A coaching client of mine recently sent me a question via email on self-trust that I had a lot of energy for. Here is her question, followed by my response to her.
Self-trust is a worthwhile topic to explore, and I have much to say on the matter.
In short, you build self-trust just like you build trust in any relationship.
You regularly communicate with yourself, lean into solving your problems, take good care of yourself, and a whole host of other things that I will dive into momentarily.
And you erode self-trust when you regularly practice self-abandonment.
Another way to frame self-abandonment is making life choices that are in direct opposition to your personal values.
Maybe you know you want to be an artist/entrepreneur/creator, and yet you carry on down a path of becoming a doctor or a lawyer because that’s what your parents want for you.
Or maybe you’re a few days out of a relationship and you go and sleep with someone new as a numbing mechanism, even though your body doesn’t really feel safe doing that.
Alright, let's get into the nitty-gritty of self-trust, and then I’ll give you a dozen or so things you can proactively do to cultivate more self-trust in your life.
What Is Self-Trust?
I define self-trust as a deep reliance on one’s own ability to handle life.
Self-trust is the mindset that ‘whatever comes my way, I will be able to handle it.’
Someone with a high degree of self-trust feels safe in relying on their own mental, emotional, and physical abilities, and there is a deep inner knowing that life will not topple them easily.
What Gets In The Way Of Self-Trust?
Self-abandonment. Chronically going against yourself.
Over time, this habit of self-abandonment results in a lack of self-trust… which then bleeds over into your ability to trust other people in your life.
If you frequently struggle to believe that other people actually care about you, or you aren’t sure if others have your best interest at heart, recognize that this can all be a function of projection and that YOU might be the one who isn’t caring about you, or having your best interests at heart.
Be kind to yourself and it will be that much easier to trust the kindness of others.
In terms of the root issues of what gets in the way of self-trust, I would say that there are two major culprits.
- Our truth was made wrong by family/friends/the culture, society, or peer group around us.
- We are simply in the habit of going against what our hearts have to say to us because our truth is somehow viewed as inconvenient.
In either case, self-trust is reclaimed by rekindling our relationship with ourselves, and treating ourselves as we would our most cherished friend or loved one.
15 Specific Practices To Boost Self-Trust
As with anything to do with relationship building (regardless of whether that relationship is with ourselves or with others), this should be seen as a war of attrition as opposed to a war of annihilation.
In other words, do as many of these things as often as possible, and let them grow with time. There is no one-size-fits-all, immediately actionable silver bullet that will help you build a bone-deep sense of self-trust overnight.
Do your best to be compassionate and patient with yourself as you cultivate your self-trust. This process will take time, and it will be worth it.
Without further ado, here are fifteen exercises that you can regularly practice to cultivate resilient self-trust.
1. Spend time with yourself
Just like any relationship would struggle to thrive if the people in it didn’t have any quality time together, so too must you spend quality time with yourself.
If your schedule is so tightly packed that you don’t have any moments of quiet and solitude, then your self-trust has likely suffered.
Do you go to bed with a racing mind? Thoughts shooting at you from every angle, begging for your attention? Then you might be overdue for some quality ‘me-time.
There are several high-leverage ways that you can set the foundations for improved self-trust via your solo time.
Be in dialogue with yourself
Truly, anything that has you slowing down and observing your own mind is highly beneficial.
Journal. Sit and meditate. Lie down on your bed and just breathe for a while and see what comes up. Or, for a more proactive approach, look inwards and ask yourself questions like, “How have I been feeling lately?”, “Is there anything I need to do to honor myself more fully?”, or “What does my heart need more of?”
Ask the questions, receive the answers, and act on what your inner wisdom offers you.
Your body/heart/gut already knows what you need. It simply needs you to slow down long enough and create spaciousness so that you can hear the messages being sent your way.
3. Honour and give space to your emotions
If you race through life with an overly packed schedule, you won’t have the necessary time to digest what you go through. And too much consumption without time to digest leads to emotional and spiritual constipation.
Regularly carve out time to slow down and be with yourself.
Especially if you don’t consider yourself someone who is prone to self-analysis, try this on.
To start out with this practice, once per week, carve out an hour or two to just be with yourself. See if there’s any emotional residue that wants to move through you. Whether or not it makes sense, if it’s there within you, it deserves to be recognized.
For help with this, read this article on processing stuck emotions, or this article on processing anger, this one on anxiety, this one on depression, and/or this one on stress.
4. Make a physical list of things that you like about yourself
Words of affirmation are one of the ‘love languages’ for good reason.
While your life’s choices shouldn’t be led by external validation, we all crave validation. And yet one form of validation that we often under function in is the act of validating ourselves.
Take out a piece of paper (yes, it has to be something you can physically write on) and write out at least fifty things that you like about yourself.
You can jot down things that you like about your appearance. Or the ways in which you are proud that you show up for others in your life. Or things that you like about your character.
