Have you ever had one of those moments where someone asked you to do something and every fiber of your being said “don’t do it” but they convinced you to do it anyway? And it ended up being a bad decision? Or you knew what you should do in a given situation but then you asked someone else for their advice and then completely changed directions based on that advice? And then regretted it later? Or maybe you are at a place where you can’t discern if it’s your intuition talking or fear guiding your life. No worries, we’ve got solutions. Let’s talk about things that derail you and how to trust your intuition more.
Every good personal development journey should include decision-making and knowing how to trust your intuition. There are a few things that keep us from trusting our intuition. The most common of these are seeking approval, fear, and a lack of confidence in our ability to make the best decisions.
How Seeking Approval Makes it Difficult to Trust Your Intuition
Learning from others has been a staple of how we grow for as long as humans have existed. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning skills and insights from other people. But there is a distinct difference between learning something and letting your need for approval or validation control your life. If I put that into an analogy because I freakin love analogies, it might go like this:
Learning the mechanics of how to cook various dishes from people who know how to cook is a wise thing to do.
Once you have the skills to cook, allowing those people to tell you what you should have for dinner each night is a different story.
I personally believe social media has exacerbated this problem exponentially. In the aforementioned example, we take a picture of the meal we labored over, put it on social media, and anxiously await the number of likes or comments received, and then we adjust accordingly. We may never fix that meal again based on the feedback received – even if we love it! Every time we do this we demonstrate a lack of trust in our intuition, and that causes us to second-guess our decisions in every aspect of our life.
And we do this with every decision we have – clothes we wear, hairstyles, places to visit, where we work, what kind of business we start – the list is endless.
And before you know it, someone else’s opinion matters more than your own, for virtually every aspect of your life. You begin living a life others have created. You start questioning every thought you have and every decision made. And voila, welcome to anxiety.
How to Get Over The Need for Approval
The very first way to get in touch with yourself and begin to trust your intuition is to stop asking others for their opinions. This is your life and your experience. You should live this life on your terms and have your personal experiences. You might learn things the hard way. So what. At least it’s your own experience. Some people are so afraid to make a mistake, they take others’ advice so there is no personal accountability or stake in the decision.
Warning: To start gaining confidence in your own decision-making, you may need to either stop putting things on social media or stop reading the comments when you do.
Start small. This is a difficult habit to start. And here are a few easy things to incorporate a little at a time.
- When talking with friends and family, become conscious of how often you ask for advice or opinions. Notice every time you ask anything from “What do you think of my hair?” to “He hasn’t texted back, should I text him again?” Just become aware of the number of times, with whom you ask, and why you’re asking for someone else’s opinion.
- Once you are more aware of the number of times you are asking for approval, opinions, advice, etc., slowly start to ask less often. Just STOP yourself some of the time. Instead of asking someone else, get silent and ask yourself. And then LISTEN.
- Whenever you become anxious about a decision you need to make, before you pick up the phone, take a few deep breaths, pause, and ask yourself the question. The key here is to ask yourself the question as if you are asking a wise grandmother. In most cases, you have the answer within you and you just don’t immediately trust it. Listen to that wise soul you already have within.
Once you become more confident in making your own decision, you’ll start to notice that some of those people you used to ask for advice are now wondering WTF has happened and why aren’t you coming to them anymore. And then you’ll start getting unsolicited advice as you are just chatting about your life and the decisions you are making.
I wrote an entire blog post on how to handle unsolicited advice. It’s a difficult thing to handle and it can cause you to question your judgment. I mean, if others feel compelled to give you advice even when you are not asking for it, you must seriously be a complete screw-up, right?
Others often give advice because of their own fears, beliefs, and need to add value. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not your decisions are adequate.
A Personal Example
I have found that I typically don’t ask for advice when I’m doing something I feel confident about – like my work. Making decisions is effortless and easy in this context. I trust my intuition in this case because I’m confident in my abilities. My confidence in this regard can make others uncomfortable but I don’t change my behavior because, in my mind, that’s their problem and not mine.
But in my personal life, it can be a different story. When I decided to start a business, I was really insecure about it. I was asking all my friends to give me feedback on business ideas, blog posts, videos, my marketing approach, etc. Consequently, I was all over the map based on that feedback. Literally, every person had different feedback. After six months of that and honestly pursuing a business I wasn’t even that interested in, I decided to entirely chuck that business and start over. When I started this business I didn’t tell any of my friends about it, and still haven’t. I don’t want their opinions to influence me and figure I’ll find the people that my message resonates with or I’ll fail. Regardless, I’ll be the one to make the decisions.
It’s been interesting to see how this has changed some of my relationships. Sometimes I’ll get a question about how it’s going and I just respond with a “Good. Thanks for asking.” Again, my lack of asking for advice or feedback can make others feel uncomfortable but I don’t feel compelled to fix that for them.
How to Know if Fear Is Stopping You From Trusting Your Intuition
But how do you know if it’s your gut, wishful thinking, or fear that is talking to you? I feel ya, friend! This is a question I have had a bazillion times.
Let’s say I have a new employment opportunity. I’ll go through all the steps of being calm and trying to trust my intuition and then the WHATIF Monster shows up to scare the hell out of me. He screams every negative possibility at me. What if the new job sucks worse than your current job? You’re going to move someplace without knowing anyone?! What if your boss is a jerk?
And then I remember, if the decision I’m trying to make is scary enough that the WHATIF Monster shows up, that’s fear and it means I should probably go for it. At the bare minimum, I’m going to learn something – even if that something is what not to do in the future.
Related Article: How to Face Your Fears
Let’s take an easier example. I’m dating some guy who ghosts me. I can go down the rabbit hole of “Did I say or do something wrong?” or “OMG, he might be hurt and in the hospital” or I can relax and be grateful that he has shown me who he is early in the relationship. The barrage of the aforementioned questions stems from fear – you can tell by the question itself. In my gut, I know damn well the likelihood of him being in a hospital is very low. If I said or did something he didn’t like and his way of dealing with it is to ghost me – I should consider myself lucky. When I trust my intuition, I’m not connected to fear. Unless, of course, I’m in a dark alley and my intuition is telling me to get out of there.
Tips to Begin to Trust Your Intuition
I have to give credit to Marie Forleo for helping me to discover another way to know if it’s my gut or fear talking. In her book, Everything is Figure Outable, she explains it with questions:
- Do I feel expansive or contracted when I think of doing this?
- Does doing this make me feel confident and capable or less than and fearful?
- Does it make me feel energized or drained?
- Do I feel safe, understood, and respected?
Related Article: Book Review: Everything is Figuroutable
These questions are what helped me eliminate that first aforementioned business attempt. When I closed my eyes and compared the two options I had before me, one path felt like an elephant made a home on my chest. The other path felt scary as f%^* but limitless and energizing. I didn’t know what exactly it would look like, but knew I had to try.
Just like any skill, you learn to trust your intuition by practicing. The more you exercise the power, the better you will become at it. Start small by just calming down and listening to that inner voice. Like Christopher Robin told Pooh – you are much more capable than you realize.