Why It’s Hard to Trust Our Instincts and How to Start

Rock Climbing

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” ~Benjamin Spock

I was talking to a friend of mine a couple weeks ago. I was telling her how I always know when it’s time for me to move. She asked me, “How do you know? What makes you aware that you ‘know’ this?”

It was a reasonable question: What is the actual sign that indicates that you “know” to do anything?

“You just know,” I told her.

“But how?” she asked, curiously.

I didn’t really have a good answer for her at the time, but it stuck with me.

After thinking about it for awhile, I realized it’s not in the “knowing” that we get stuck. We always know. It’s in how well we trust what we know, and whether we’re willing to trust it enough to act upon it.

So, how do you know that you “know” something?

Well, let me ask you this: How did you know that you were going to marry the person you married, or take the job you were offered, or go see the new doctor you read about?

What made you decide that this was the right decision for you? What made you “know” that the house you bought was the right one for you or the apartment you chose to rent was the perfect spot for you?

It’s intangible, isn’t it? It’s a feeling. You know, and then you “know” that you know.

Or, how do you know when it’s time to end a relationship? Or when it’s time to move on from a friendship that is no longer serving you? Even if it’s been one you’ve been with for a long time?

I’m going to say it: usually, you know.

Most often, it’s not the “knowing” that is the case. It’s the trusting.

Trusting that our assessment is accurate, that our feelings are valid, that our observations are not all in our head. Trusting that we know what is true for us. And then trusting that we have enough courage to take action on what we know.

We often doubt ourselves. We wonder “What if I’m wrong? What if something better doesn’t come along? What if it’s not the right time? What if…?”

So, what to do?

My feeling about it is this: We always know what is going on with us, but fear has the opportunity to creep in when we second guess ourselves.

So, when I get stuck in a particular situation, I always ask myself this question:

“I know what I don’t know. But what is it that I do know?”

Then I usually go into a litany of what I actually know, either because circumstances have proven it in the past or because of a logical conclusion:

I know that I can never make a wrong decision because I can always “right” my decision down the line. I know that this is an opportunity that is presenting itself now, which means on some level I am ready for it.

I know that I can try it out for awhile and see what it’s like. I know that I can always change my mind if I want to. I know that in making a decision, I will propel movement, either way, and change is good. I know that things always work out for me, regardless of what happens. The list goes on and on.

There are a few things we know. Always. And we can stand by them.

So, what is it that stops us, really, from trusting ourselves?

That we’ve made wrong decisions in the past? That some of our decisions have caused us pain or misfortune and we are afraid of our judgment? That we don’t know what the outcome will be and so if we can’t predict it, why risk it?

What is it?

Because even these argument we can dispel. We are a result of all we have lived. Every experience we’ve had contributes to the people we are today. And this is not all bad. We stand at the precipice of new beginnings, right now. Life is full of second chances.

So, the question is not if we’ve made poor decisions in the past. Undoubtedly, all of us have!

The question is: How willing we are to get up to the plate and swing again? Make a new decision, have a new experience, try something new?

Trusting yourself is a practice, but you can’t get the practice if you don’t start somewhere. How is it that you gain trust of anyone in your life?  Time. Watching whether they do what they say they’re going to do. Consistency. Faith.

So, start with yourself. Build the kind of trust in yourself that you would want in a good friend. Make a decision, stick to it. See what happens.

Someone once pointed it out to me that choices are “strategies.” They’re not right or wrong, good or bad. They simply either work or don’t for the time being.

And when they don’t, you can always choose a new “strategy.”

In either case, it starts with us. Are we willing to take the bet on ourselves that we “know”—that it’s time, or that it’s ours, or that we need to take the risk and just go for it?

That’s what it takes.

Trust in our truth. Faith in ourselves. And a little bit of surrender.

Photo by b.mune

About Sonya Derian

Sonya Derian is the owner and founder of Om Freely, a company dedicated to helping people live out loud, tap into their power, and transform their lives. To pick up your free ebook: Om Freely: 30 Ways to Live Out Loud, please visit . Or check out her online store at:

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  • Great post, Sonya!
    Learning to trust yourself is one of the first steps to achieving amazing things in this life. Acting quickly when you are inspired or just “have a feeling” is always the right thing to do. You will always gain experience, and that helps you grow.
    My advice to anyone the next time they are in a position to make a judgment call? “Trust your gut!”

