“I don’t know”


Is the most common response I get when I ask someone what their body is communicating to them (in a therapeutic setting; I don’t tend to ask people in my life randomly this particular question) 

Average length of time before “I don’t know” emerges? Less than a second.


So typically, I would gently ask the person I am seeing in therapy if they could try to give themselves about 5 seconds before they respond again, and usually, within that time frame (and almost always before 5 seconds is up) the person has SOME response.


Is it the RIGHT response? Well, now we’re getting into tricky territory. Are we concerned with right and wrong here when working with the body and emotional systems? Well the answer is probably yes and no. Generally speaking when we use our imagination, our SYSTEM is guiding us to find the information we require.


I’m pretty sure a fairly intelligent fella, known quite well as Einstein (I suppose, in that cool kinda I-know-you-so-well-that-I-refer-to-you-by-your-surname phenomenon), said something to the effect that imagination is more important than knowledge.


Recently I asked a group of people in a clinical setting: “so, why do you think most people respond “I don’t know” almost instantly?” These folks offered that’s its safer to say we don’t know than to take a risk – and generally speaking, we only take risks when we need to, when there is a likely payoff.


We take risks when we need to, when there is a likely payoff.


There, I said it again, for effect.


Just about anytime we enter into the zone of discomfort (when we do have the choice of not doing so), it’s FOR A REASON. And for a VERY GOOD REASON at that.


Think about how many things you do that are not really all that comfortable, but you do them anyway. Then ask yourself – why?


Who taught us this elementary (but not simple) idea? Sigmund Freud, in his entire cigar-smoking, drive-focused splendor. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but back to the topic.


Freud’s Pleasure Principle (and the related Reality Principle) is clear in the next forced choice situation.


Choice A: go to a live John Farnham concert (we’re talking front row seats)

Choice B: eat leftovers from the rubbish bin


It’s a no-brainer – most people opt for choice B!


We choose the more comfortable, easier, safer, less anxiety provoking, less costly option most of the time, UNLESS, there is a likely (or guaranteed) payoff for our troubles.

So I will go to see John Farnham live, if it pleases my girlfriend.  So PLEASING holds more value than that particular amount of discomfort.


We are calculating cost / benefit analyses CONSTANTLY.


We seek to maximize comfort and to minimize discomfort, and are constantly trying to find just enough comfort. Not too hot, not too cold, not too loose or tight, spicy, but not too much, etc, etc.




I am yet to have someone come and sit in front of me asking for MORE anxiety, MORE stress, MORE depression, etc.


So am I saying that depression is a choice?

Am I suggesting that you actually choose anxiety?




This is not about blame. And self blame is one of the most common things I pick up from people who are sitting a few feet away from me.


I am suggesting that we have highly complex internal mechanisms designed to help us in the best way they can. And that’s really it. Full stop.


And these internal mechanisms are ALWAYS TRYING TO HELP ME.


And these internal mechanisms are MOSTLY OPERATING WITHOUT ME KNOWING


And it’s not good English to start sentences with And…


So a part of my work with people is to help them adopt a curious, open stance that puts judgement on the backburner for a short while, to learn more about ourselves, ALL parts of ourselves.


And most of the time, when given sufficient time, and some occasional guidance from me, people resolve their difficulties, because they have been able to bring into awareness the parts of themselves of which they were previously unaware.


And that is only ONE component of therapy.