Self-trust is the internal belief that even if you have a health wobble—consume a cookie, skip a workout or for me, have a Fudgsicle—you’ll learn from the decision and course correct as quickly as possible.

When you have trust in yourself, a mistake or a choice to indulge doesn’t trigger cruel belittling self-talk or a negative health spiral of a food binge or an entire week of missed workouts. When you have self-trust, you use self-compassionate and productive self-talk to stay or get back on the horse.

Don’t misunderstand me, though. Self-compassion isn’t a synonym for self-indulgence! Compassion has its roots in caring; care enough about yourself to make healthy choices. Think enough of yourself to expect yourself to try.

Hold yourself to high standards because you love yourself. Don’t justify skipping the gym or eating cake with, “Well, Kathleen told me to be compassionate.” (Skipping the gym or eating junk isn‘t compassion. Going to the gym and eating well are two key ways to show your body love.)

Your internal dialogue should be accurate, honest, and well-intentioned—based on helping yourself, not hurting or belittling yourself. Your tone should be firm, passionate and rigorous—just not belittling or harsh. Your thoughts and words should be beneficial, useful and timely.

Anxiety (future-thinking phantom thoughts) and loops of the past aren’t timely or useful. Harness what you can do in the current moment to benefit your situation and mood. Let go of thoughts that feed feelings of anger, self-doubt and resentment.

An example of compassionate self-talk would be, “Self, that wasn’t the most ideal choice. How can I make a better one next time?” versus “You are such a lazy ass; you can’t do anything. No wonder no one loves you.”

Negative, shame-filled self-talk doesn’t put me in the mood to course correct and, in that moment, make the best choice possible. Cruel talk sets you up for failure—it inspires a negative health spiral.

By noting the issue with compassion and self-trust, you water the grounds for an appropriate response—you create an opportunity for your next choice to be positive and healthy. When I have a health wobble I try to say, “Kathleen, what would be the single thing I could do at this moment that would result in a future healthier and happier me?” When I frame it that way, I usually put down the second fudge bar.

For me, appropriate and moderate responses have typically been almost impossible. I’m proud to announce this trend is turning. I’m slowly becoming more secure and thus more secure in my decisions. I credit years of therapy and self-work. That said, I still find living by blanket rules easy and situational decisions fairly terrifying. Once I make a rule, I never break it.

Following the rules


Cup of black coffee - Self-trust and compassion

I love rules. I don’t have to think in the moment—I just follow the rule. I don’t question if I should exercise—I just do. I don’t question if I should eat bread at a restaurant—I just say no. I don’t question if I should put cream in my coffee—I don’t use cream. It feels like I’ve been given the answers to the test. I don’t even have to read the questions—I just rattle off memorized answers. I love the “I know the answer!” feeling. 

Strict lines in the sand are simple—for better or worse, they quench any internal debate or questioning. I’m uncomfortable with the feeling of should I or shouldn’t I? Having to muddle through what choice to make is too time-consuming and opens Pandora’s box. Yuk. Who needs it?

In theory, dedication, discipline and habit formation are good qualities. But in practice, I’m beginning to realize that, although as a coping mechanism rules have served me well in many ways, it’s the manifestation of a lack of self-trust.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking myself. Living by non-negotiable rules was a critical element in my evolution from unhealthy teenager to healthy, active adult; rules were a critical first step. I’m proud of my dedication and discipline.

I’m not saying I want to throw in the towel and eat all the cake and not care about my choices. That’s not only a cop-out but the polar extreme. What I’m saying is, I don’t want to have to bypass the problem-solving, rational aspect of making health choices. The “have to-ness” is what I have a problem with.

I don’t mind if I never eat many of my current  non-negotiable foods, but I want to forgo consuming foods I don’t like, not because desserts are a non-negotiable “no,” but because I trust myself to make decisions that will make my future self happier—even when not governed by a rule.

