I recently took this photo of massed birdcages in a Sydney lane. The outdoor art reminded me of the concept of inside out thinking that I’ve been exploring lately.
Our minds generate our reality: always from the inside out, never from the outside in.
The principle itself is not new—that we create our experience from our thinking—but we usually only partly accept the idea.
We often say that our job, relationship, or an event is the cause of our feelings. For example, a demanding day at work made us feel exhausted and under-appreciated. But in a higher mood (with different thoughts), the same demanding day could make us feel engaged, productive and an important member of the team. One day our partner is the love of our lives; the next their habits drive us crazy. Pick up a book to read one evening and become absorbed in the plot; read the same text in a different mood and have trouble focusing. Same book—the difference is the thoughts running through our minds.
If our circumstances dictated how we felt—we’d always feel the same way about something. A bad coffee would always result in the same feeling. But it doesn’t—sometimes it’s the end of the world and we’ll never buy a coffee from that shop again; other times we drink it and philosophically remember that they generally get it right. We can feel a different way about the same event and other people can feel the different way about the same event—it’s not the event itself. A crowded concert can be bliss for one person and claustrophobic for another. It’s the thoughts each person’s mind is generating that causes the resulting feelings.
Our brains and our thinking of course serve an important and helpful purpose, so long as they don’t ‘mindlessly’ run the show. When that happens, habitual thinking is the mildest result and pathological behaviour the most extreme.
Understanding (even beginning to understand) how the principle of inside out thinking works is liberating and exciting. We start to see everything in a fresh way. It tells us a lot about ourselves and about others. It also casts light on change—if our thinking doesn’t change, we can’t change and if someone else’s thinking doesn’t change, they can’t change.
The other good news is that there’s nothing we need to do other than continue to develop our understanding of how inside out thinking works. We don’t need to fix our thinking but simply understand that we think. We don’t need techniques or activities or more thinking to fix ourselves. When we get out of the way, our thinking is designed to settle on its own—a self-correcting mental immune system.
Even practicing minimalism as a solution to finding mental clarity is only an external bandaid solution. It’s not the stuff that affects how we feel; it’s our thinking that affects how we feel. We can have mental clarity (or not) regardless of how many possessions we own or get rid of. Minimalism and organising can make it easier to find mental clarity, but they are not the source of the clarity.
Here are a few ways to deepen your understanding of the principle of inside out thinking:
- Use your feelings as a gauge for the quality of your thinking. Feeling bad is a sign of poor-quality thinking and of over-thinking. The solution is not to add more thoughts. Instead of trying to fix your thoughts, let them flow and let your mind settle on its own.
- Don’t act from a low mood. Allow your thoughts to clear and then act from a clearer mind. When your mind clears, you will naturally feel better and be able to access the deeper intuition and wisdom we all have. Acting from this place gives us contentment and certainty and won’t feel rushed and urgent.
- Don’t force yourself to change. Be aware of your thinking, especially habitual thinking, and how it translates to feelings and change will arise naturally.
- Re-thinking is not as helpful as new thinking. Gradually encourage yourself away from old patterns of thinking that were helpful in the past but are not so relevant now.
- Read and absorb more about these ideas. I’ve been reading the blogs and books of Garret Kramer, Jamie Smart, George Pransky, and Michael Neill and they reference the work of Sydney Banks in initially developing this principle.
Back to the birdcages for a moment. Looking at them reminded me that it’s easy to trap myself into believing that my circumstances (instead of my thoughts) create my feelings—a cage I’ve unintentionally placed myself in. Often, I don’t even see the cage. But as soon as I spot the cage, I’m outside it. I’m freed from trying to unnecessarily ‘fix’ my life and can live from inside to out again.
I’ve touched on many points here and am looking forward to exploring them in further posts. I’m also keen to read your comments and questions. My understanding of the principle of inside out thinking is only emerging so let’s go on this journey together.