Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves

Knowing #1: How Do You Know?

What do you know?
How do you know it?
How sure can you be of what you know?


We'll be looking at these four ways knowing:

Logic based on observation.
Logic based on belief.
Emotions alone.
Emotions based on observation and belief.


Two plus two is four because I can see two fingers on my left hand and two fingers on my right hand or because I heard two sounds a minute ago and I heard two more sounds a second ago.
I saw it.
I heard it.
I'm sure of it because it came to me through my senses.

There are some illusions that distort our senses. Sight can be distorted by optical illusions, and hearing and smell can be distorted by overlapping stimuli. After allowing for such distortions, we can be pretty certain that what we see, hear, smell, taste or feel is correct. Sense data is nearly certain. The problem is that so little can be known in this way.

So we want to believe we can know in other ways.


Two plus two is four because Sister Anna Charles told me so in the first grade and I think she's smart. If she was right, then I am right. If she was wrong, then I am not only wrong about this I am also wrong about everything that logically flows from this.


Belief in someone else's accuracy is crucial when we base decisions on what we believe.

But I'd better confirm my teacher's math with my own senses before I try to balance my checkbook.


When I think about the vastness of space I feel joy and I have a keen sense of my own vulnerability. Therefore I know God exists.

Not so.

When I feel joy, vulnerability, or any other emotion, it doesn't prove God exists. It doesn't prove anything at all.

Emotions don't determine fact.

Our emotions are wonderful at telling us when we are hungry or thirsty or sad or angry, but worthless at telling us about concrete reality.


Two plus two is four because it kinda looks right to me and I believe the person who says it's so.

When we are inexperienced or hurting a lot physically or emotionally we have little confidence in our own ability. At such times we may have to temporarily go along with this kind of "knowing."

This is the dilemma children face, and from which most therapy issues arise. When we were too young to have gathered enough experience and when "the whole world" was just the people in our house or our neighborhood we had to believe most of what the adults told us - regardless of how wise or ignorant, how kind or cruel those adults were.

Some adults face this same dilemma. Someone recovering from a horrible injury or someone who is dependent on people who overpower them may need to temporarily accept whatever they are told while they focus purely on survival.

When we grow up, and after we've survived desperate adult situations, we must reexamine everything we've learned from such sources. We need to reevaluate each "emotional belief"
using our most accurate tools: Our senses.


See all other topics in this series related to "Knowing." Read them all to get a good understanding about how we know what we know and how we distort our own reality.

Knowing #2: How Smart Are You?

How smart are you?
How dumb are you?
How do you know?


Here are five ways to evaluate intelligence:
I.Q. - Intelligence Quotient
E.Q. - Emotional Quotient
Speed of Comprehension
Usable Intelligence


You can learn your I.Q. by taking a test that measures general knowledge, reasoning, and math skills. A score of 100 is considered average. Your score tells you how many people have a higher I.Q., and how many have a lower I.Q.

IQ is an excellent measure of how well you can use your brain to decide about concrete reality.
It doesn't measure how well you apply the knowledge you have.

IQ doesn't change much. You are pretty much stuck with the IQ you have.


E.Q. is more of an idea than a measurable attribute. If there is a widely accepted test to measure E.Q., I'm not aware of it. E.Q. is a good idea, but it is in its infancy in terms of clinical measurement.


The idea is simply that our since our emotions help us to decide how much importance to put on each bit of data, it would be good to look closely at how we make those decisions.

People in therapy continually improve their E.Q. It's a natural byproduct of all that talk about feelings and reality. So E.Q. can be improved, although the degree of possible improvement depends a lot on your starting point.


It's rather easy to notice how quickly people comprehend. The next time you are talking to someone, look closely at her or his face while you are making a statement. Notice that their eyes widen or they release a frown at the precise moment they comprehend your message.

We can improve our speed of comprehension a little through practice, but we probably can't make a big improvement.

(By the way, no matter how smart you are you can greatly improve the flow of conversation simply by hearing what the other person is saying instead of mentally rehearsing what you are going to say next.)


It doesn't matter how much you can learn if it's not in your brain when you need it. And we retain only a tiny portion of all we've learned.

Since I'm now eligible for senior discounts at a few places, I like to believe the old theory that although we forget more as we get older we also become wiser, since all that experience helps us to see life's overall patterns more easily. Regardless of my own beliefs (or wishful thinking), it is clear that memory declines with age and that we can't stop it from happening.


We each know a lot about a few things, but we know nothing, or close to nothing, about everything else. Our IQ, EQ, comprehension, and retention don't matter much at all compared to the question of whether we use what we know in the real world of people and things.

Imagine that you can watch a video of your last few days. Did you use what you know? Did you hide what you know from others because you feared embarrassment? Did you apply what you know to concrete tasks, or did you just think about what you know and complain that "they" ought to do something about it?

Try to notice every reason you have for not applying what you know. Determine how many of these reasons are based on irrational insecurity and unfair comparisons that you use habitually.

Notice which of your fearful fabrications you can toss away forever.


Your IQ isn't going to change. Your EQ can probably only be improved a little. You can't increase your speed of comprehension much. And you can't do a lot about the natural rate of decline in what you remember.

Besides all that, you know almost nothing at all about most areas of life! What can you do?

You can accept the human condition and stop worrying about how you compare - to test scores, to yourself in the past, or to others. You can focus on using what you know right now, today,
to your own best advantage.

