotionally feeling without some kind of a compass?

We are very lucky when we have a guide who can teach us along the way. But for most people there are no skilled guides. No easy handbooks. No blueprint or map to follow. We often stumble in the dark, bumping into situations we may not fully understand or have never experienced before. Often people continue to make the same mistakes because they may not know what to do differently or why they make the choices they do in life.

There is a wonderful quote I heard one time in a professional training by an anonymous person so I cannot give credit to him/her for one of my favorite analogies I use with my clients. It goes like this:

Marriage is like two people bumping into furniture in the dark and continuing to get bruised.” I have always added another piece to this analogy: “What they don’t know and can’t see is that about five feet away there is a light switch on the wall that could illuminate what they are bumping into and they could more easily navigate around the sharper edges if they only knew it was there!!!! “

I cannot tell you how often I see new clients coming for counseling as a last ditch effort to fix something they see as broken: themselves, or a relationship or a situation that most often does not go well. Because they don’t understand what they are really seeing or why things turn out the way they do time and time again, they are not filled with hope. If we can’t see how something can be different it is the humanness in us that tells us things can’t get better. We learn to “live” with our path in life. I believe this is in part why there are so many divorces and remarriages. One thinks that if they change the situation or the person, things will be different and hopefully better.

But life does not work that way because wherever we go…we take ourselves and our beliefs with us. So the situations tend to repeat themselves. Our beliefs about how the world works determines the choices we make.

I often use this analogy, but don’t take it literally: Let’s use creative license here. Let’s say for some reason you are dropped off by a helicopter in some foreign land. You don’t know where you are, and don’t know the language or culture. Suddenly, you see people running out of their shops and scurrying around the corner, out of sight. You don’t know why they are running….is it towards something they want? Or is it something they are running away from? If you see everyone else running around the corner, most likely you will go with the majority and hope for the best. But since you have no context of how to interpret this event, you are simply following what you have seen others doing. It really has little to do with your knowledge about the event, or experience in how to manage this event if you have never seen it before.

Saying “We don’t know what we don’t know” means there are numerous possibilities beyond our knowledge and experiences. Just because we can’t see other options or how something can be different doesn’t mean that it can’t. So “we don’t know what we don’t know” is an example of a mind shift. A mind shift is a way of looking at something differently in such a way that it alters our thinking about a concept or situation. Our thinking changes from one view or perception to a different view or perception about a situation, person or feeling. This is especially important when we feel like we are hitting a wall and cannot get through it or around it. Trying to see it in a different way may break the person out of the wall all together, or at least give them hope that something could possibly change or go another way with a different result. Or at least it may give someone the idea that perhaps they don’t know everything about the situation, and what they don’t know – but could learn – may make all the difference in having a better result.

In these blogs on all three topics (self-esteem, relationships and life coping skills and concepts) we will return to mind shifts in various contexts and will see their importance in feeling hopeful, appreciating what is possible even when it is out of our knowledge, and learning as we go in life.

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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