Self-Trust: Two Secrets to Try
Getty Images/Thorsten Henn
We can’t second-guess every choice we make. So how do we know what it means for something to feel right?
One of the questions that has come up for me often in my life is what it means to trust myself. How do I know that the choices I’m making are the best for me? How do I follow my intuition when I am judging someone’s character or making a move in my career? Life surprises me all the time—and I also surprise myself. I don’t always know how I’m going to feel at some later date and I don’t seem to have any ability to predict that.
Self-trust seems to be a little bit like blind faith—we truly can’t know the future and we don’t always judge others correctly. But we can’t second-guess every choice we make in our lives. Sometimes we have to leap with no information other than what feels right. But how do we know what it means for something to feel right?
Some people seem to have mastered the mysterious art of self-trust. I know a guy who has the letters TY—for Trust Yourself—tattooed on his wrist. He follows his heart wherever he goes and it seems to work out pretty well for him, most of the time. Meanwhile, I sit around wondering what new disaster I’ve created in my life based on what I had for lunch.
I know I’m not alone. Many trauma survivors seem to share this fundamental feeling of self-doubt: If something horrible has happened, we can’t help but wonder where our intuition led us wrong. This seems to also be a bit harder for women, people of color, and others in marginalized positions: When we get the message that we don’t have power because of our gender, skin color, physical abilities, and so on, it takes some work to really believe that we can make the right choices for ourselves—especially when those choices go against the status quo. (Read about practicing radical self-acceptance here.)
For me, self-trust isn’t something that I either have or I don’t. All it means is sticking to two essential practices every day.
1. The first is taking care of my basic needs by listening to the signals my body gives me: eating when I am hungry, sleeping when I am tired, saying no to social events when I need to be alone. When my body knows I will mostly meet its needs when it asks me to, it will keep talking to me. When I am numbing out, I am not in a state of self-trust; I am in a state of self-denial.
2. The second aspect of my self-trust practice means spending time every day allowing myself to feel my feelings and being honest with myself about whatever they are. That might be through meditation, journaling, yoga practice, or whatever else gives me a chance to get quiet enough to feel whatever it is I feel. When I do this, I know that I am in a compassionate conversation with my thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
For me, self-trust does not mean knowing that I’m always going to make the right choices. It’s about knowing that there is no such thing as a right choice—just actions that have consequences, some of which are predictable and some of which are not. I do trust that I will keep listening to myself and taking care of myself as best as I can, even and especially when I screw things up. It means having faith that when things go pear-shaped, I’ll find a way to ask for help, learn a lesson, and try again. For me, self-trust is not a given, it’s a practice, and one that I do my best to show up to every single day.
For me, self-trust is not a given, it’s a practice, and one that I do my best to show up to every single day.
Need more help? Try our “14 Affirmations for Trusting Yourself.”