“Trust yourself.” This is a piece of advice we've all heard over and over again. Despite being cliché, this advice undoubtedly comes from an incredibly well-meaning place. And when we understand it as another way of expressing reassurance, a way of saying something like, "You got this. I know you can do it,” the mantra to "trust yourself" can be quite helpful.
But on its own, the prepackaged “trust yourself” message is all too often a flop ... even when we say it to ourselves. There’s a way of approaching the desire for change in our lives that is actually much more powerful and potent than simply existing in a state of trust and surrender. The following teaching is one that has been powerfully transformative in my own life, and in the lives of so many people I know.
Now here it is: don’t just trust it, but test it.
What do I mean by that? Well, don't simply accept that your beliefs should be trusted. Test them. Get curious about them.
Sure, trust is a component of experimentation. But here are a few tips to help you learn to actually test your beliefs to make change.
1. Get in touch with the power of baby steps.
Trusting that we can do something can be a bigger leap than we’re ready for. Especially given that we often think of the change that we want to make in our lives in the abstract. But testing it out, on the other hand, means we can approach the desired change in increments, as if following a recipe. We take things one step at a time. And as we go, we build the knowledge that we can do it.
This is an approach I’ve begun to love. I spent a lot of my life waiting. I thought that in order to do something I had to be good at it. I had to trust that I’d excel and do really well. So I didn’t do very much. I said ‘no’ to invitations. Backed out of snow shoeing, skiing, sailing, swimming at the lake, diving into the ocean. Today, sailing, skiing, swimming in the lake, diving in the ocean — they’re all part of my regular life. Moments of such joy that I would never have experienced if I’d waited until I trusted myself enough to do them.
2. Know that it's OK if you're not great at something right away.
A lot of us have this idea that we need to be good at something ... and that to do something and not be good at it is terrible, a waste of time.
But here's the thing. This is a belief we grew to internalize throughout life, not something innate. Think about it: give a kid a bike and they’ll learn to ride it — falling over, skinning their knees, and getting back up again. Give an adult a bike and they’ll think to themselves, I should know how to do this already. I don’t want other people to see me fall. They might never even get on the bike, crippled by pre-emptive self-doubt that they should already be good at it already.
When we drop the pressure to trust that we’ll be great, and begin to let ourselves test things out, we move from a self-judgement mentality to a curiosity mentality. We go from I should be great at this. to a state of curiosity: Hm. I wonder how this will go?!
And, one try at a time, we get better.
3. Recognize there's nothing wrong with "failure."
A powerful leadership coach who I love named Steve Chandler once said this: “Failing isn’t something that will happen to you, failing is how you will get there.” In other words: we test it out, we mess up, we fall down, we get back up, and we try again. Until one day we soar.
When we see failure not as something that means it’s not meant to happen but as something that is just a part of getting there, we understand the powerful truth that we already have what it takes. We just need to keep going — just like sports teams can get better each time they play a game IF they’re open to seeing their missteps as opportunities to learn.
Now, let me tell you a story ...
Jeffrey was a guy with a dream. He wanted to play music. In fact, he had wanted to play music for most of his life. But instead he’d done what so many of us do: chosen a career with security, time off over the summer, and good benefits. As the years in his job increased, his health and happiness decreased. He began to experience very high stress levels, anxiety, and depression. His body was aching, too — nearly always in pain. He rarely played music.
Then something happened that caused Jeffrey to rethink things. He began to think that the dream he’d been chasing — the one with the job security, time off over the summer and stability — might not be going to pan out. And he began to wonder: what had it all been for?
He started to dream of playing music. But he didn’t trust that he could do it.
So I invited him to try a different approach: testing it.
Just a few weeks after he began to play music with friends Jeffrey booked his first paying gig. It took no time at all. Then he booked another one. Then he picked up a new instrument and learned it in two months. Other musicians began to comment on how great a player he was. Jeffrey’s next project is to release an EP. “Maybe it’ll even be a full LP,” he says. And I can hear the grin on his face.
Testing instead of waiting for the trust to come is a muscle I still strengthen in myself. And it’s one you can strengthen in yourself, too. One small step at a time. Until eventually, you don’t have to try to trust that you can do it. You know you can.