Trust is a precious commodity. Some of us give it easily, others rarely. For many it’s the most crucial aspect of any relationship, for other people it matters little.

Yet few of us think about the nature of trust and our relationship with it. A flourishing life requires belief in the capabilities of ourselves and others. Improving our relationship with trust and how we trust will help us get there.

Exercise on the nature of trust

Before you read the rest of this post, I have an exercise I’d like you to complete. I strongly recommend you do this exercise before continuing with the rest of the post for two reasons:

1. It’ll help you conceptualise this blog post

2. It could genuinely be one of the most important exercises you do this year as it deals with a concept so fundamental to healthy and successful relationships not only with others but also with ourselves.

The exercise is one of self-reflective journalling.

On a document, (preferably a notebook or piece of paper), journal your answers to the following questions:

-> What does trust mean to you?

-> Do you trust?

-> Are you trustworthy?

-> Do you trust yourself?

You can take as long as you need to do this exercise. You don’t have to spend a long time on it but you should allow ample time to reflect on each question and if that means you’re externalizing a lot of thoughts to paper then so be it.

The rest of the article will pore over these questions in detail. They can provide extra food for thought, tips and insights into your relationship with trust as an essential value in your life. But it’s important you come up with your own answers first. This will allow you to take what works for you and assimilate it into your own understanding of trust.

When you’ve finished the exercise, please read on.

Cross-examining the nature of trust

Let’s examine the nature of trust by delving into each of the journal questions.

What does trust mean to you?

For me, trust is predominantly a mutual understanding between people that certain explicit or implicit norms, agreements, truths and behaviours are upheld.

For example, one can trust a contracted lawyer through a specified agreement of which the terms are laid out for both parties. In such a context, there is usually little to no emotional connection (though this may vary) between the two and the mutual shared trust does not require upholding outside of the purchased service paradigm between a deliverer and client.

In the case of friendship however, the underlying nature of trust is different. Between good friends, trust doesn’t always have to be explicitly stated. Friends often share a mutual understanding that something will or won’t be done due to the bond each shares with the other. In the latter sense, trust is ‘passive’ as it’s maintained if the friend refrains from doing something that would negatively affect the other friend.

Reciprocity is also important in the overall establishment of trust. Parties often exchange on ‘social currencies’ to maintain strong relationships. The greater the value of a ‘currency’, the stronger the trust in most cases.

However, trust doesn’t have to be based on reciprocal exchange of currencies. If one party loves the other, they will have solidified strong trust regardless of any benefits from social currencies.

Trust forms the most vital basis of loyalty.

Nature Of Trust Reciprocity

Do you trust?

Due to the inherent complexity and grey areas between the binary polarity of “Yes” and “No”, most people will answer something along the lines of “It depends”.

Some aspects of trust aren’t surprising. Most people trust those who are in their inner circle—the select handful of people they’re closest to. And most will be wary of giving trust to the outermost circle, complete strangers they’ve only just met, until they get to know them better.

Where it gets interesting is in between. The second most intimate circle is composed of friends, coworkers and others who we have great familiarity with but aren’t as close to as our inner circle. Next on from that is the circle of acquaintances, people that we have loose familiarity with (often because they know others in our innermost circles) but with whom the ties and connections aren’t as strong. This could be because we rarely communicate with them or because our interactions with them are perfunctory.

At these levels, allocation of trust differs the most depending on the individual. Some people trust everyone in their second-most circle completely, some confer only a modicum of trust depending on the situation. Likewise, some people trust acquaintances fine while others are cursory toward them on the surface but exercise a lot of caution deep down.

There’s a concept known as optimism bias. This is the mental disposition of believing you’re more likely to experience positive events in your life and less likely to experience negative ones whether true or not. Those with optimism bias misweigh the odds of risks than average.

You’d think having this disposition is a personal flaw, after all it’s a cognitive bias right?

Yet those with optimism bias often flourish. They get some things wrong but their penchant for staying positive and not being too risk-adverse exposes them to opportunities and upside that others don’t encounter.

How can this be the case? Being optimistic has been shown to have evolutionary adaptive functions. Optimists tend to experience better payoffs in the long run. The state of optimism is also more likely to provide a sense of control relative to other dispositions. This reduces the time spent ruminating on negative outcomes and places our focus on practical action.

Cognitive biases are berated constantly in mainstream psychology media but they aren’t all net negatives for humans. Not all the supposed 188 cognitive biases listed are disadvantageous, in many contexts they are beneficial otherwise evolution would have rid us of them long ago. And optimism bias is one of them.

What does this have to do with the nature of trust?

Conferring trust to those beyond our innermost circle is a form of optimism. It illustrates that having an inclination to trust others we’re less familiar with than not trusting them pays off on average. You’re better off erring towards the side of trust than distrust unless the costs of betrayal are too pricey to bear.

No-one is saying you should allow a stranger you’ve known for five minutes to babysit your child or give your bank details to a charming agent over the phone. But if we tend to give people we know less well the benefit of the doubt with small-to-medium responsibilities, we’re setting ourselves up for a more satisfactory life in the future.

