When I was 19 years old, I took an Amtrak train from Boston to Los Angeles. It was an adventure, and the train took me to many places I’d never seen before—including Chicago, where we had a 24-hour layover.
I had a wonderful time in the Windy City, eating deep-dish pizza and exploring everything I could in such a short time. And on my way back to the train station, I encountered someone on the street who stopped me for a chat.
Normally, I’m a very outgoing person and like meeting new people, but this man gave me a bad feeling right away. I didn’t know exactly what it was about him that set off alarm bells, but I decided to ignore my instinct and joined him for a coffee.
Fast forward an hour later, and I’m back on the train and going through my things—and quickly discovered my wallet and phone were both gone. Chicago and the man who took them were disappearing behind me, and I had to suffer through the rest of my journey with no music to listen to, no cash or cards, and no way to contact my friends and family. Yikes.
Why didn’t I just trust my gut? I found myself asking over and over again. If I had listened to my instinct, I would have given the man a friendly nod and kept moving, and my belongings would still be with me.
But that’s the thing about trusting yourself—it’s not easy.
Self-doubt is insidious, and it can cause us to do things we shouldn’t do or even put ourselves in harm.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot about how to trust myself since that long-ago trip to Chicago. I’ve put together some of my best advice about trusting yourself in this article, so you can avoid making similar mistakes.
What does it really mean to trust yourself?
Before we get into how you can get better at trusting your gut, let’s go over what it really means to trust yourself (and what happens if you don’t).
Trusting yourself means respecting yourself
Think about all of the people in your life whom you go to when you need advice. You wouldn’t seek these people out if you didn’t respect them and their opinions.
If you’re routinely ignoring your own beliefs and instincts, it means you aren’t showing yourself the same respect you show others.
Trusting yourself means being self-aware
Self-awareness is the key to a happy life. Without it, you won’t be able to seek out what you truly want in life, or improve your current situation. But when you start practicing self-awareness, trusting yourself comes easy. You’ll have a deeper understanding of your motivations in any given instance, and you’ll be able to make important decisions much faster.
Trusting yourself means empowering yourself
Self-doubt often means we put others’ words and thoughts above our own. This would be fine if everyone in your life had your best interests in mind. But the reality is that you’ll meet many people who care more about themselves than you (it’s only natural). Listening to their words over your own beliefs and awareness can get you into some very bad situations.
Why do we say “listen to your gut”?
When we talk about the concept of trusting yourself, it’s hard not to also use the phrase “trust your gut.” And in many ways, learning to trust yourself is the same thing as learning to trust your gut.
The word “guts” has long been associated with our innermost feelings. Think about phrases like “I hate your guts,” which means you despise someone to their core, or the phrase “you’ve got guts,” which means you have something deep inside you that inspires bravery and courage.
When you “trust your gut,” you believe your own feelings and trust them to lead you in the right direction. Often, this phrase suggests a blind instinct—when you go with your gut, you don’t need to think about why you’re doing something because you just know it’s the right decision.
And that is where there is a subtle difference between trusting yourself and listening to your gut. Trusting yourself is not nearly as automatic—it requires self-reflection and taking the time to check in with yourself.
Eventually, if you practice enough, your ability to trust in yourself will become easier—so easy that it may feel instinctual. But before you can get there, you’ll need to work on all of the other tips mentioned in this article.
Tips for learning to trust yourself
Learning how to trust yourself is a long journey that requires experience. There won’t be any overnight results, but there are certain things you can start doing now to improve your ability to trust yourself as you grow.
Take time to consider why you have trouble trusting yourself
The first step to trusting yourself more is identifying what obstacles are standing in your way right now. Once you know understand the roadblocks, it will be much easier to create a strategy to overcome self-doubt.
There are any number of reasons why you may struggle to trust yourself, but here are some common causes to consider:
Everyone suffers from self-esteem issues at some point or another. And when we’re young adults, figuring out who we are and what we want to be in life, these self-esteem issues can amplify and get in our way.
Remember—trusting yourself means respecting yourself. If you have low self-esteem, you don’t respect yourself fully, which makes trusting your gut virtually impossible.
Other people dissuading you
Sometimes, the inability to trust yourself doesn’t come from within but from other people in your life. If there’s someone in your life—a parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher—who constantly belittles you and tells you that you aren’t good enough, you’ll soon start to believe them. And once you take those negative words on board, self-trust is hard to come by.
Past experience causes doubt
Self-doubt can also come from a previous bad experience or trauma. For example, perhaps you recently had a falling out with someone you considered your best friend. They showed their true colors, and you can’t believe you didn’t see them for who they really were. Now, when you meet new people, self-doubt creeps in. You have thoughts like, “Well, last time I liked someone like this, remember what happened?” These thoughts stop self-trust in its tracks.
Inexperience and feelings of vulnerability
The more you experience in life, the more you’ll be able to trust yourself. When a challenging situation arrives, you’ll be able to draw from your past experiences and make decisions based on your instinct. But when you’re facing something new and unexpected, with no past experience to draw on, it leaves you feeling vulnerable and makes you doubt yourself.
