Outside-In is how many of us live — especially during our childhood and teenage years, when we’re like sponges soaking up conditioning on how we should do life (as a newly minted adult, I am beginning to understand how this showed up in the first 17 years of my life). Outside-In living is when we make choices out of fear — fear of judgement, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of not being liked or being good enough.
In Outside-In living, we are stuck in a feedback loop of taking an action, receiving an external response (for example, someone else praises us), and continuing to do more or less of that behavior. On a primitive level, this is a form of operant conditioning — positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is like giving a dog a treat when they sit. These “treats” come in the form of likes, follows, invites, pats on the back, compliments, awards, opportunities. Instead of asking ourselves if the habits and behaviors that prompted those external achievements were truly aligned with our vision and value system, we stay on the hamster wheel of trying to get more treats. And this hamster wheel can last our whole lives if we never become conscious of it!
Negative reinforcement (in this context, active avoidance) is a similar loop. We know what happens when we, for example, don’t engage in behaviors like toxic perfectionism and overachieving — we feel insignificant or useless, or maybe a caregiver in early childhood even told us directly that we were not good enough or as good as someone else, leading to feelings of shame and unworthiness. So, we engage in active avoidance — hustling and trying to prove our worthiness to avoid the guilt, shame, and rejection that comes with not achieving.
Living Outside-In means abandoning ourselves in order to be who we perceive will be loved, accepted, praised, celebrated. But what if we could give ourselves that love, acceptance, celebration — not for “doing” anything, but simply for being who we are?
That is what living inside-out is. Inside-Out living is exactly what it sounds like — we start within. We take time in silence and contemplation to explore the landscape of our mind, body, and spirit. We don’t numb our emotions (with mindless TV-watching, scrolling, snacking, and distraction), but experience them with full presence and acceptance. We peel away the layers of who we thought we had to be for others. We try new ways of thinking, being, and doing, and see how they make us feel, instead of sticking in habitual patterns.
With clarity on our values and vision for this life and unwavering trust in ourselves, we can live our lives refusing to compromise our authenticity to satisfy others. What we may find is that living in our authenticity actually calls in more of the authentic, nourishing connection we crave. When we have a deep sense of trust in ourselves and make decisions from a grounded and aligned place, rather than out of fear or insecurity, we can call in all the things we’ve ever dreamed of. And therefore, Inside-Out living is the path to true peace and authenticity.
Every day in our lives, we have a choice. We can enter our day with an unwavering commitment to our own authenticity, or we can play small and be a chameleon, adapting to whatever gets us the most validation externally. Which one will you choose?