Nature Of Trust Optimism

Are you trustworthy?

When we’re asked whether or not we hold a characteristic that the rest of society deems positive, our knee-jerk reaction is to assume we do. We hold ourselves in a good light because someone has to right?

But jumping to conclusions this way is why the exercise of defining the nature of trust and whether you give it yourself is important to consider before answering this question. When you’re forced to contemplate the nature of trust, you start to realise whether you embody it yourself.

The question “Are you trustworthy?” then becomes a reflection on alignment. The Golden Rule of treating others how we’d like to be treated becomes hard to ignore.

Think about the type of world you wish to live in. Is it one full of caution and mistrust or one where people have each others’ backs? If we want to live in a more trustworthy world we must demonstrate this ourselves not outsource responsibility.

Think about ways you are trustworthy now and ways in which you could be more trustworthy going forward. Do you place high consideration on loyalty? Do you follow through on commitments and complete what you say you’ll complete (see below)? Do you enable positive liberty and negative liberty where possible?

When you begin to hold your level of trustworthiness to a higher standard, people will see you in a better light and in turn will treat you better.

Nature Of Trust Golden Rule

Do you trust yourself?

Trust isn’t just a relationship we have with others, it’s a relationship we have with ourselves.

As with the answer to the previous question, we might presume we trust ourselves completely.

But there is such a thing as self-betrayal.

At some point in our lives, we’re all too familiar with the feeling of knowing we should have done something yet not doing it. Or going against our better judgement when our instinct was screaming at us yet having a weakness of will and ignoring it.

Brain battles are a real thing. Caving into a short-term desire when our rational mind knew we shouldn’t have procrastinated. Snapping back in anger when taking a breather would have allowed us to discern a better response.

Trusting yourself means winning your internal brain battles so that you aren’t betraying yourself in the long run.

Self-trust contains three elements: reliability, truth, and ability. Here are some tips to ensure you have conviction with yourself on each one:


Assess how reliable you are with what you say you’re going to do. If you make a commitment do you follow it through? Regardless of your output or performance, do you always show up and give your best effort?

Two top ways to improve your reliability are: habit formation and accountability.

Habit formation is the number one way to ensure you’re consistent in whatever you pursue. Allocate time towards a pursuit on a schedule and stick to it until it becomes so second nature you don’t even have to look at your schedule at all.

Being held to account also creates a healthy pressure towards commitments. There are all kinds of methods for manufacturing accountability: from weekly calls with an accountability partner, paying someone money if you fail to follow through on a commitment, and even shocking yourself to consistency.


We all believe we know the truth about matters. Realising that which we thought to be true isn’t is too discomforting a revelation for many.

But the truth is (pun intended) we all have blind spots. This could be for a number of reasons. The world isn’t a static entity which is content to conform to human opinion because someone discovered some pieces of knowledge, it’s dynamically changing. We only see things from a first-person perspective. Disinformation and fake news circulate contemporary media. And more.

Due to these reasons and others, at some point in our lives something we hold to be true won’t actually be reality. If we want to maintain trust in the knowledge base from which we reason, it’s up to us to update our understanding.

This is where critical thinking skills become invaluable. Are you honest with yourself in weighing up both sides of an argument? Can you put your ego aside for a moment and consider that you might be wrong about a position? Can you reason from both a bottom-up and top-down perspective? Do you stress test your ideas against knowledgeable individuals?

Solve your blind spots and never fear facing reality, even if the truth is uncomfortable. You’ll trust yourself better in the long run and navigate through the world more smoothly.


Like with self assessments on truth, we tend to have faith in our own abilities, even to the point of self-deception.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the term given to a cognitive bias where individuals overestimate their ability in a skill believing their competency to be higher when it is in fact lower.

What’s interesting about the Dunning-Kruger Effect is that individuals who rank in the highest quartile of perceived confidence actually underestimate their abilities and score higher than they think in objective performance. This means two things: if you think you’re good at something, you probably aren’t and if you think you’re not so good at something you have experience in, you probably are. Hubris is delusion.

As David Dunning himself pointed out: “Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition. The problem with it is we see it in other people, and we don’t see it in ourselves. The first rule of the Dunning–Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning–Kruger club.”

If we want to trust ourselves better, we must align our levels of competency with reality. Don’t rely on self-assessment, have authoritative third-parties test you. Be open to critical feedback about your knowledge or performances. Most important of all, don’t jump to conclusions that you know all you need to know, carry the mindset of everlasting learning.

Nature Of Trust Yourself


Trust is foundational to our prosperity at an individual and species level, without it we won’t get anywhere in life. Reflecting on the nature of trust and our relationship with it will help bring equanimity with how we trust not only other people but ourselves.

Consider what the nature of trust means to you, whether you give it easily or not, whether you can be trusted by others, and whether you trust yourself. When you have well defined answers to these questions, you’ll operate from a healthier headspace and improve your capacity to build connections with other people, all things crucial to successful lifestyle design abroad.

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