How Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

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How much of what you ‘know’ do you really “”KNOW”” and how much are you just assuming?

Do you believe something is true, or do you know something is true?

It’s a simple, yet complex, question.

To find out what you ‘don’t know’ it’s important to understanding the limits of what you ‘do know’.

When we don’t fully understand something we tend to oversimplify it.

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For example, when someone’s depressed, the most common advice is to “just smile more”. Anyone who has ever heard that advice knows that is not that simple.

If you’re not an expert at something, chances are you don’t know nearly as much about the subject as you think you do.

Take politics for example. Everyone has an opinion, but very few people have any training at all in economics or foreign policy. That leaves most people with oversimplified opinions from a single, narrow, perspective.

Recognizing what you don’t ‘actually know’ puts you into an advantage over others and in place of power and wisdom.

By understanding what you don’t know, you can understand the limits of what others don’t know. This makes detecting a lie or mis-information much easier.

As humans, we tend to possess “illusory superiority.” This basically means that we tend to fall into the delusion of believing that we ”know” more than we really do. 

So, here’s some tips  on how you can “know what you don’t know”…

The Difference Between Believing, Assuming, And Knowing For Sure

There is a significant difference between believing, assuming and knowing for sure.

Knowing for sure involves weighing different perspectives and core analysis.

On the other hand, assuming doesn’t focus on deep analysis or different perspectives. Assuming occurs when you accept something as true without evidence evaluation or asking questions. Like believing headlines without reading articles.

Assumptions come from preconceived misconceptions based on past experiences and ingrained beliefs.

As humans living busy lives, we naturally make assumptions about everything; people’s feelings, situations, thoughts, behaviors, and motives. We don’t have time time to analyze everything. 

We even guess about other people’s morality, goodness, badness, and credibility.

But this is where we get into trouble. We often make assumptions first, and then ignore facts and information that contradict our initial assumption.

How Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

Often people then ‘cherry pick’ information that fits their preconceived belief or assumption. This is dangerous because this will only lead you away from truth and reality.

 There Are Two Types of Assumptions.

1. Assumptions You Consciously Choose to Make 

For instance, you believe that people can be evil, so you don’t trust anyone you meet.

Or, your parents don’t support your choices, so you assume they don’t love you.

Or you only listen to 1 news channel and you assume you’re getting a full perspective on truth and reality.

2. Assumptions You Make Sub-Consciously

According to experts in brain research, you may not always be aware that you are making assumptions.

Assumptions are necessary in everyone’s life, but they shouldn’t be static. You need to revisit, revise, question, modify, validate, and discard until you know for sure that the information you have is accurate.

The reason is, these little assumptions you make daily are sometimes inaccurate.

Assuming things over and over again instead of researching facts has derailed goals, damaged relationships, and created self-imposed limitations that some people never recover from.

Every wrong conclusion you make about a situation or person causes conflicts and impedes creativity. 

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To stop making wrong conclusions which can lead you astray, you need to be aware when you are assuming things and question where the assumption came from.

This means that you should always revisit what you believe is true. What is it based on?

This will allow you to understand reality. Knowing things for sure is a big part of growth and power.

The ability to understand what’s true means that you’ve observed, questioned, sought different viewpoints, and validated your assumptions without bias or emotional connection.

It means that your conclusions are absolutely certain, leading to smarter decisions.

How To Know You Have “Believable Sources” of Information

One thing about humans is that we are irrational beings and every single one of us is vulnerable to falling victim to manipulation.

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We can form judgments and conclusions based on false information as long as it “seems believable”.

This is why we can easily be swayed by conspiracies, myths, rituals, religion, and folktales.

Plus, the easier it is to access information, the harder it is to separate factual information from the downright ugly or false lies. 

A credible or believable source will attach evidence to help you understand the logic and thought patterns behind the information being provided.

3 Keys To Identifying Credible Sources

1. Evidence-Based

Credible sources should help you check their findings. They can do so by providing you sources and references of their information.

Anonymous sources should always be scrutinized.

2. Peer Reviewed

This information should be up to date, and confirmed as authentic and absolutely true.

Does the information still ring true from multiple different perspectives?

3. Relevant and With-in Context

Your source’s information should be recent, evidence-based, believable, and also relevant to your topic or situation. 

And within the correct context.

