This is the first of three blogs on self-reliance which relate directly to a series of workshops I delivered at the University of Warwick earlier this year. There are many reasons that I was drawn to research self-reliance. I wanted to develop my personal resilience; find an approach that would help me and others to bring our biggest dreams to life; and find ways to start to trust myself and to somehow tap into the resource that I have inside of me.
In essence, self-reliance is about having the self-trust and courage to make our own choices rather than being dependent on other people to make decisions for us. It sounds simple, but in reality we often doubt ourselves and lack the self-trust to make the right choices, looking to others for guidance and validation instead of also relying on our own instinct and intuition.
Knowing and accepting who we really are, and trusting ourselves, aren’t things that we ever really get taught. There are lots of self-awareness activities to help you to make career decisions (see our Moodle module Developing Self-Awareness), but there is a deeper kind of self-knowledge too. A knowing that requires us to face what Carl Jung called our “shadow self” – the parts of us we don’t like.
These might be traits like jealousy or superiority, or perceived deficits such as a lack of courage or intellect. Often, the things that really irritate us about other people are the same things that we fear we might be ourselves. We all carry shame about our inadequacies, deep-rooted worries that can keep us stuck and living within small patterns. We push difficult feelings away, bury them, rather than accept them, yet they still hold us back. It’s impossible to build self-trust on a foundation that is essentially wobbly. Brené Brown’s talk Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count gives a wonderful insight into how vulnerable we are every time we create or try something new, and that we are often limit ourselves by being our own biggest critic.
Information Overload Stifles Our Intuition
In a noisy, information-saturated world, where we are bombarded with snapshot perspectives on social media and get pressed to continually express our opinions based on nominal amounts of information, such as a profile picture, or a post, our own distinct, internal voices can get drowned out. We pay small regard to our gut instincts on information, people and places. Yet our bodies, particularly our right brain intuition, can often give us insights that our left-brain logic and reasoning can’t. (See TED talk My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor for an amazing insight into right and left brain activity).
Developing our connection to our intuition requires space, brain space – quiet time, such as a walk or a drive. Journaling and meditation also make room for our own insights to come through. Learning not to depend solely on external resources and listening to what we are picking up on and genuinely feeling puts us in a much stronger place to grow our self-trust and therefore our self-reliance.
Making Up Your Own Mind
Another aspect of self-reliance is independent thinking. This can be particularly challenging when applied in social and cultural contexts. I think many of us can recognise heavily skewed posts and articles and realise that these perspectives are limited. It’s not as easy when we start to question the core beliefs of our friends and family. Regurgitation of knowledge can have a certain kind of value in our society, yet by filtering and clarifying points of view and adding our own ideas we can develop our own thoughts, giving us more confidence because we’re owning that reframed thought rather than just borrowing someone else’s. I’ve found that by asking myself these key questions I can develop my own subtle perspectives on the topics and learning that inspires or affects me:
- Why do I believe that? – Where the belief comes from.
- Where did I learn it? – Who, where, what was involved?
- Do I want to believe it? – Does it fit with my values? Does it feel true to me?
- What do I want to believe? – Listen out for, or develop your own genuine view.
Learning to trust ourselves isn’t about suddenly becoming a super-assured person who makes good, solid choices. It’s more about trusting that when some of our choices don’t turn as well as we expected that we can get ourselves out of the situation, we can readjust, adapt, learn and grow from the experience. Our setback becomes just another form of learning, a brick in our path rather than a dead-end.
To cultivate self-trust try:
- Taking the time to process what you are feeling.
- Recognising when you do make good choices and be grateful for them.
- Recognising the things that you love about yourself – you can’t trust someone you don’t like.
- Respect your own opinion as much as you respect the opinion of others.
- Be as supportive and compassionate towards yourself as you would towards anyone who is temporarily struggling.
Above all, accept that we are all works in progress. Of all the things in life that you can influence and change so that your life is as good as it can be, ‘yourself’ has got to be the biggest.