Knowing #3: Your Core Beliefs

If you've read the first two topics on "knowing," you can see that there are many things we don't know and never will know. And yet we survive. How do we do that? We do it by adopting a few core beliefs that we use to explain all the things we don't understand. These beliefs are helpful,
because they make us think we are right when we really need to believe it. But every such belief is also wrong to some extent because the truth is that much of the time we just don't know.


Someone with an open-ended system of thought knows that some day they might be proven wrong. They aren't afraid of being wrong, so they are open to new information when it comes along.

Someone with a closed-ended system believes they can never be proven wrong. They always have a way of explaining away any new information that comes their way.



I was on my way to a workshop where I was going to teach about all this. The radio was playing a country song that kept repeating: "Kiss an angel good morning, and love her like the devil when you get back home."

I decided I'd tell the class that I could explain absolutely everything through this belief. "Ask me anything," I said.

Here are some of the questions I got, and my answers to them:

"Why are so many people depressed?" They don't have a good lover to kiss in the morning and love like the devil when they get back home.

"What about anxiety?" They know they need that lover and they worry that they'll never get them or keep them.

"Why did W.W.II happen?" So many people felt hopeless about having a lover that they were furious.

"What about heaven and a hell?" Heaven provides a continuous lover. Hell is being deprived of it forever.

All I needed to explain absolutely everything was to start with the belief that I could do it! (Try it yourself! Use any belief you like. It can be fun, especially in a group.)


To be right about absolutely everything you only need to be so insecure that you adopt an idea and fight to the death to maintain it.

If this seems like an exaggeration, realize that every war was about two groups who were each willing to die for their own closed-ended belief.


Try to identify your own core belief. Yours is probably unique, but a few of the most common ones are: Take what you can get. It's all about honesty. It's all about love. It's all in God's hands.
Everybody's out to get you. Just live for today.


My own core belief is close to "It's all about love." It's important for me to realize that my system cannot explain Hitler and other such horrors.

I still like my system though, because it explains more to me about how the world works than any other. But I'm never shocked to learn that there are things I just can't explain.

Whatever your core belief is, know there are going to be some big exceptions to it. Be proud of yourself for noticing these exceptions when you find them. Know also that if you find too many exceptions you will eventually change your belief to something you see as more reasonable.
It might be wise to see a therapist during this transition.


People with closed systems don't get along with anyone who disagrees with them.
And eventually that's everyone. They find themselves thinking and saying some quite ridiculous things (like the "Kiss an Angel" stuff).

Those who are most intent about maintaining their beliefs take the huge risk of going through an extremely painful emotional deterioration when they finally have to face that their house of cards has fallen.


We just have to. We can do without it for a few weeks or months but eventually we will need some way to explain to ourselves how everything we don't understand works!

It's the human condition.

So get used to saying: "I may be wrong, but what I think is...."

Knowing #4: Making Educated Guesses

I've been trained in psychology by some of the best. But one of the most helpful things I ever learned came from an undergraduate statistics course. It was about estimating probabilities.

But please don't run away screaming, "I hate math!" I'm going to talk about something you do a hundred times a day. And it's something you are already good at too.


When you flip the light switch you expect the light to come on. Sometimes it doesn't. After you change the bulb, you again start to believe that it will come on every time. You've learned that the odds (the "probabilities") are so much in your favor that it's smart to keep expecting it to work even though you know that sometimes you will be wrong.

I want you to be comfortable doing this throughout your life even when it comes to major life decisions.


Here are some examples regarding serious decisions. Notice how the decision almost makes itself
if you consider the probabilities:


1) "I'm getting married in October. I wonder if it will rain."
Look up the usual rainfall in October. See the odds. Make your decision accordingly.

2) "My mother is drunk about half of the time when I visit and she's always nasty then. What should I do?"
Expect her to be drunk half of the time and call ahead to check it out before you visit.

3) "My boyfriend hit me twice in the last two years. He always apologizes and he really means it.
Should I stay with him?"
Expect him to hit you at least once a year, and apologize like he means it every time. Then decide.
Always ask yourself: "What are the odds?"


Some things are certain: If you gamble often enough, you will pay the casino their precise cut.
That light bulb will work thousands of times before it burns out.


Things are less certain when it comes to human behavior.

Will your child come home late today?
Will your partner want sex tonight?
Will you have meatloaf for dinner?

You can't answer such questions with certainty. But you can bank on the fact that you know your child, your partner, and the cook very well. You have to make your best guess.

If you know the person well and you aren't lying to yourself about it, you are going to be right about four times out of five and wrong about it the other time.

How do I know? There's a principle in statistics about it. I've tested it quite regularly over the years. I won't bore you with the details, but I will encourage you to test it for yourself. If you know the person well, your best guesses should be close to the 4 out of 5 level.

If I'm wrong, let me know. (One disclaimer: If you are dealing with chaos, such as in addicted families, all bets are off.)


If you want to know how your relationship will go in the next six months, expect that it will go about like it did the last six months.

If you want to know how a senator will perform during their next term, expect that he or she will do about the same as they did during their first term.

The best predictor of the future is the past. It's not certain but it's your best bet. If you know the facts well, you will be right about 80% of the time.


If you are wondering whether someone will make a good partner or whether to put all your money into one investment, it would be awful to be wrong.

But you will be wrong on your biggest decisions, even when you have plenty of information,
at least 20% of the time.

You can hate that you were wrong but don't hate you!

You can't do any better than to take your best shot.

Enjoy Your Changes!

Everything here is designed to help you do just that!

next: Perfectionism

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 19). Knowing, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: March 29, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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