To Trust or Not To Trust?

27 July, 2016

How trusting of yourself, others, and life are you, really?

I’ve learned a great deal about courage over the years.   I used to believe that courage was a bit like confidence, that you either had it or you didn’t.  Sometimes you were courageous and other times not, like confidence.  Thanks to the amazing research and work of Brene Brown (among others I’ve learned from - Tara Brach, Marianne Elliot) I now understand that courage has little to do with confidence and a lot to do with fear. 

In NLP we call courage a “meta-state” which means it can only be present in the existence of another,  primary state.  In courage’s case this is primary state is fear.  You can’t have courage without the presence of fear first, otherwise it’s not courage, it’s just an every day act.  You can only perform courageous acts in the face of fear.   If you don’t believe me please (as I encourage most of my clients) look up the research of Brene Brown.  Or, even more poignant, do your own research right now:  think of a time you can honestly say you acted courageously – spoke up at work, moved to a new country, hung in there with a health probelm….  Now notice that just before you did that, you were afraid.

This is really interesting because, if we look at the application of NLP at a very basic level, we are aiming to help someone move from unpleasant states of being – anger, resentment, guilt, shame etc., into feeling and acting from more useful and pleasant states – happiness, joy, compassion, peace etc.  If someone wants help with being more courageous in their lives however, we need to get them comfortable with feeling the less-than-pleasant state of fear.  

In my recent work on both myself and with my clients, I’ve come to view trust in a similar vein.  The majority of my work I would say is focused on helping people with anxiety in various forms.  The basis of anxiety is of course fear, and it’s very hard to be anxious and trusting at the same time.  Being anxious about the future is naturally an un-trusting state if you think about it: there’s something around the corner which may happen,  that something is bad, and you don’t know how you’ll cope.

Now, most people want to learn to trust.  To trust life, to trust themselves, to trust themselves to handle what may occur in life, to trust others.  How do you help someone go from an un-trusting state to a trusting one?  Tricky eh.

I’ve come to think of trust also as a meta-state, or at least a meta-action (as trust is not a thing, it’s an action, something you do  – trusting).   And it’s not meta to fear, as fear can’t ignite trust as it does courage.  The primary state I’ve come to believe is there is actually uncertainty.  You see, so many people are afraid of trusting in case it “doesn’t work out”.  And I’m not talking silly business here, like trusting an unfaithful partner who hasn’t proved themselves trustworthy at all.  But people assume that to master the act of trusting things have to be stable first, and, certain.  Like  you can only trust when you’re certain that things are going to work out., when life is stable, peaceful then I can trust it. What I have found, in fact, that this would be like trying to have courage when there is no fear, which is meaningless.

So practicing trusting almost always needs to be done with things are in fact, uncertain (as, life is, don’t you find?).  We need to get really comfortable with uncertainty so we can learn how to practice trusting.  For it’s the process of trusting that’s important, that is actually the outcome, not the outcome itself. I trust my husband completely, he’s demonstrated his worthiness of being trusted time and time again.  Can I be 100% certain he won’t fall in love with someone else and leave me?  No.  Because who knows what life may present to us and him that might change those circumstances.  What’s important is in the face of that uncertainty, I can still trust him in this present moment and that’s my goal, rather than trying to control future events.

This gets so tricky when we think of trusting the most important person in the world: ourselves. Because so often, for many of us, we have a history of letting ourselves down (as I say this, please be aware that this is most often a perception we have of ourselves, rather than a reality).  We haven’t met our own expectations, lived up to or performed to our own standards.  Our nervous system doesn’t always do what we’d like it to do, we’re not always in the mood that we want, and it feels unstable in there sometimes – like we can’t quite rely on ourselves for the very basics: how can I trust myself when I so often get it wrong?  

The simple answer is you have to learn to trust yourself in the face of uncertainty, because life is uncertain.  And the other option is worry – and worry is a pathway we do not want to go down.  And, if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?!  Trusting is a bit of a path to letting go of control, something most of us find hard to do.  It’s worth it though. Let’s give it a try!

Here’s a nice little pattern break exercise for you:
  1. Notice an area of life where either you recognise trust is difficult, or you know there is anxiety and/or worry.  It could be sleep, performance at work, whether you will heal from a health problem, whether your new business idea will succeed….
  2. Ask yourself: what’s the actual uncertainty here?  What is it that if I were certain of, it would take away that anxiety/worry?  
  3. Then ask yourself:  what CAN I trust in the face of this uncertainty?  This may include being able to recover or bounce back if things don’t go according to the “ideal plan”.
As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.  Leave a note and let’s chat.

Coaching & Supervision

Life Coaching is about finding out what is right for you in your life and getting you there. It can be transformative and is not always about 'transformation' ...more


Training is about creating an environment where learning and implementing new skills is easy. We have a personal and professional touch ...more

Leadership Coaching

Leadership Coaching is about ensuring you are continuously developing your toolset, mindset and skillset, in order to deliver the best possible ...more