Before you can trust yourself, you have to know yourself
On the surface, “knowing yourself” seems easy. By the time you enter your schooling years, you already know a lot about what you enjoy, what you dislike, and what brings you joy.
But truly knowing yourself is about a lot more than that. To begin trusting yourself, you have to explore what makes you tick—it’s not just about your likes and dislikes. It’s about finding out what brings you happiness, what causes you stress and anxiety, and what life experiences you’ve had so far to make you who you are.
And then comes the really tricky part—as you start to figure those things out, you must learn to love and accept them. This can be particularly challenging when you’re just starting out on your own and learning who you really are.
I’ve written an entire article about how you can embrace who you are and become the person you want to be. Check it out here:
Figure out the difference between self-reflection and overthinking
There’s a very common trap when practicing self-trust: overthinking.
When you’re learning to trust yourself, you’ll be spending a lot of time in reflection mode, checking in with yourself about how you feel and what you’ve learned from specific experiences.
But be careful—this behavior can lapse into overthinking. Instead of doing your best to learn from yourself and then moving on, you can spend hours or days replaying certain situations or issues repeatedly in your head.
This may feel like self-reflection at first, but really, it’s your own self-doubt causing you to get stuck in a loop. As you practice trusting your gut, set a time limit for yourself and do your best to stop mulling over a situation when it’s no longer productive.
Here’s one big warning sign that you may be overthinking: If you find yourself missing out on sleep, or drifting off into your own thoughts when you should be doing something else, you likely need to give yourself a break and focus on something else for a while.
Understand that emotion is not always your best guide
Humans are emotional creatures—even though we often pretend we are driven purely by logic. The truth is, everyone on this planet is motivated by their emotions, for better or for worse.
A word of warning: Sometimes, when people talk about “trusting their gut,” they are actually talking about acting on emotion rather than logic.
This isn’t always a bad thing. For example, your love for your friends may inspire you to show them acts of kindness. Your fear of deep water might keep you from swimming on a beach with a heavy undertow.
But as you learn to trust yourself, you’ll need to practice identifying emotion, taking a step back from it, and looking at the situation logically.
Skipping class to hang out with a friend might feel like the right thing, but does missing out on a lesson really align with your larger goals? Staying out of an undertow is a good thing, but does it make sense to miss out on a nice swim even if the waves aren’t big and there are lifeguards on duty?
I’m not suggesting that you ignore or suppress your emotions. Rather, cultivate a sense of awareness around how you’re truly feeling, so you can separate your emotions from what is logically best for you.
Take Adele’s advice and go easy on yourself
I absolutely love the song Easy on Me, by Adele, because it’s all about what it’s like to deal with feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt.
In the song, Adele is essentially singing to her younger self, telling herself to “go easy,” because in the past she was inexperienced and “didn’t get the chance to feel the world around” her.
As I mentioned above, self-doubt is often tied to moments in our past where we feel we didn’t live up to our own expectations. It’s easy to berate ourselves for past mistakes, but this kind of thinking will prevent you from finding trust in yourself.
If you really want to be the kind of person who can trust in yourself, you need to forgive past errors. Instead of thinking something like, “Gosh, I’m so stupid for making such a mistake,” just think about what Adele has to say.
Go easy on yourself. You were young, inexperienced, and you had good intentions. Everyone makes mistakes. Now you have the chance to learn from the past.
In other words, practice self-kindness, and self-trust will follow.
Learn to cherish your alone time (and ditch the naysayers)
Are there people in your life who make your self-doubt worse with their words and actions? This isn’t uncommon—even people who want what’s best for you can unintentionally make you feel bad for not doing what they think is right.
But self-trust is all about knowing what you want and knowing what’s best for you. It cannot come from others—it can only come from spending time with yourself, learning how to understand your own fears and aspirations, and addressing them appropriately.
For this reason, it’s helpful to spend time alone. This isn’t always easy—being alone physically also means being alone with your thoughts, which can be scary (especially if they’re filled with self-doubt).
To make this easier, I suggest taking yourself on dates. Go out to your favorite restaurant alone, see a movie you really want to see by yourself, take a long solo walk in your favorite park. During these “dates,” allow yourself to think and reflect—the more you’re able to do this, the easier it will be for you to connect with your inner self when you really need to tap into self-trust.
Make a list of all the challenging things you’ve accomplished
My last tip is the most practical. Self-doubt often includes the words “I can’t.” You may hear thoughts like, “I can’t do that because I have no idea what I’m doing.” Or “I’ll never succeed because I’ve never done this before.”
The best way to counter these negative thoughts is to come at them with hard evidence—and that’s a lot easier to do when you have a physical list of things you’ve achieved.
Grab a pen and paper. Spend twenty or thirty minutes listing out all of the things you’ve accomplished in your life. This list should include little things (like jumping off the highest diving board) to big things (like ending a toxic relationship).
Whenever you feel the voice of self-doubt creeping in, pull out this list and read it. You’ll likely find that negative voice goes quiet, and you’ll be able to push on with trusting yourself.
Learning to trust yourself doesn’t come easy. In fact, it’s something you’ll likely need to practice your entire life. But if you follow the tips in this article, your trust in yourself will grow, and soon you’ll be able to trust your gut.