How to cultivate self-trust

— This post first appeared in my email letter. If you’d like to sign up so you don’t miss future letters, you can do that here. —

I can’t believe it’s already August, can you? It seems like the summer crept up on us ever so slowly, and then has just flown by in the blink of an eye. I hope you’re finding some time to get outside and enjoy what this time of year has to offer.

I often notice in my work that a number of my clients are struggling with a similar theme around the same time. And one aspect of life I’ve been talking about a lot recently – both in my sessions and in my own life – is self-trust.

So many of us, myself included at times, struggle to trust ourselves. We turn outward and seek external approval and reassurance. Am I making the right decision? Does this look good? What should I do next?

This tendency also seems more prevalent among women. We are often socialized to be people pleasers, to put the needs of others before our own desires, and it can end up looking like this – a lack of trust in ourselves.

When I say “self-trust” I mean the ability for you to trust that you are in fact capable of making the best decisions and choices for you. You are the expert on your own life, and you can trust this. You don’t need to give away that role or responsibility to anyone else. It’s yours, and yours alone.

Does this mean you can let go of all consideration for others and how your choices will impact others? Certainly not. But it does mean you can consider letting go of the constant need to seek reassurance from anyone outside of yourself.

I know this is easy to say, and so much harder to do in practice. As I’ve explored this with clients, I’ve developed a little metaphor that helps me to visualize what needs to happen. It’s relevant for self-trust, or honestly any aspect of ourselves that we are trying to cultivate and strengthen.

When we plant a seed, in the literal sense, we need to keep it warm and safe. Often seeds are planted inside first, until they sprout. Then, when a seed has sprouted, we don’t just stick it outside in a torrential downpour and subject it to the elements. First, we might care for it by a sunny window, or in a green house, or somewhere covered. We protect it from the outside world as much as we can so it can deepen its roots and grow. Only when it’s steadfastly rooted in the ground, and it’s stem or stalk is strong enough to weather the winds, do we plant it outside in the garden bed and hope for the best. Only when it’s ready do we expose it to the elements.

Maybe you’re not ready. Maybe you’re not ready to put your sense of self-trust on the stand and subject it to the external opinions of your family or the advice of your friends. Maybe your self-trust is just a sprout, or perhaps only a seed, and you need to nurture and care for it with more caution first.

We expect our ability to trust ourselves to grow, but at the same time we seek external reassurance, advice, and opinions. We ask others, “am I right?” or “is this okay?” and somehow still believe in that environment our sense of trust in ourselves can grow. The truth is: it can’t.

We need to create a space for our self-trust to safely grow. We need to create boundaries and a safe container within which to cultivate our trust in ourselves. This means, we may need to limit exposure to outside opinions, we may need to commit to turning inward to ask ourselves what to do next, rather than seeking input form outside sources. We need to build the greenhouse for our self-trust to grow in, shielded from the elements, before we can handle being buffeted by what others have to say about our choices.

So if you’re struggling with confidence and self-trust, perhaps the first step is to quiet all the external sources, to stop seeking outside reassurance, to turn inward and just give your little trust seedling some time to grow.