For example, if I saw on the news that 5 people died yesterday it could be a tragic fact.

However, in the context of the 7.7 billion people on our planet, it could be a miracle that “only” 5 people died. For context, about 150,000 die everyday on Earth.

You can only understand the absolute truth about someone or a situation if you free yourself from preconceived misconceptions and truly understand the context.  

Understanding Why People Say Things They Don’t Know?

1. Ego

People state things they don’t know as facts because some situations, conversations, and workplaces make people want to impress other people.

How Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

For this reason, people develop inflated egos that make them unwilling to admit that they don’t know something.

People feel like it’s their job to always have an answer, so they say things they don’t know because they fear looking stupid.

The only way people can avoid saying things they don’t know is if we change this culture.

It’s OK not to know something.

Conversations, relationships, and workplaces should create a permissive environment that allows people to ask questions with-out fear of looking dumb.

2. Assuming Information Based on Statistics

Consider this question: “If Justin Lin makes another ‘Fast and Furious’ film, will most fans like it? 

On an utterly literal level, you don’t know because you can’t foresee the future. But then, you DO know if you use statistics!

For instance, maybe fans loved the last 10 movies. So you know that the odds are that another film made by the same guy will not disappoint the fans.

You see, you actually don’t know that people will like the movie, but you assume so nevertheless because you used an assumption based on previous statistics.

3. The Feeling of “Knowing.”

Sometimes people just have a feeling of knowing. A “Gut Feeling”. An Emotional feeling.

For instance, most of us have said, “My friend is going to like this book” or ” I’ll marry this girl” even when you’ve not made contact with the people you are referring to.

It’s just an unshakable feeling of certainty that can override the logic of “knowing”

A lot of people who loose a lot of money invest in stocks based on “knowing” from gut feelings.

Why Do People Believe Things They Don’t Know?

1. When Their Understanding of Truth Has Been Attested by An Authority They Trust

For instance, you may believe in an afterlife and that nothing is faster than the speed of light.

You believe these things because authorities like parents, religious entities, science, celebrities, or government officials support these ideas.

But you don’t know for sure.

2. Unanimous Agreement Among people (Group Think)

People believe things they don’t know just because they’ve observed that most people agree with them.

How Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

This is called “Group Think”.

It creates group mentality, whether cultural, racial, religious, familial or employees in an organization. 

For instance, you believe that the world is round, that death is inevitable just because almost everyone in the world agrees to it. 

Group think an be very dangerous, because it creates an atmosphere where people just blindly follow the group with-out thinking for themselves. 

3. Peer Tested Sources

You can easily believe something you don’t know just because it has been tested and has survived efforts to falsify it.

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Many math equations and scientific discoveries fall into this category.

This is why most people agree with most scientific knowledge even without carrying out experiments to verify the truth themselves.

4. Prior Knowledge or Expectations.

You believe some things because you can predict and explain their behavior. You draw your belief from past experiences or knowledge. 

For instance, you believe it’ll get dark at 7.00 p.m (because it has done so before) or that the floor will remain solid in the future (because it has always been solid).

Accepting the Limits of Your Knowledge

Nearly every motivational article will always encourage you to transcend your limitations.

Of course, nothing empowers confidence more than knowledge.

But, there are limits to what you can know.

Agree not to have control over everything and embrace uncertainty instead. it’s OK not to know.

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Humans have a stake in remaining steadfast in what they’ve told themselves is true, whether deep-rooted misconceptions, beliefs, or world views. 

But you can’t possibly know everything. There’ll always be unsolved mysteries and unanswered questions. Of course, others will consciously bluff their way to non-existent answers because it feeds their ego.

But sometimes, failing to acknowledge what you know, and what you don’t know, has the potential to cause harm. 

For instance, it’s dangerous for a doctor to stretch beyond his knowledge.

If he doesn’t recognize that he doesn’t know the absolute treatment of a condition, he shouldn’t assume or guess what to prescribe.

Instead, he should refer the patient to another knowledgeable colleague or specialty expert.

Accepting limits of knowledge applies to everyone, students, doctors, scientists, managers, politicians, and leaders.


Self-awareness is the first step to knowing what you don’t know. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything, and consciously observe the way you think or act.

It’ll allow you to see what you know, know what you don’t, and realize core assumptions that drive your actions.

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