Inside Out or Outside In? (Also Known As: Caring Less What They Think)

By October 13, 2010 8 Comments

There comes a time with every coaching client when our work comes down to letting go of what other people will think.

We all carry other people’s voices around in our heads, often making it impossible for us to hear our own.

Lately, I’m seeing a deeper dimension to this, illuminated by psychologist Helene Brenner in her book I Know I’m In There Somewhere. She writes:

“Almost all women live their lives standing outside themselves, always ready to judge their bodies, their feelings, and their thoughts from an external standard, and find themselves wanting.”

and later

“Working with my clients, I found that at some point in therapy…a switch would occur in their consciousnesses. Women would go from seeing themselves and their lives from the outside to feeling them from the inside.”

Just sit with these two ideas: seeing yourself from the outside, making decisions based on how you imagine things would look from an outside vantage point, or directing your life from the inside out, from your own lived experience of how things feel on the inside.

Quite often we get stuck because there is a conflict between what we actually want/feel/long for— and the picture we see when we look at ourselves through the eyes of other people (friends, colleagues, family members, spouse), or through the eyes of the culture at large.

My client Pria wants to start a business, but right now she has a lucrative and prestigious job that is the envy of her social circle. She’s internalized a sense that quitting would “look” irresponsible or irrational. Her focus is there – rather than on connection to what she actually wants.

This takes on unique flavors for women and men. Men tend to get stuck when their own inner longings would guide them to do something they feel will be perceived as weak by others.

Because we’ve been taught to value relationship, women tend to get stuck when we feel connection others comes into conflict with what we want. It’s also built into us very deeply to see ourselves from the outside in, because our society still portrays women as something to be gazed at, from the outside. Just think of every movie, magazine cover, beauty industry ad or TV show that gave you the message that being a woman was about being perceived and pursued — rather than about living the interior, rich experience of being a woman.

Shaping Your Life from the Inside Out

What does it mean to shape your life from the inside out? It means you place attention on how you feel, to what’s happening on the inside.

In any moment, dilemma, decision — big or small — you ask: what’s happening inside me now? What sensations are happening in my body? What feelings am I experiencing? What feels right? What feels off? What feels inspiring? What’s my energy pulling me toward?

In inside out living, these questions become central to your life. You live your life from the answers to those questions, rather than from considering what your choices will look like to others.

A little secret: When you get free (more free, at least) of worrying about the other people’s voices, when you start to make friends with what’s happening in you and take action from there, amazing things happen. You say the bold stuff you want to say. You follow the intuition that doesn’t make sense to find the perfect opportunity. Momentum and serendipity pick up in your life.

Oh, secret #2: then you get off track, disconnected from yourself. Because you are human and life is ebb and flow. Because we forget how to trust ourselves as new fears and old patterns come up. Then you find your way back to inside out living again, a little wiser this time.

Why Inside Living?

Here’s why inside out living is so important:

1. Your feelings —- all those sensations and emotions happening in you — are really wise. They won’t fail you. They are guides giving you clues about what will create a happy, fulfilling life. They are also giving you clues to steer you toward your destiny.

2. Your outside perspective is a myth anyway! When you imagine how you’ll be seen by others, you make up a projection. We aren’t so good at predicting what other people will think, because the risk-averse part of us kicks in and dominates our thinking with worse-case scenarios. Example: you imagine that if you speak up in the meeting, others will perceive you as brash and when in fact you’ll convey confidence.

3. Pleasure, fun, enjoyment, freedom. Now, which sounds like more fun: living your life according to what you imagine you’ll look like from the outside, or according to your own inner experience?

3 Steps Toward Inside Living

So, let’s make this practical.

Step 1: Just notice when “outside perspective” comes up. Spend a few days just noticing.

For the next several days, carry these ideas in your consciousness: this notion of alienation from your inner self, where you imagine your choices, decisions, actions in terms of what they’ll look like from the outside vs. being “inside-connected” to the wants, desires, dislikes, comfort, and discomfort inside your own body.

Notice when you are doing that act of imagining, of leaving your inner self and your body and traveling away to look at yourself from the outside.

Step 2: Start shifting from outside to inside perspective. Do this by tuning into yourself. How do you feel about the situation at hand? What do you really want? What feels right?

Place your hand on your belly or your heart and check in with the feelings there. Or, notice the sensations in your body: when you imagine doing option a, how does that feel in your body — tense, relaxed, warm, cool? What about option b?

Step 3: Refine your inside-sensors. Knowing what we feel is a skill, one that you’ll be studying for lifetime, so make peace with being imperfect at it! Meditation and yoga are great ways to strengthen our ability to find our inner guidance, because they are all about tuning in to what is happening within. You can also set up a regular check in time with yourself to inventory: what’s happening in my body, what am I feeling, what’s “up” for me right now.

Living from the inside out is your foundation. Not because we want our lives to become a hedonistic adventure of living out our every want and every whim…that’s not what this is about. This is about ecognizing the compass within you, about becoming present and whole in everything you do, about allowing your life to be carried by the current of truth.

Oh and by the way…. I highly recommend Helene Brenner’s book I Know I’m In There Somewhere
(quoted above). It’s fabulous, the best “self-help” book I’ve read in years, particularly for women who want to deepen their connection to their own inner voice.




Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Leiah says:

    I can recognize the ‘projecting what other people might think’ happening every day in my own life. I think that’s why i often feel so out-of-sync! Thank you for this eye-opener of an article.

  • Lovely. True. Frightfully important. Thank you!

  • elena says:

    tara, i loved this post. and it came to my inbox at just the right time. thank you.

  • Thank you for this. I was lucky enough to see Megan Mathiessan tweet about this and it called out to me. I’m thankful to say I’ve listened and lived from within for as long as I can remember, but of course I have my moments when I let others into the sanctuary of my being and perhaps I shouldn’t have, thus causing me to live from the outside for a time- questioning and second guessing everything about me- but that’s the risk we take in love whether for friends or romance. Ebb and flow of life…it’s an experience that repeats.

    Thanks for the reminder to live from within!

  • кран мостовой says:

    It’s interesting to find how challenging the content side is for some

  • Tarah Pollock says:

    Thank you for your wisdom Tara! I found it truly striking, accurate, and moving! It is so important to be reminded of our true power!

  • elder care says:

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  • IrinkaPymn says:

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