I’ve been nurturing my relationship with myself for as long as I can remember. I started journalling religiously when I was about 13 years old. Not much has slid by me unexamined since then. I am pretty aware of my strengths, weaknesses, inclinations, inhibitions, tendencies, fears. I’ve been called “deep” for as long as I can remember. You’re always trying to put the pieces together, people would tell me. It’s true. I especially wanted to put my pieces together. I was desperate to develop a sense of self—to know who I was, what I stood for, who I was becoming. But I started off (like most young people) pretty confused about a lot of things. The easiest way to describe me during this phase is that I was highly indecisive. I didn’t know what to choose, because I didn’t know who I was. This quality changed pretty drastically recently, and after a lifelong battle with indecisiveness, I am starting to (on my good days) finally get my footing in the fight.
where self-trust comes from
Deepening my self-trust helped me figure out who I am. The cause and effect isn’t so clear, though. Because the more you trust yourself, the better you get to know yourself, and vice versa. It’s a loop. A cyclical, symbiotic relationship where both nourish each other. Knowing who you are helps you know what to do—and when you know what to do, you get a better sense of who you are. You don’t seek approval from others as much, so you rarely ask for their opinion, meaning: you care less what they think, which lets you live a life more true to yourself. Self-knowledge feeds self-trust. Self-trust feeds self-knowledge. And the more you have of both, the less you need the approval of others.
Before I had this sense of self-trust, though, I was always optimizing for optionality, keeping the “doors open.” Indecisiveness plagued me in my formative years—those years where you make the decisions that quote-unquote determine the trajectory of your life. By the way, you’re never trapped, and trajectories change all any time. If there’s anyone proving you can course-correct after making big decisions, it’s yours truly. People used to tell me this all the time, and I’d nod politely with my eyes glazed over, but I’m telling you for real. Your life isn’t determined by what you choose at 18!
reminder: as children, we trusted ourselves
In contrast with what I was like in my teenage years, I was highly decisive as a little kid—stubborn with a clear sense of self. I liked to do it my way, on my own. But at some point along the way—probably when I developed the natural self-consciousness that comes with early adulthood—I developed this intense, chronic sense of indecision. I would hesitate, decide, retract, re-decide, ask everyone else what to do, seek guidance incessantly. And people would gladly advise me because I was young, curious, and “full of potential.” Everyone had an opinion about what I should do, because everyone always has an opinion about you, especially if they care about you! This doesn’t mean that you should necessarily adopt their opinions as your own.
get future essays exploring the universal thoughts & feelings that come with being human:
I now see this was a systemic lack of self-trust. I didn’t know what to do, so I looked outside of myself instead of going inwards, which perpetuated my need to seek external approval for even the simplest decisions. Self-trust is a muscle. If you never use it, you won’t be able to make even the tiniest decision alone, let alone big ones. I used to ask people what to order at a restaurant, what to say in my email, what to buy. I’d outsource any choice I could, because decisions felt exhausting (just as lifting anything when you have no muscle to do so would!). I didn’t yet understand that chronically outsourcing decisions was making me weak. Eventually, I realized that my indecisiveness represented a deeper issue: I couldn’t hear my intuition, and when I did hear it, I didn’t trust it. My indecisiveness was a result of my poor relationship with my inner-knowing, or my “gut feelings”, which was a result of consistently prioritizing what others thought over what I thought.
outsourcing decisions doesn’t outsource responsibility
The thing about outsourcing decisions is that even when they do work out, we can’t really take full “credit” for the outcome, because it wasn’t really us who made the decision. And when decisions don’t work out, we feel all the usual anger, frustration, disappointment and angst that comes with a bad outcome, but instead of being able to reflect and improve our decision-making process by integrating the mistake, we feel trapped. We want to channel the negativity outwards, blame whoever told us to do make the decision, look away from ourselves, put the fault on some external entity. But there is no one to absorb the byproducts of our poor decision, because it belongs to us and no one else. Despite the urge to release the frustration outwards, we have to absorb it with no ability to transmute the pain into improving our intuition. We then resent ourselves for the bad decision, and we resent ourselves for not trusting ourselves enough to make it alone. Enough of these double-resentment decisions and eventually, we realize that the only sustainable way to make decisions is to source them internally. As Naval says: “If you want to make the wrong decision, ask everyone.” The right decisions come from you. Even the “wrong” decisions are the right decisions in the big picture—because we learn from them either way, and learning is winning. So, before looking outwards to seek endless inputs from others—ask yourself: what do you think?
you can’t escape the self
There is no escaping the weight of our decisions, despite how tempting outsourcing the responsibility of making them to others is. As my professor once said, “We may not know if there’s a God, but we do know there is a self—and we certainly have to answer to it.” We can’t lie to ourselves, or at least we can’t for long. We know when we’re not trusting ourselves. We know that deep down we knew better than to ignore our intuition. And we know that when we do this enough, we can numb our feelings, quiet our intuition, and avoid reflecting on how misaligned our life is. If we want, we can slowly erode our sense of self in the process of optimizing our life to match someone else’s priorities and heuristics.
only we truly know ourselves
Others might know more about the world, but we know more about ourselves. And when it comes to decisions, more important than all the knowledge or context in the universe is our own self-knowledge. Because there is no one-size-fits-all decision when it comes to life (how easy it would be if there was!). The way to live a life that works best for us comes down to understanding ourselves, and being 100% clear on what we want—what a good life is, to us. Because for all of the decision-making skill someone has, what they don’t have is our sense of inner knowing.
