We rarely celebrate the answer “I don't know”. It seems incomplete, undesirable or even a failure. It's not a destination to strive for.

Not knowing challenges our need for clarity, to feel in control, to find our ground. It brings discomfort, apprehension even panic or dread. We often reward those who speak with confidence, and give less weight to a more tentative voice.

And yet there is a humility, even a grace, to not knowing. It means we are not clinging to one option or another, with all of its advantages or disadvantages. It allows space to really investigate what is present. It means there is an opportunity to be open to what is not yet seen or known.

In MI we put a lot of focus on practicing the skill of reflections. Partly because it’s the core skill, partly because it requires us to pay close attention to what the person has just said.

Questions are easier to learn and add to the repertoire. A really useful skill is to collect good questions. Look for them, hear them, steal them, remember them. We want that butterfly net at the ready.

For so many of us, COVID-19 has disrupted how we work, socialise, exercise, eat and seek comfort. And many of us have found it hard to successfully change multiple habits at once.

New routines start then become abandoned. Others fail to get going, no matter how logical or appropriate they seem. Perhaps a change in one area creates a new problem in another. Or an obvious solution remains out of reach because everyone else had the same idea and cleared supplies from the stores. And maybe, just maybe, you've found an unexpected joy or breakthrough.

While it can feel like these experiences are a distraction from what really matters, they can also be a rich source of learning about how we change long standing behaviours. What do you notice? What helps? What gets in the way?

Giving advice can get a bad rap in MI. We attend to the righting reflex so much, it can almost feel illegal to offer a thought in an MI conversation.

Even more daunting, it can seem like the aim is to get to some kind of zen-like calm where we notice our opinions floating past like clouds as we stay serenely present and tuned into the person in front of us.

The reality is often far more like trying to restrain a flock of hyperactive sheep from escaping a pen with a dodgy gate. Just we think we’ve managed to keep one from getting loose, another takes the opportunity to wriggle free and make a run for it.

When we learn the ‘what’ of MI, we also start wondering about the ‘when’.

When should we move from building the “why” of change to exploring the “how”? When might we shift the attention from possibilities to planning? When do we offer information or suggestions?

We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the perfect host in the change conversation, knowing just the right time to clear the plates, serve the next course, offer tea. “Change talk, anyone?”

When I was in school I knew two girls who played piano. They were both skilled. They could play sheet music they had never seen before. They played more complex pieces than the average student.

One was pretty much note perfect, her skill was impressive. But I didn’t feel much when she played. It was a series of very skilled, very competent notes, one after the other.

The other made a lot more mistakes. Missed notes, timings slipping in and out of sync. And yet… she played with her whole heart and I loved to listen to her. He music was so richly expressive, there was something almost magical about it.

When we learn MI we become comfortable asking questions such as “How ready is this person for change?” But how often do we stop and ask ourselves “How ready am I for this client?”

And while we spend time learning what to say or ask, the most fundamental skill in MI is the skill of listening. Deep, focused, wholehearted listening. Yet we are often trying to have meaningful conversations with a head full of distractions.

People come to treatment with all sorts of problems and respond to all sorts of treatment. Or not. Every approach seems to offer something, and no one approach has all of the answers.

So why did I choose to spend so much time focusing on Motivational Interviewing? Here are ten reasons why MI gently nudged its way into the foundation of my practice.