  • This is a great post! I know I need to quit my job, not just for the sake of moving on, but for the sake of sanity; however, I cannot consciously trust my gut on this one. If the question were posed, “Do you feel that your job impacts your overall health and wellbeing?” the answer would be overwhelmingly, “YES” – but in the economy, that's not enough. Times are so unfortunately difficult for so many right now.
    Thank you for this great post! 🙂

  • Love2laugh25

    Intuition is a very powerful tool in our lives, if we choose to listen to that little voice. Sometimes we have to combine intuition with planning – and that's where it gets tricky. But keeping that little voice talking and making positive moves toward what we know is right is always going to work out, whether it's a sudden change or decision, or one that takes more preparation. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Janine

    You've summed it up perfectly! Your wise words are timely and have given me much thought to ponder… thank you!

  • Tony Applebaum

    Wow. Wonderful. I have been aware of my lack of trust for a long time. You helped me gain a bit more today.

  • Sonya Derian

    So glad to hear that! Yes, trust takes time to build. But trust in ourselves is paramount.

  • Excellent. Thank you.

  • I really needed to hear this, I am on the brink of leaving a 21 year relationship and am very uncertain of my future and fears keep cropping up, even though everyone says its the right decision, I keep second guessing myself. I need to re-read this a few more times!

  • Sonya Derian

    Yes! Intuition is key. That still small voice that knows. And knows that it knows. The courage is in following it.

  • Karen

    I think that when you know something, it 'sits right'. It feels right. It feels comfortable.

  • Sonya

    I'm right with you, Mike!

  • letitbe

    Your statement about combining intuition WITH planning really resonated with me. Thank you : ) I am facing some big decisions and changes and feel overwhelmed but planning and making postive moves toward what my intuition is telling me makes is seem less daunting and scary. THANK YOU !!

  • letitbe

    Wonderful post, could not have come at a better time for me. I will be revisiting this one frequently. Thank you : )

  • though most of the time i feel confident about my decisions, secretly i also often second-guess myself. Your post really brighten my day =)

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  • Jeffrey Lapointe

    Wonderfully said. Do you have any comment on fear and how it seems to have more sticky factor as we get older? The fearless 20's, the awakening 30's, the responsible 40's etc. Somewhere do we associate consistency and habit with security which turns into fear in the midst of change or 'knowing'? Would love to hear others comments on 'acting on knowing'. Thanks. Jeff

  • Rachael

    Thank you! 🙂

  • Papabear7373

    Trust. We get there when we are honest with our feelings.

  • Ace post!

    Thanks for reminding me that sometimes I really do know best! I’ve followed my instincts for many years but I have a question relevant to my situation:

    How do I point out to others that I know what’s best for me? How do I bring them round to seeing this?


  • I can’t explain how spot on this article feels to my life right now. I’m going through major transitions in my life and some people might consider them to be sudden and drastic. It’s hard to explain when you “just know” something to be true. That’s all you can say sometimes because you do simply, “just know.”

  • Sonya Derian

    I think it’s a good question Jeffrey. I think we can get into habits of thought and behavior that then lends itself to a sort of comfort zone. For me, it helps to establish a relationship with that knowing part of myself. It’s hard to act on it or trust it or have faith in the future of it when we’re out of practice. Like anything, a relationship with our ‘knowing’ needs to be developed and honored. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to start. For me, trusting my ‘knowing’ has to do with Trusting the broader part of me that knows who I am, what I’m worth, what I’m capable of. And not just trusting it, but acting on it. Like, ‘knowing’ when it’s time to leave a job (when I’ve outgrown it); ‘knowing’ when a particular relationship might not serve me any longer; ‘knowing’ when it’s time to make a move. Usually something propels me, it is brought to my attention in some way. And when that happens, I know that if I don’t act on it, there will be dissonance. And I have to choose between the dissonance of the situation I’m in that I know is time to leave, or the dissonance of my being out of alignment with my knowing. Either way, I pay a price. And I usually choose staying in alignment with my ‘knowing’, because that strengthens my relationship to it, and it has never steered me wrong. Make sense? And regarding the topic of FEAR, I recently heard a great acronym for it. Face Everything and Recover. Life is one big experience of trust and surrender, isn’t it?

  • Sonya

    You don’t have to point out to others what is best for you. You don’t need to bring them around to seeing your point. You just have to go along your way, and by example, the fact that you’re happy, or doing what you love to be doing, or growing in leaps and bounds in creative ways, they’ll get it. After they watch you enough times trusting your gut and landing on your feet, you won’t need to point out that it’s what is best for you. They’ll get it.

    We lead by example. Kudos to you. Keep on keeping on. 🙂

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  • Lannie

    Very timely! Thank you!!!

