Who can you trust? Why the hardest trust to earn is your own

by | Feb 10, 2009

iStock_000004588999XSmall.jpgTrust can be a problem for accidental entrepreneurs, have you noticed?

We may worry about whether a bookkeeper is honest, a website designer competent, or a client happy.

Many of us also worry about how we come across. What does the bookkeeper think about how we spend our money? Is our web designer rolling her eyes when we phone with a question? What will our clients think when we raise our fees or change our schedules?

But trust is hardest to earn in the most important relationship of all: the relationship we have with ourselves.

Why Is Self-Trust So Elusive?

Some say we don’t trust ourselves because we’re neurotic. For all I know, that’s true. But it certainly isn’t the whole story.

I suggest one big reason it’s hard to trust ourselves is that we are less careful about the commitments we make to ourselves than we are about the commitments we make to others. When it comes to the promises we make ourselves, we can be pretty casual. It’s easy to make casual promises to ourselves. We assume that if we think we want something, we actually do. We don’t take the time to check in and see if what we are saying and intending is more than a passing fancy.

When we’re not fully aware of a commitment we make to ourselves, we can’t know whether or not we’ve lived up to it.

Because trust grows from a history of commitments made and kept, this leaves us without a basis for mature trust.

The result is that familiar rebound from dewy eyed naive trust (I declare I will do this; let it be so!) and rampant self criticism. (I think you know what that sounds like.

Complicating matters, we may grant or withdraw trust from ourselves according to unexamined standards.

If you’ve been trying to lose the same 10 pounds for ten years, it’s likely that you don’t really believe in the value system that would make it a priority. But until you realize that, you’re going to live as though you can’t trust yourself to eat in a healthy way.

What makes a promise a promise?

The commitments or promises that we honor have several characteristics.

  • We’re paying attention when we make the promise.
  • It’s clear when the promise is made what keeping it will look like.
  • The promise is grounded in our own standards and values.
  • We consciously acknowledge that the promise has been kept.

1. Paying attention
Paying attention means being aware of any reservations, complications, or other limits that could keep you from keeping a promise.

Do you actually have the time, resources, competence, and sincere desire to keep this promise?

When we make promises on the fly or under pressure with out considering the inner and outer circumstances, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

2. Clear, stable expectations
We tend to keep promises based on clear, stable expectations. For one thing, it’s easy to tell when the commitment is complete.

When the terms of a promise change without notice, it’s impossible to know that we’ve kept the commitment.

For example, you might commit to rewriting the home page of your website by the end of the week. On Friday morning, your rewrite is complete.

You send the copy to your mastermind buddies, and by mid-afternoon you’ve got some feedback. As you read their comments and suggestions, you start feeling sad and irritable. You don’t notice that you kept your promise, only that you have fallen short of some standard that was not stated when the promise was made.

3. Standards and values—yours
We have a natural tendency—a desire—to keep promises that are grounded in our own standards and values.

Oddly, we may be more inclined to apply other people’s standards and values to the promises we make ourselves and to the promises we make others. Perhaps that’s a natural consequence of low self-trust. If you don’t trust yourself, it makes sense to use someone else’s ideas of what you should do and how to measure success.

For example, you meet your revenue goal for the month, but you downplay it when you hear a business guru preaching about audacious goals. Suddenly your accomplishment seems measly. You are disappointed in yourself, even though audacity had nothing to do with your intentions.

(I claim that any revenue goal is an audacious goal. Most of us carries so much baggage around money, charging for our work, and getting paid, that to articulate a revenue goal is a courageous and audacious act regardless of the amount. Further, it takes true integrity to set a goal that feels right for you instead of bowing to pressure from success gurus whose lives you wouldn’t want to live anyway.)

4. Conscious completion
We automatically track the trust that others earn when they keep their commitments to us. We look forward to patronizing the merchant who goes out of their way to serve us. We avoid doing business with people who broke an agreement.

When it comes to self-trust, we’re often much better at tracking our supposed failings than we are at affirming the many times we come through for ourselves. This robs us of a history of completed commitments. We begin to doubt ourselves. What’s more, self-doubt doesn’t feel unusual. It just feels true.

Getting to self trust

Self trust, like the trust we grant others, depends on a history of agreements, promises, or commitments made and kept or honorably renegotiated. Though it may feel unnatural at first, you can build authentic self trust by doing a quick inventory when you feel self-doubt or mistrust.

This inventory can be very simple.

First, make room for the feelings of doubt, mistrust, and disappointment. It’s perfectly all right for these feelings to show up.

Ask yourself what caused these emotions. In what way do you feel you let yourself down? Again, make room for what ever comes. There’s no need to debate here.

Now check to see if you made a conscious, attentive promise to yourself. Next, see if you can identify clear, stable expectations for what keeping the promise would have looked like.

Keep making room for any discomfort. This is not about how flawed you are. It’s about exercising new muscles.

When you have identified the promise and the expectations (such as they may be), check to see if the promise came from your own standards and values.

Finally, notice any aspects of the promise that you lived up to.

It’s useful to to take notes in a journal as you inventory promises you’ve made yourself. It takes time to develop new habits of thought. It can be easy to think you haven’t made any progress. But when you review your journal you’ll find you can do the inventory much faster and the emotional charge attached to self-trust and self-doubt is less.

In time, you will have the freedom to choose to trust yourself even when monkey mind tells you otherwise.
Image by Maya Kovacheva via istockphoto.com