For example, I pretty much hate fruit-flavoured desserts, thus I’m happy to never consume them again, but I don’t want abstinence to be a non-negotiable. I want to trust myself enough to know that when a fruit dessert is offered, I’ll think, I don’t love that food. Eating it is so not worth it to me. Therefore, I’m going to pass.

John Gottman’s The Science of Trust


My newfound understanding of the interconnectedness of trust and the ability to respond with compassion and intelligence (i.e., appropriate responses) came from reading John Gottman’s book The Science of Trust: Building Emotional Attunement for Couples.

Gottman explains the chicken-and-egg relationship between “happy couples,” a “positive absorbing state” and “trust” between the partners. He maintains that happy couples in a “positive absorbing state” have a harder time “going negative.” They stay in “negative” spaces for shorter durations and have an easier time “getting back to the positive”—being “happy and emotionally connected” is their absorbing state that pulls them in like positive quicksand.

Couples in a positive absorbing state can be compassionate with each other, look to the future (not the past) and have measured, rational—not catastrophic—responses.

Couples are more likely to have a “positive absorbing state” if they trust each other. Why? One partner can only have a gracious interpretation of the other’s actions, be empathetic and be compassionate—and thus, rationally work through a problem and “go positive” faster—when they trust their person. The more trust, the stronger the positive absorbing state. Put in Kathleen-speak: more often than not, both partners have appropriate responses. Because they trust each other.

Your relationship with yourself


Woman sitting in grass next to two cookies - Self-trust and compassion

Your relationship with yourself—your self-talk and internal dialogue—is just that, a relationship. Thus, for you to be able to have appropriate responses with yourself, you need self-trust; you need to be in a positively absorbing state with yourself!

Your health choices can’t be divorced from your greater sense of self.

Your health choices can’t be divorced from your greater sense of self. The more you trust in you—your ability to make informed, rational decisions—the less often you’ll shame spiral, and the more you’ll be able to make decisions not because you should or because it’s a rule, but because you know your current and future self will be happier if you do.

Trust will allow for rational thought and responses; it’ll foster your strength to dispute your inner critique and is aligned with self-compassion and empathy.

That last paragraph is key. Health is a process. You’ll fall off your horse, and when you do, you need to be in a positive relationship with yourself—you need to be able to respond appropriately and have the trust to dust yourself off and get back on.

Instead of “I’m such a loser; I might as well quit now and eat more cookies” or “I love myself no matter what; might as well eat another cookie,” you have to have the compassion and trust to say, “Yes, I had a cookie, and now I care enough about myself to go for a walk. As I walk, I’m going to decide if I enjoyed the cookie or if it wasn’t worth it. If I enjoyed it—great. If it was an example of mindless eating, how do I ensure my future self doesn’t make that choice again?”

Think of it as living with an ever-present roommate in your head. Treat the roommate with respect so that you can build a trusting, productive relationship.

Trending positive!


I haven’t fully worked through my relationship with self-trust—but that’s OK. I trust myself more than I did five years ago. Yay me for trending positive! But the journey is far from over, which is exciting; evolving and working is part of the joy of life.

So how do you cultivate the skills of self-trust, compassion and the ability to respond rather than react? You embrace that self-compassion, self-trust and appropriate responses are all skills that need to be learned through repetition.

Health is a journey and learning these skills will take time. Think of all three as muscles. Muscles get stronger with use, so use them!

Your Fittest Future Self book cover- Self-trust and compassionKathleen Trotter is a fitness expert, media personality, personal trainer, writer, life coach, certified Pilates and ELDOA instructor, and overall health enthusiast. Her passion is motivating others to “find their fit” and she works with clients ranging from endurance athletes to individuals living with Parkinson’s disease and osteoporosis. She also writes for The Globe and Mail and The Huffington Post, blogs for Flaman Fitness, and makes regular TV appearances. Kathleen holds an M.Sc. from the University of Toronto and a nutrition diploma from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. She lives in Toronto, Canada where she owns a personal training studio. Find out more about Kathleen at KathleenTrotter.com.

image 1: pxhere; image 2: Pixabay; image 3: Pixabay