Fear vs. Instincts: How To Know When To Trust Yourself
When I was growing up my parents would tell me that it was really important that I trusted my instincts. “Learn to trust your instincts,” they would say when I came to them to solve a problem. Or even better, “What do you think?” they would ask when I wanted guidance. Contextually I think my parents wanted me to learn to trust myself—to not follow the leader or get into trouble by trusting someone else’s values over my own.
As we move into adulthood and start designing our own lives, trusting our instincts becomes even more important. However, this can get confusing when we are dealing with fear and triggers. See when we are little, we are baby sponges—we are clean slates that are taking in everything around us and we are forming our nervous system, values, beliefs and boundaries. By the time we are thirty or forty years-old we have a lot of things that have shaped us—and so trusting ourselves to know the difference between our instincts and our fears and triggers becomes challenging.
This is why we have to do our work—and when I say work, I mean taking time to truly evaluate our intentions, our values, our desires and our fears so that we can have them work together for us instead of against us. Patterns become really important and noticing those patterns and evaluating them becomes imperative to us moving forward on anything.
On Saturday I went to get ice cream with a new friend and we walked around for awhile. He asked me about projects I was working on and I told him about a big crazy development project that keeps falling into my lap. We ran into the deputy mayor of the city in the ice cream shop and when I updated him on some things I said, “Well I am not a developer so it seems kind of crazy to take on a project of this scale”. “Well but once you’ve done it once then you’ve done it, and then you’re a developer,” he replied. Touché . In that comment he hit my trigger—a challenge—one I could conquer—his thoughts intrigued me.
My friend asked me what I was feeling about the project and I told him I have no idea. I have had mixed feelings about the entire thing and I am doing my best to make sense of it but really important people want updates and I just want to make sure I know what I am getting into before I dive in. “So what are you going to do?” he asked. “Nothing,” I replied. “I’ve learned when you don’t know its best to do nothing”.
We talk a lot about growth in the coaching industry—the concept of moving toward your most ideal self—your best self. My greatest skill is to take everything in someone’s mind and paint a very clear, organized and directional picture of what they’re thinking and feeling. It’s something I honed as a child, in my own grief healing and in my 10,000 hours in high stake environments solving problems. But sometimes the problem doesn’t need to be solved. Sometimes we have to do nothing in order to get accurate information on how to move forward.
I talk about this a lot in this space; fear is there to help us. Truly, your fear is a mechanism that is inside of you for safety. As humans have developed from hunters and gatherers that fear mechanism has not evolved. So when your system sees “danger” or a “threat to your stability” it believes it needs to freeze, fight or flee. But stability and safety are completely different concepts in the modern age. If I have had my heart broken and I meet someone new and all of my excitement and positive emotionally triggers go off and I really start to like them you better believe fear will be right behind those feelings telling me how dangerous it is to fall in love. That is fear’s job.
When we choose to do nothing, when we choose to rest on an issue or lay it down for awhile (this can also be an argument or a discussion about something serious or meaningful with people you care about), when we lay that thing down for awhile we allow our system to recalibrate. We give fear a chance to say its peace without having to shout at us that we are in danger. We give our instincts a minute to take in the data—our surroundings, recognizing what we are feeling as a trigger or old pattern or an actual legitimate concern about the situation.
In this process, communication is imperative to our success. Both with ourselves and with the people that are in our lives. Taking time and breaks can be alarming to people if we don’t communicate. To move our relationships to a greater state of understanding and trust we must communicate about our own triggers, fears and instincts so that the other person can see us and understand. Setting limits is also really helpful. “Stuck” can be a state you end up staying in forever—flipping through another episode of something on Netflix or drinking another beer to avoid the fear. So setting time limits on our “mental breaks” can help us create a system that sets us up for success.
Growth is not always about doing something, it is not always about evolving rapidly toward our best selves. It is about feeling like our best selves—it is about creating environments where we thrive and can be joyful and steady. And it is about allowing ourselves space to heal from our hardships so that when we re-enter the world and start to take chances again, we have the data that can help inform our next steps.
So how do you start honing your instincts and really knowing what feelings to trust? It starts with discipline. It starts with creating systems that allow you to feel the way you want to feel and function at your highest capacity. A chaotic schedule with no systems and no discipline will leave you feeling chaotic and out of control. It also starts with keeping your promises to yourself. Every single time I go back on a promise I have made to myself it sets me back. It means I am also not going to be able to respect the boundaries of others and that I am not going to demand that others respect the boundaries I put in place for my relationships to thrive. Self respect is the one thing you must develop if you want to achieve your goals.
I want you to think about one thing that you can add to your morning that will help you create discipline. Is it always drinking that 8oz of water before doing anything else? Is it writing down an intention for the day? Saying a prayer? Ten minutes of stretching? What would you enjoy doing first thing in the morning? I want you to commit to that for 30 days. Yes! Do it every single day for 30 days.
Next I want you to think about the last time you trusted your “instincts” (that feeling in your gut and chest) and it was right. What was in place? How did you know to trust it? How did that feel to be right? What did you gain from trusting yourself?
When is a time that fear kept you from really experiencing or doing something that was actually aligned with your values, your intentions and your vision for your life? How did it feel to let fear win? How is this different than the time you trusted your instincts? What was in place that allowed fear to dominate? What would you have done differently?
What is something you’ve been chewing on for awhile, a thing that keeps showing up but you aren’t sure if you really want to do it or engage or move forward? What is in the way of you knowing what to do or taking action? Set a date in the future (could be tomorrow, the end of the week, end of the month) where you are going to revisit this thing and look at the data again and see what comes up. Put that date on your calendar and figure out what you need to do to prepare to evaluate that thing again at that time.
Our feelings and our experiences are data. They are a true gift and roadmap to feeling like your best self. The better you can understand your own data the better you will feel out in the world trying to make things happen for your life.