It’s challenging to believe that others like us for who we are if we don’t first like ourselves for who we are. So grab the bull by the horns and give yourself the validation that you may, at times, be seeking from others.
5. Be willing to take risks in your life
One of the most potent ways that we can build more self-trust is by regularly challenging ourselves.
Regardless of whether or not we succeed in accomplishing the task, simply the mere act of giving ourselves the challenge grows our self-esteem and self-trust because it sends the message that we are someone who is worthy enough to be challenged with difficult things in the first place.
Ask out that attractive person you have a crush on. Initiate that difficult conversation with someone with whom you have been meaning to clear the air. Go after that job you want. Push yourself in your physical exercise goals. Move forward in your life and claim what you want.
All of these types of actions build self-trust. You merely have to be willing to accept the challenge and do your best.
6. Set realistic goals
To speak to the opposite side of the previous spectrum, have enough compassion for yourself to set sane enough goals that you aren’t just constantly whipping yourself through life.
Push yourself, yes, but also be kind to yourself.
Some of the most productive and successful people in human history were also experts at having balanced lives with ample leisure time. For example, did you know that Charles Dickens maintained a strict schedule of writing for five hours, followed by a daily three-hour walk? What a boss. Who needs to brag about their 16 hour workday on social media when there’s beautiful nature to meander around in!
7. Reward yourself
Whether you’re rewarding yourself for one of your aforementioned goals being achieved, or you’re just gifting yourself a reward because you’re a badass who deserves nice things every once in a while, rewarding ourselves is a necessary habit to get into.
I used to be so guilty of not doing this.
In the first three years of building up my business, I would routinely work for 8-12 hours a day, seven days a week, and I would dangle the carrot in front of myself, “When I hit THIS goalpost, then I’ll reward myself with XYZ!” But I never did. I would hit the goal and immediately move the goal post further.
And of course, my heart began to distrust me! I was driving myself unnecessarily and never giving myself a chance to rest.
I think of this as being similar to if you were on a road trip… and your kids are in the back seat… and you keep telling them that you’re going to stop and get some delicious food soon… but then you never actually fulfill your promise.
One of two things would inevitably happen:
the kids would quickly stop believing you because you’re a liar who doesn’t fulfill his promises, and the kids would eventually starve to death.
To bring it back to the self-trust comparison, this IS what happens when we don’t slow down, give ourselves rest, and reward ourselves for a job well done. First, our body stops believing us (and starts sending us increasingly loud indicators of stress until we HAVE to listen), and then our connection to ourselves dies and we become increasingly numb and despondent.
This strategy of trying to get blood from a stone doesn’t work long-term. You need to be kind to yourself. Anything else will bite you in the ass sooner than later.
8. Practice regular self-care
Just like you would likely struggle to feel deeply connected to an intimate partner that doesn’t treat you well, it’s imperative that you take good care of yourself in your life.
A local stand-up comedian I recently saw made the observation that “Self-care is so stressful… it never ends!”
But self-care doesn’t have to be complicated. A diet chock full of nutrient-dense foods, a regular bedtime, rest, relaxation, and ample time for hobbies, friends, and play. Do each of those things, most of the time. There. Voila. It’s allowed to be as simple as that.
9. Acknowledge yourself by keeping a running list of your achievements
I’ve mentioned on my blog before that since the beginning of 2013 I have kept a running list of my monthly wins.
It started as a way to keep track of my business milestones but quickly morphed into being the place where I tracked all of my wins, both personal and professional.
Professional examples: first time being a best-selling author on Amazon, first time having a million readers on my website in a single month, the first time a reader told me that they used one of my articles as part of their wedding vows.
Personal examples: buying an electric skateboard that I’d been eyeing for over a year, learning how to do a backflip on flat ground, and the first time officiating a wedding for a friend.
It’s not only interesting to see what kinds of things you put down on your achievement list on a monthly basis, but equally interesting to see what you used to consider a noteworthy achievement. I regularly like to look back at my first couple of years of wins and it’s hard not to think, “It’s so cute that that was a win back then! That’s just my new normal now.”
So yeah, it’s a pretty great way to keep an ongoing time capsule of your growth and development as a person. Do it. It’s fun. And the practice becomes even more fun and valuable with time.
Side note: these next two points work in tandem with each other. They are both correct, for different people, under different circumstances.
10. Work out your problems on your own
If you have a sense that you are too quick to go to others for help and that you would be well served by sitting with yourself for a moment longer, then this point is for you.
Ultimately, an essential element of self-trust is knowing that you are appropriate to life, and you can handle whatever comes your way.
You can prove this to yourself in real-time by looking internally for the answers to your problems, more often than not.
Leaning on people is great. We are a social species and need each other to survive. But if you are the type of person who frequently outsourced their life’s important decisions to a jury of peers, then you would be well served by sorting out your own problems
Swing the pendulum. Try it out for a few weeks, and see how it feels. You might love it, and feel a hell of a lot more empowered as an individual.