    Why has it been easier for me to trust others over myself? It’s now time to be a friend to myself – a very good place to start 🙂

    Thank you sooo much again 🙂

  • Motikajituladhar

    I agree with your idea about combing intution with planning and making positive moves that gives result of right direction

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  • mystic

    It is great post.. it is wisdom which possibly we know all along but find it hard to practice.. I think sometimes we have to believe in ourselves and our intution much more than circumstances.. As rightly pointed out and which is great articulation : ” how willing we are to get up to the plate and swing again ” this is key…how many of really gather this courage !

  • Fastfingers

    Hi: How did that go? Do you feel you did the right thing? I am on the brink of leaving a 30 year relationship and “uncertainty” is an understatement. Please let me know how you are faring with your choice.

  • Sharon_queenofall

    YOu couldn’t have decided on this when he was still near his parents. Do you hate him that much?

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  • Andrea

    I am writing this on my whiteboard now.  “Trust in our truth. Faith in ourselves. And a little bit of surrender.”  So true.  Wonderful message.  Thank you.

  • This could not have come at a better time. The moment I decide to surrender, that is the moment I also start rebelling and doing the exact same things I want to change. Then I surrender again and I decide to sabotage it, because it’s too good to be true.

    So I decide to remain unorganized and ignore what my intuition is loud and clear with me.

    What EXACTLY do I fear? Obviously I lack courage, and I wonder what makes me afraid of it?

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  • Wonderful! Thank you sincerely! “I know that I can try it out for awhile and see what it’s like. I know that I can always change my mind if I want to. I know that in making a decision, I will propel movement, either way, and change is good. I know that things always work out for me, regardless of what happens. The list goes on and on.” _/_ Amituofo

  • Anonymous

    I always get gut feelings which turn out to be right, but other people aren’t as keen to believe it’s more than a coincidence. For example, my boyfriend of 3 years up and left me last summer because he felt he needed a break from the relationship, and everyone kept telling me to move on because chances are he wasn’t coming back. I waited, however, because I just had a feeling in my gut that it wasn’t the end of the relationship so I waited it out, and he came back after a couple of weeks saying he couldn’t live without me, and we’ve been much happier together ever since then. Same thing when it came to moving. My parents were always looking at different houses and none of them felt right to me for some reason I couldn’t explain, yet when my parents showed us the one we currently live in, it just felt right. You can’t describe it but nevertheless it’s there, and I don’t think it’s always in the instance of a so-called “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

  • I agree we do a have a good feeling, but sometimes we ignore ourselves. I can not tell you how many times I have been driving and something tells me to not speed at that time.

    Right as I make that decision, the cops drive by or there is one running radar.

    To bring this back to relationships. I think we take a chance on love sometimes. We are burned, but we learn.

  • kavin paker

    Do you mean that your life was better for giving up on the goal? If so,
    and you felt you weren’t ready for it, then it sounds like you made the
    right decision for you!

  • kavin paker

    I found it really touching as well. As a recovering perfectionist, I
    know that pressure all too well–and what a relief it is to let it go!

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  • Andrew

    This is a good post for sure.
    I believe there is more to it than trusting instincts or gut though.
    Personal capacity and intelligence plays an enormous part in trusting yourself.
    I see many people trust their judgement when they really should be thinking things through more carefully and/or seeking the advice of better equipped people.
    An individual who is personally bankrupt has very little raw material to make any good decisions with and quickly learns through experience not to trust themselves.
    I think this post is good for those who can relate to it but it isnt the big picture.

  • Kirby

    I believe intuition is a kind of telekinesis

  • Joshua

    This is exactly it. I “know” this to be true. It’s led me to many good things. Now, I need to continue along this path.

  • ralphylad

    Let me tell you that listening to that inner voice is not always the best thing or perhaps it is, its just how we interpret that information. I think Andrew hit nail on head with his comment on learning not to trust yourself especially as he says his personally bankrupt such times of extreme pressure, stress, anxiety or depression. Careful planing with close family and friends and weighing up the situation and taking the one with the least risk is usually the safest. We will tend to steer towards what we really want anyway, but sometimes it can turn out that what we get isn’t really what is best for us, when the fear calms and we get our head straight. Ego and Fear have a huge part to play in this I feel and we can sometimes mistakenly interpret these and twist it to what we think we need.
    If you a scared, angry or stressed no matter how much you think you need to make a decision it is always best to just stay put where you are until you calm down and re-assess later. I was badly burned for listening to me ego when I should have been listening to family members, I was so far gone that intuition never even got a look in, although I can see in hindsight that it was trying to protect me somehow.