Know that You Don’t Know: Letting Go of the Need to Be Right and In Control

By Dr. Toni LaMotta

How do you know what you know in life? What is your criterion for saying something is TRUE? Is it: I heard a teacher say it last week, my mother or father told me when I was a child, or I read it in the newspaper?

Know that even if you SEE it with your own eyes, you can’t call it TRUE. We only experience 1 percent of what’s out there with our five senses—and the other 99 percent also is the REAL world. And, depending on our personalities, we all SEE things differently. Some see details; others see the big picture. We can’t trust what we SEE to tell us what is real. With this in mind, I invite you to question when you say, “I KNOW IT.”

When describing what we see, most of us ADD to it and make up a STORY about what we perceive.

Visually, what you can tell about what you see—what’s actually happening—is what a video camera records. It can’t see mad, glad, sad, or any other emotions. When you see someone frowning, for example, it could be because the sun is in his or her eyes.

When we are young, we learn to make assumptions because we think we always need an answer—and not just ANY answer—but the RIGHT answer! Think about the grading system when you were in school. What happened when you were asked a question? If you didn’t know the answer you were considered wrong for NOT KNOWING, and sometimes you learned to make up something rather than to say, “I DON’T KNOW.” The problem is that after you make something up, you begin to believe it is true.

I believe that saying “I don’t know” and recognizing that all of our life has been created from our own slanted perceptions is one of the gifts of the conscious aging process. Part of what it means to age consciously is to develop the skill to be a critical thinker and to question all assumptions. I have found this to be true in my own life and in the lives of many people I’ve had the privilege to support over the years.

As I age, I’ve learned to give up two important things: the need to be right and the need to be in control. They are both illusions anyway.

Did you ever find yourself arguing for something that you don’t even know is true? I’ve personally worked on this one. When I would have the immediate feeling that someone else just said something I didn’t agree with, my younger reaction was to set them straight—to let that person KNOW the TRUTH. I used to call it my TEACHER persona, and the conscious aging process has taught me to let it go. As a result, over the years I have truly practiced listening.

Here’s how you can practice, too: When others say something you disagree with, take on the attitude, “that’s interesting” and then REALLY try to hear why they think what they are thinking rather than ASSUMING you know. Don’t ever assume you understand another human being—or know why he (or she) is doing what he’s doing. We have so many assumptions that we make about life, others, and ourselves; it’s our way of BEING in CONTROL.

We all have a set code of ethics that we live by. What’s important to you in life? Make a list and you’ll be amazed at your values and how you develop reasons for why you value what you do. But be careful when you discover your list because it’s what your ASSUMPTIONS are based on—what YOU think is important. I guarantee that if you try to do that list for your spouse, your partner, or your best friend you probably will be wrong.

Often, when working with couples looking to get married, I ask them to create a values list. What’s important to you in the relationship? Prioritize! If the top three are not the same for both parties, I have some serious doubts that that relationship will work out long-term.

We all make assumptions all the time.

There is nothing wrong with making assumptions—we just ought to know what they are and be willing to challenge them in order to grow, especially if they aren’t serving us well. We tend to live our lives on our assumptions, and they can get us into trouble when we remain unaware of them. Also, when we ASSUME we don’t know something the Universe will do everything to support our NOT KNOWING. I bet you have years of PROOF to back up this theory.

We make an ASSUMPTION and then we BELIEVE it. When we believe something is true it becomes our EXPERIENCE of TRUTH until we wake up and realize that it “ain’t” necessarily so! Assumptions are all-pervasive—so pervasive that we usually don’t know we’re even making them.

So how do you begin to watch your assumptions? Whenever you get UPSET, behind the UPSET usually is a FEAR and a NEED TO BE RIGHT or IN CONTROL. Catch yourself whenever you get angry, annoyed, or agitated (or whatever word you use) and ask yourself, “What need is active here? The need to be right or to be in control? Can you let it go? Will you let it go? WHEN? Then, stop and ASK, “What assumptions am I making?”

Recognize that we only see and hear what we want to see and hear. Our minds don’t like not understanding something, so we make an assumption about the meaning.

Becoming free of the need to be right and in control can be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself. I highly recommend it!


Dr. Toni LaMotta is a keynote speaker, best-selling author of What You REALLY Want, Wants You and spiritual teacher supporting people in growing spiritually through the process of aging consciously. She also helps coaches and speakers create, publish and market their books. Dr. Toni is also an expert in supporting people and organizations in reinventing themselves in midlife and beyond. Her experience? From Catholic nun, to computer programmer and dinner theater actress, to professional speaker, entrepreneur, and Co-Minister of Unity Church in the Woods, Bradenton, FL  ( You can read her blog at and find out more about her conscious aging programs at

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