And by extension, this is something we ourselves can lose if we spend too much time looking beyond ourselves for answers. When we ignore our feelings for too long, those repressed emotions can begin to express themselves in our bodies in unpredictable and unpleasant ways (more on the mind-body connection another time). Our inner knowing wants to be heard! And if we let others make our decisions for us, we lose the ability to regulate and monitor ourselves. We lose the ability to know from within.
self-trust in practice
I was feeling the effects of this lately on a super micro scale when shopping with someone who I trust deeply. Everything I liked, they found a flaw with. As soon as they had expressed their view on what I was growing fond of, I immediately adopted their take and collapsed my self-trust in favour of their seemingly well-established opinion. If they have such a clear view on it, they must be right, I thought. Of course, this is not how taste works. I know what I like. Not everyone likes what I like, just as I don’t like everything that others like. This is the nature of taste! It is personal, unique, and it is made cool by it being a reflection of us. That’s why there are stores filled floor to ceiling with different kinds of books, clothes, furniture, and art which we can place in the limitless varieties of cars, homes, and cities we can choose from. We are all different—different people with different preferences, interests, and style. No one can tell us how to express ourselves “correctly”, because only we know what is truly us.
life is punctuated by decisions
This isn’t just about shopping or style, though. Our big life decisions are just us shopping for the “big aspects” of life. Our jobs, homes, partners, friends. We stylize our life with our choices. These decisions erect the core pillars that hold life together. If we look to others to answer those big questions, we end up living this confusing, incongruent mosaic of someone else’s preferences—someone else’s life! Our life can only be defined, selected for, and created by us. Any time we feel intimidated by a decision and look to someone else to make it for us, we will likely have to revamp that decision once we trust ourselves again. Our taste can only be refined by putting self-trust into practice.
listen closely, but decide from within
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t listen to the perspectives of those who have seen more, done more, and potentially know more than you. You can! Ask away! Consult, inquire, bounce ideas, listen attentively. There is a certain humility to knowing that you might not see all of the pieces on your own. But you probably do not want to let someone tell you exactly what all of the pieces are, which ones to keep, throw away, and how to fit them together. This is the synthesis of what makes up life, and that synthesis is your responsibility, because it is your life you’re putting together.
We can only get to a life of alignment—a life of full self-expression—through making our own choices. Through trusting ourselves. As freeing and temporarily relieving as it is to ask others to make our choices for us, the decisions we ultimately stick with are the ones that come from within, that might not make sense to others, but feel so right to us that we can’t imagine not making them.
strengthen self-trust through practice
Self-trust is a muscle. Like all good things, it’s built through practice: trying, failing, learning, course-correcting, integrating, proceeding. This is what it means to develop your gut. Part of committing to trusting yourself is accepting that you will err, mess up, misstep, and cultivating compassion and forgiveness for yourself when you do. When you start by thinking “I suck at making decisions, I’m going to mess up,” you are going to be waiting for your first mistake only to immediately default back to offloading the responsibility of your decisions to others. But when you understand that mistakes are inevitable (and are part of the process of training your intuition!), you can lead from a place of patience, self-compassion, and alignment. You mess up, learn, move forward with grace. You trust yourself to figure it all out.
Upon reflection, I think my early dependency on others to make big decisions was one of my many attempts to stay ahead, to avoid learning things the hard way. I wanted to bypass maturity, skip to the part where I knew everything without the pain of learning it experientially. I wanted to absorb everything apply it all before life had the chance to teach me itself.
I now see that I was missing a huge part of life’s teachings. Yes: it’s okay to learn from others, but the lessons we learn the deepest are the ones we learn through our own decisions, and yes, our own mistakes. What we learn viscerally is integrated in us indefinitely and guides us into the future! Of course, there are certain things we don’t need to learn the hard way. But trying to skip past all of the rite-of-passage-mistakes and lessons of your formative years only leaves us with a half-baked sense of self and more inner confusion than those who went through it and are wiser for it. As keen as some of us are to do life “right”, sometimes the only way to do it right is to make your own decisions. Try. Fail. Pick up the pieces. Rebuild. It’s all good, you know? You don’t need to be perfect 100% of time—or any of the time, actually. You can go through life, notice your curiosity, try out the things you like, learn from them, and over time become more true to yourself. So, absorb wisdom and listen with an open mind, but ultimately: make sure your choices are yours. There’s only one person who bears the responsibility of your life and it’s the same person who shrugs that responsibility off when it feels too heavy.. (me talking to myself).
Sometimes the only decision-making advice we need is to just decide. Make a choice. Make it yours. Lean into it. Learn from it. Move forward. Make another one. That’s all life is really—a giant sequence of decisions. And strengthening your ability to make them might just be the most worthwhile skill to practice.
When you trust yourself, you can create your own life, and look back on it knowing it was you who designed it. Your life is your taste, expressed. Your inner-knowing painting the picture of its preferences on the canvas that is your options. Every day is an opportunity to trust yourself, to be true to what you want. Surrender the need for your life to make sense to everyone else, and instead, make it make sense to you. Own your decisions, make your mistakes, grow from what you learn, lean in, and make more decisions. This is your life—might as well make sure it’s you behind the wheel :).
if you enjoyed this, you may want to get future Mind Mine essays when they’re published:
Thank you for reading! You can also find me on Twitter, in the comments here, and via my past essays. If you liked this one, you may also like comfort—an essay about intuition.
In my moments of extreme isolation, I made the connection between self confidence and action (which typically has to start with action before the self-confidence). You really captured this idea soo well in your piece. The connection between the relationship with self and decisiveness felt like a lightbulb moment.
Even knowing this, I know I get pulled back into the ocean of outsourcing my decisions but I loved what you said, "The thing about outsourcing decisions is that even when they do work out, we can’t really take full “credit” for the outcome, because it wasn’t really us who made the decision." A decision, good or bad, made in integrity with ourself is so much powerful than any decision we outsource.
You articulated so beautifully what I have always felt about my 20s but couldn't put into words! Thank you 🙏