Updated: Sep 3, 2020
As an adult we get to make our own decisions. We get to decide what our lives are about. But it’s not always clear how to do it and do it well.
This makes sense because in school we were praised for having the right answer, where someone validated us and we had certainty that everything was alright. We were alright. But we don't get this as an adult. Before we were guided and now we are the guide. There is no right answer, there is no one to validate us. There is no certainty.
Trusting yourself is about knowing who you are and what makes sense for you and your life, giving yourself the validation or permission you are seeking and understanding that there is no certainty - there is only what you can and can not control.
In working with women who struggle with confidence, and having my own journey in trusting myself, here are some things I've seen that get in the way of us fully owning who we are and making decisions with confidence.
Have a willingness to face hard things
If ever there was a fast lane to trusting yourself, this is it. Hard things exist all around us. The reality is that they are only hard because we fear them and that fear is keeping us stuck and causing us to doubt ourselves. So ask yourself, what are you tolerating, what are you avoiding, what are you denying? What is causing you stress? Then what would it take to face it fully? What would the first step be?
In my past, I avoided people who treated me poorly. I avoided necessary boundaries. My fear was seeing someone become mean or ugly in front of me so I would unknowingly manipulate the situation by being overly nice and pleasing. Both the avoiding and the playing small killed my confidence. Once I faced the situations I was avoiding and saw people acted out, I realized it was exactly as I feared, and I could handle it just fine nevertheless.
Ugliness exists. Playing small doesn't make it go away. It just takes away our power to handle the situation as it needs to be handled. Our fears can cause us to behave like children, wanting to hide. Sometimes we have to embrace the adult in us and deal with unpleasant things head on. There's a sense of pride and power waiting for us if we do.
Embrace how things work best for you
We are an advice giving culture because it's far easier to tell others what to do than it is to focus on ourselves and figure out what we need to do. Recognize when you are looking to others for answers, permission or approval. Chances are you already know what you want to do, so why not own it and do it?
While it is easy to let others decide for us, only you have your strengths, your values, your preferences, your personality. What makes sense for others maybe won’t make sense for you and that’s ok. The same goes for taking advice from professionals. A lawyer or a therapist or a consultant are providing advice. It's up to you to decide if you want to take it or not. You are never obligated to do what others want you to do.
For example, I've coached women who want to start a business but they hate "all that social media stuff." Who says you have to do social media to run a successful business? If social media isn't your thing, what is more appealing to you and how can you embrace that instead?
It's easy to make assumptions about what we "have to do" or "should do." Challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself how the thing you want could be fun, could line up with your strengths and preferences, could be exactly as you want it if you could have it all your way. You get to decide.
There isn't one right choice
Years ago I started a photography business and hired a coaching company to help me. The biggest takeaway from my $6,000 investment was this. I was stuck waiting for the "one right choice" that would lead me to the destination I wanted.
Perfectionist thinking says there is only one way and everything else is "wrong" - and if you choose incorrectly you will "never" get there. It's frightening to be wrong when you are working toward something you desperately want and care about. But here's the truth: there isn't one right way. There is effort and discovery and learning and progress. There is no clear, certain path.
Curiosity, leaning into the mystery, enjoying the journey, dedicating yourself to the process - not the outcome - can help if you struggle with wanting certainty and the "one right answer." For me, with coaching, I made the decision to commit the next 20 years to learning to be the best coach I could. The need to know the next "right" step went away. I stopped being in a hurry and I started caring about the process more than the results.
Also, reconsider that not getting your way may actually be getting your way when it comes to the long game. You have the opportunity to embrace living the full human experience. The pain and sorrow as well as the joy and beauty. It’s all meaningful and worthwhile. In my experience the heartache can make your heart bigger and provide the growth you need for the thing you truly want. Although growth is painful, it is worth it.
Embrace your inner child with kindness
We all have a child in us. Our child (fear) will act out in moments of stress, especially when we least expect it. It will try to focus on what we can't control and indulge in shame, should's, guilt, blame, anger, insecurity, and overwhelm.
Our inner child is a normal part of being human. It comes up as a self-protection mechanism, albeit a poor one. The less aware we are, the more control our fears have over us. The key is to not judge ourselves. Once you notice, you can smile and think, "there's that cute, pesky child again. Now what do I want to do?" Rather than, "I'm so stupid, why do I always do that?" When you judge, you stay stuck and you feed that child rather than lean into the adult you.
One idea is to treat yourself as one-part best friend and one-part parent to your inner child who needs some patience and understanding. Of course we will forget. Of course old patterns will crop up again. Of course because we are human so lean into being fully human.
Laugh at the things your mind does, the things it fears, the games it plays to protect us. Tell it that it is cute and well intentioned and then give it something more useful to do instead. "Hey, I know new people freak you out and that makes sense, but help me discern between the interesting people and those that might be unkind, and then help me get curious about the people we might connect with and want in our life..."
Ultimately, realize you get to decide. That’s the beauty of being an adult. You can run your life, your business, your relationships, your home in a way that works for you when you own who you are. You don't need permission. If you are stuck overthinking, if decisions bring you stress, drop into your heart and say, I trust myself - what do I want to do? Then do it. If it doesn't turn out, take the gifts from the situation and continue to trust your head, heart, instincts and intuition. Sure, get advice but ultimately practice making the decision on your own so you can build confidence in your inner voice, without needing certainty that it will all turn out perfectly. Working with reality (the world is uncertain) is far more empowering that fighting it. As Byron Katie says, ”When you argue with reality, you lose - but only 100% of the time.“