I didn’t know that I didn’t trust my intuition (gut feeling, inner voice, inner child, essential self, etc.) for a long time. I thought I did and made decisions from a ‘gut’ feeling, but only after asking everyone I knew and taking their advice or straight up just following what they were doing.
When I was deciding which college to go to, the choice was simple – the same one as my best friend. I didn’t even apply to other schools. In the end, she went to a different college and I went off to school alone wishing I had other options (though I don’t have any regrets about my time there; I ended up loving it!). I had been in the top 5% of my high school class, making straight A’s in AP classes – I could have gone almost anywhere. But I was scared and didn’t trust my decision-making skills.
At 23 I married my (male) best friend, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do – marry your best friend? I wasn’t in love with him and knew in my gut that I shouldn’t be getting married, but I told myself that I cared about him and I’d fall in love with more time together, and I didn’t want to break his heart or mine. So when love hit me over the head for real, effortlessly with someone else a year later, I realized, “Ohhhhh…this is what it’s supposed to feel like,” quickly followed by, “Shit, I have to get a divorce.” If I’d listened to my inner voice a year earlier, I could have saved us both a lot of heartache instead of kicking it down the road.
This is not to say all my decisions suck and I never trust myself, but it’s taken some effort and a lot of hurt and disappointment. I’ve had good luck and bad, listening to myself off and on, through the years, but a 2011 cancer diagnosis was an unexpected wake-up call that forced me to listen to my body and who I really am. Since then, I’ve become much more in tune with my badass self and started following my inner voice a lot more closely.
Life Coach training has taught me how to distinguish that voice from all the others. At first I wasn’t sure I understood exactly what part of me was my inner voice. My inner critic (that super critical voice that tells you you suck) is pretty loud and would like me to know that she’s in charge and is, therefore, also my inner voice. But she’s not, she’s just a loudmouth who tells me what a fuck up I can be. I make her sit in the back of my imaginary Life car, while I drive instead. She has to stay buckled up, hands to herself, and no, I don’t stop just because she flips her shit sometimes (ok, a LOT).
No, my quiet inner voice is the one that just knows. When I meditate, I find it. Rather, it finds me. I can hear it more clearly. I can also hear it very clearly when I’m sick and my defenses are down. I know exactly what I do and don’t want to eat, if I want to go somewhere, or if I just need to sleep for three days. My inner voice knows.
So how did I find this part of myself and learn to trust amidst the ranting’s of an inner critic, and the voices of everyone else I let make decisions for me?
- I had to realize there was a problem. I took a wonderful course called The Integrity Cleanse with Martha Beck and she asked us to meditate and check in with our inner voices (she calls it the essential self) daily to see how they are and what they need.. We envisioned this as a 3-5 year old version of ourselves. Well, when I would check in with mine, she’d usually be flipping out a little – scared, anxious, dodgy. I’d talk to her and try to help her calm down, but she wouldn’t hear it. So I asked if she trusted me and she said no. I was stunned. The sweet, innocent, soul part of me didn’t trust the rest of me. How could this be? Then I got to thinking about big decisions I’d made, how I constantly consult others and act on what they think I should do instead of my inner wisdom, and I realized that OF COURSE I don’t trust myself – I’m constantly looking outside instead of inside for answers.
- I had to start small. I started making very tiny promises to myself and working very hard to keep them. It might be to write for five minutes one day, and to get ice cream the next, but I made them and kept them. When I forgot, I apologized, made it right, and didn’t beat myself up about it. Having self-compassion by not being awful to myself about messing up went a long way. By starting small, I was able to continually make better and better promises to myself and actually keep them. The more promises I kept, the more clear my inner voice became, and the better I felt.
- I meditated regularly. I realized that connecting to that part of me was super important as I moved forward with my life. So I started connecting with myself every day, even if it was just for a few minutes. When I get completely alone and totally quiet is when I hear myself best. Sometimes I just say “thank you” and give myself a hug. Other times I just want to bliss out for an hour, so I do!
This extremely simple process has absolutely changed my life in the last year. I listen to myself more often. I trust myself, my decision-making, and my capabilities more. I’m more aware of myself than ever before.
Trusting ourselves is the soil where we blossom and grow. Without it, we scatter to the winds of others’ opinions and demands. Stop and listen to your voice. What is it saying to you?