11. Work out your problems by asking for help
Conversely, if you are the type of person who has a difficult time asking for any help (my hand is currently held high) and you are too prone to solving your problems on your own, then you would be better served by intentionally leaning on others more often than you do.
Ask for help. Lean on your friends. Let your family be there for you. Accept the love and support that is all around you.
The people you love back and are probably hungry to find a way to support you. So let them.
12. Stand up for yourself if you are wronged
If you were a parent, and you and your child were at the park, and an adult came up to your kid and slapped them across the face and spit on them, do you think you would have a reaction? I fucking hope you would.
(And if you wouldn’t, then wow, please read this article and get in touch with your anger and boundaries. I beg you.)
As I mentioned near the top of the article, people that struggle with self-trust often practice self-abandonment. One of the ways that they do this is by not standing up for themselves when people do wrong by them.
And let me name directly that being someone who is interested in self-development is not someone who is supposed to be above anger. That’s called spiritual bypassing. The point of doing your inner work is to become a more fully embodied, dynamic badass who is in touch with ALL of the aspects within themselves.
Anger isn’t bad. Boundaries are healthy. You are allowed to stand up to people when they’re assholes to you, or knowingly cross your boundaries.
Just like your child in the playground example would hope that you would protect them, your inner child wants the adult you to protect it as well.
Freely bring forth your, ‘Don’t fuck with me’ energy. Let people know how they are expected to treat you. Do this by treating yourself well first, and bringing it to people directly when they treat you shittily. Is shittily a word? It is today.
13. Respect your opinion as much as you respect the opinion of others (if not more)
As an add-on to the whole ‘sometimes solve your own problems/sometimes ask for help’ conversation, if you’re looking to cultivate self-trust, there’s a good chance that for much of your life you haven’t given much weight to the truths that come to you from within.
While the mind and ego are often Pandora’s boxes of bullshit and noise, you want to ensure that any messages that are coming to you from your intuition and heart are being heeded.
The single greatest tool that I can give you to know whether something is coming from your ego or from your gut is the following:
Say you’re trying to make a decision, and you could go one of two days. Hold one answer in your mind and see how your body responds. If your gut/stomach/heart tenses up and you feel trapped, sick, or anxious, then that’s likely not the way to go. Conversely, if you think of the answer and your gut/heart/body releases, then that is most likely the way you need to go.
This stuff can be somewhat nuanced (is your gut releasing because it’s the right path to choose, or because going with that option absolves you of responsibility or allows you to not have to face some challenging/scary thing that you should lean into?), but the more you ask these questions, the easier the answers come with time. And the more loudly and clearly they arrive.
14. Gather evidence of times that your decisions went well for you
There’s a chance that you have lacked self-trust in the past because you’re overly in the habit of forgetting the times that trusting yourself went well, and magnifying the times that trusting yourself went poorly.
Negativity bias is a real thing. We all do this to some extent. 100 people say something nice to you and one person gives you some nasty criticism that hits too close to home, and you ruminate on the negative feedback.
Tip the scales in the other direction by making a list of all the times you practiced self-trust and the outcome was a unilateral success for you.
15. Avoid people who shame or belittle your truth
Another way that we can distance ourselves from a durable sense of self-trust is by allowing ourselves to be surrounded by people who belittle or overtly shame our truths.
First, if this is you, I’m sorry. Being made to feel crazy, wrong, or stupid for your heart’s truth sucks the big one. Second, change.
Having our truth made wrong can feel like our inner child showing its finger paintings to a trusted guardian and having that guardian laugh at it.
Well, if you feel unsupported by the tribe of people that you’re surrounded with, it’s on you to either discontinue a relationship with that tribe/those people or if that isn’t possible, to minimize time with those people and/or not discuss certain things with those people.
These situations are dynamic and multi-variant… so I can’t cover every angle of what’s happening for you.
Long story short, be around people that support you and lift you up. Invest in those relationships and treat them like the gold that they are in your life. In my heavily biased opinion, there’s nothing more important than finding your soul tribe, loving them hard, and letting them influence you for the better. With all that I have and all that I’ve achieved for my relatively young life, my close friends are the greatest part of my life, by a huge margin.
Build Self-Trust, And Support Your Process With Self-Compassion
Cultivating self-trust is a lifelong process.
It is often a tricky dance to know which part of yourself you are listening to and honoring, but it does get easier with time.
Lean into challenging things, grow your self-esteem through your actions, and continue to amass life experience, and get feedback on where your decisions lead you.
In time, you won’t need to set aside a full hour to court your heart into giving you breadcrumbs of truth… the downloads will come freely and clearly.
But you’ll get there in time. And time is what you have. So don’t worry about hacking your way into this stuff overnight.
And, especially if you’ve sought out an article on self-trust and made it all the way to the end of it, I believe in you, and I have no doubt you’ll get there in your own way.