Do you live from the inside out or the outside in?
Okay, to be honest, that is not an entirely fair question to ask you at the beginning of the post because I coined those phrases–Living from the Inside Out and Living from the Outside In, and I haven’t even told you what they mean yet.
So let’s take care of those definitions first*, and then you can figure out the answer to that question and why it’s important.
Living from the Inside Out: When we Live from the Inside Out, we live from a sense of our own worthiness and a clear sense of our own chosen purpose and our capability to live it out in the world. We have a strong sense of confidence and clarity, and we look for others with whom we can share life’s adventures. We relate to others and the world from a place of hope.
Living from the Outside In: When we Live from the Outside In, we are unsure about our worthiness and capability. We may lack a sense of purpose or we may doubt our ability to live out our purpose in the world. We lack a strong sense of confidence and clarity, and we look for others to define or save us or as our rivals and competition. We relate to others and the world from a place of fear.
Let’s Examine these Ideas More in Depth
That’s enough to get us started, but we need to understand all of this a little more in depth.
To do this, let’s look at what happens when we we live from the Outside In.
When we doubt our worthiness and capability (which is often the cause of Living from the Outside In), we often find that many or all of the following actions characterize us:
We lack confidence in our body, our wisdom, our emotions, our decisions, and our purpose.
We constantly look to others to know what we should do and say and how we should act.
We feel ashamed of our mistakes and our learning curves.
We feel afraid of trying new things because we worry about looking foolish.
We constantly compare ourselves to other people and feel like we come out the loser in the comparison.
We aren’t sure where we are going and what we are doing.
We have problems making decisions with confidence.
We have problems connecting with others because we feel bad about our self or we feel like their successes diminish our worth.
We feel like we can’t have the kind of life we want.
We want someone to just come and rescue us and tell us how to live our life.
Is Living from the Outside In Normal Sometimes?
By the way, most of us experience some of these feelings at some point in our life, and that is a normal part of human experience. Living from the Inside Out takes some practice, experience, and thought, so it is understandable that we don’t always Live from the Inside Out.
When we experience the feelings above on a regular basis, however, we start to feel disconnected from our self; we feel lost and aimless; and we often get stuck in self-loathing.
This is no fun. By the way, I have gone through stages of my life in which I lived from the Outside In, and I experienced most if not all of the feelings above on a regular basis. That’s why I can and I want to write about this issue. I eventually learned how to live from the Inside Out. That was a game-changer for me. (And it is something I still work on consistently.)
If you suspect you might live from the Outside In a lot, I sympathize with you and see your pain, and I also want to let you know that you can change and start living more from the inside out.
What Does Living from the Inside Out Look Like?
I described what living from the Outside In looks like above. Here is what I think living from the Inside Out looks like:
We have confidence in our body, our wisdom, our emotions, our decisions, and our purpose.
We draw on our own internal resources like clear thinking and emotions, our ethical code, and our purpose to know what we should do and say and how we should act. We may sometime consult others on these matters, but we are confident to make the final decision ourselves.
We accept our mistakes and our learning curves as a normal part of life, and we feel confident in our capacity to grown and learn.
We enjoy the growth that trying new things brings, and we give ourselves permission to make mistakes as a normal part of the learning process.
We rarely compare ourselves to others, or if we do, we look at others as sources of inspiration, rather than viewing people enviously as competitors. We know that everyone, including our self, is on their own unique journey, and that there is enough success and happiness to go around.
We have a strong sense of purpose or a strong sense of our ability to discover and create our purpose.
We are able to make decisions when we need to and to have confidence that we have acted reasonably.
We connect with others well because we connect with and are secure in ourselves.
We feel capable of creating and receiving a beautiful and meaningful life in line with our deepest values.
We realize that have the resources to solve our own problems and pursue our purpose. We know that while other people are often meaningful and helpful companions on our journey, we’ve got this.
Is it Actually Possible to Live from the Inside Out?
That sounds pretty nice, huh? Does it sound realistic–like someone (like you, like me) could actually live that way?
I think it is absolutely possible to live this way–to live from the Inside Out–but let’s be clear that even when we are generally living from the Inside Out, we may not feel the above feelings all the time, every day, in all circumstances.
Living from the Outside In and Living from the Inside Out are ways of being in the world that exist on a spectrum. No one ever lives always and completely at one end or the other. Rather, we often move towards one end or the other, depending on our thoughts, feelings, and life events and how we respond to them.
My goal for my life is to live more and more from the Inside Out. I find that the more I do this, the more kind, respectful, and compassionate I am to both myself and others. I also find that I have a clearer sense of my purpose in life and how to express it for my good and for the good of the whole earth.
I really believe that each one of us has a purpose that we both create and discover. (You can read more about this here ). I also think that whenever anyone learns to live from the Inside Out, it helps them to express their purpose in the world in a way that benefits them and the whole earth.
A lot of the posts I write on my blog are related to living from the Inside Out for this very reason: I want all of us to live a life in which we express our purpose to benefit ourselves and the whole earth.
Here’s that chart contrasting the two ways of living again:
This year, I will be writing more posts about living from the Inside Out, but right now I want to suggest how you can start Living from the Inside Out. I will give you both the short version and the long version.
The Short Version: Consider working on the three items below, one for the first three seasons of this year–winter, spring, and summer–and then using the fall to evaluate your progress.
One: Realize that you have unconditional worth right now, including your body, and begin to cultivate a sense of your own body confidence and worthiness. You can read more about this here, here, and here.
Two: Work on letting go of perfectionism (which is often a result of Living from the Outside In) and adopt a growth mindset. You can read more about this here.
Three: Begin to develop a strong sense of your own personal purpose by listening to your dreams and imagining how you want your life to be, even if you don’t feel great about yourself right now. You can read more about this here, here, and here.
The Long Version: Consider working on one of these items each month of this year, starting in February and then using December to reflect on your progress.
If you want to study Living from the Inside Out more in depth, here are ten things you can do:
1. Strengthen your body confidence. (You can read more about this here.)
2. Develop a strong sense of your own worthiness. (You can read more about this here.)
3. Develop a strong sense of your capability and adopt a growth mindset. (You can read more about this here .)
4. Learn to show your self compassion to help you weather difficult times. You can read more about this here.
5. Develop a strong moral code. You can read more about this here.
6. Develop a clear purpose. You can read more about this here.
7. Nurture your spirituality–which you can do whether you are religious or not. Your spirituality pertains to your dreams, hopes, moral and ethical capacities, and it allows you to grow and develop your potential. You can read more about this here.
8. Develop clear thinking. You can read more about this here,
10. Live justly to help us flourish as a nation and planet. You can read more about this here.
An Alternative Plan: If it feels a little overwhelming to pursue either the short or long plan, considering choosing one of the items from the list and making it the focus of this year. I have found that when I focus on one of these areas, it often leads to surprising and excellent growth in one or more of the other areas.
Stay tuned for future posts about Living from the Inside Out…
If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on social media.
*Even though I coined the phrases Living from the Inside Out and Living from the Outside In, the concepts behind these phrase are rooted in important concepts in educational theory and moral and political philosophy. Two such theories are self-efficacy theory and the concept of dignity, which you can read about here and here and here.
These concepts are also discussed directly (although by different names) in Paulo Freire’s books Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education for Critical Consciousness.