If you’ve read my blog posts, you probably know that I believe true personal change happens most of the time in our inner world (no matter how much we scramble to change the outer).
Many of us — and I certainly include myself here — have pushed and pushed to try to control our outer worlds to the point that we bottom out on that way of life.
When we’ve gone too far in the outer direction, and we start to sense the limitations of that, it makes tons of sense to start looking within.
That said, as an introvert who often works with introverts, I’ve noticed that we “deep divers” sometimes take our moving inward just a little too far.
This might look like trying to “accept” the unacceptable — for example, working on ourselves more and more to make a relationship better, when in fact we’re better off letting go of the relationship altogether.
It might look like using spiritual practice for the purpose of avoiding the “real world” (sometimes called “spiritual bypass.”).
It can also look like making things that are simple very complicated. I remember trying so hard to “like” taking care of the yard at my old home, but in fact, I just hated yardwork. It took me ages to recognize that I didn’t have to like it, didn’t even have to do it, and it was perfectly okay to hire help.
If trying to solve the problem on the inside seems to be creating more struggle, we might need to move ever so slightly outward.
In my last post, I wrote about how getting rid of energetic drains in our surroundings can clear space for creativity. That can be a hugely important part of an outside-in approach to self-care.
Another part of an outside-in approach can be making sure we connect with people whose energy feels supportive to us on a regular basis.
If you are an introvert, your natural tendency is to move inward. And this is a good thing! It’s why introverts who try to be extroverts end up feeling exhausted — and why not enough diving inward can be detrimental to us, as I learned early in life.
Sometimes, though, introverts may find themselves a little bit “too in.” (This may be particularly true if you have high sensitivity in the mix. Elaine Aron talks about the “too in/too out” dilemma many HSPs face in her work.)
The trick for introverts is that we may have quite a bit of ambivalence about keeping up with our connections — that time to ourselves, that delving inward, can be so enticing. So I like to make sure I have regular, “calendared” ways of doing this connecting. It makes it easier for me when I know I need to show up because people are counting on me to do so.
A few other ways that can be helpful in supporting ourselves from the outside-in:
• Caring for animals. On my walks, I often run into my neighbor from the condo-across-the-way as he’s walking his dog. He’s told me how meeting his dog’s needs gives him a much-needed break from his tendency to “ruminate”. I was like, preach! I haven’t had cats for thirty years only because I love cats. They allow me to have my inner world while also bringing me out of it.
• Gentle time limits. Journaling is fundamental for me — I do it most days through morning pages, but it takes many other forms for me as well and is key in making shifts in my life. I do, however, set a gentle time limit on my journaling each morning. Otherwise I can sometimes get lost in it. We might also find it helpful to set time limits on certain phone conversations, watching Netflix, or any area where we tend to be a little bit “time-boundary-challenged.”
• Soft deadlines. I used to think I hated deadlines, but I’ve learned they can support me as long as I’m not imposing hard, strict deadlines on myself. (Many thanks to my friend and coach Theresa Trosky, who years ago pointed out to me in our work together that “soft deadlines” are actually my friend!)
• Bookending the day. On most days, I try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time. This regularity bookends the day and becomes something I can count on, particularly on days when my emotions have been swirling. There are other ways I “bookend” my day, such as morning and evening pages, and we can create these kinds of “containers” for ourselves throughout the day, too.
• Limiting news consumption. This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s abundantly clear that exposing ourselves to anything and everything is anti-self-care, particularly if we are energy-sensitive. I have to trust my intuition here on how much news is actually helpful for me. (Notice how many of these outer supports are a form of limit?)
I’m sure you can think of hundreds of other outside-in supports (and I’d love to hear from you!).
What I notice is that these outer supports, rather than constraining the “deep diver” in me, actually support my inward focus while keeping me connected to the outer world. They remind me that I am a human being in a physical body in a physical world, even though I do a lot of delving into my inner world.
Turning inward, doing that inner work, is fundamental for those who want truly know and understand themselves. But the outer world sometimes holds the answers for us, too (and if not “answers,” certainly support!). How do you use “outside-in” support in your life?
I’ll be enrolling in this year’s version of my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program soon. Want to learn more, or just stay connected? Feel free to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter, here.