Inside-Out Understanding

Inside-Out Understanding


“Clarity” by Jamie Smart, 2013, 280 pages


Does it ever seem like there is just so much going on, so much to do, so much to achieve that is becomes difficult to navigate, difficult to see what really needs doing and what does not? Today’s world and today’s life are increasingly complex, busy and laden with information which we must evaluate and decide whether to act on or not. Increasingly we suffer from attention deficit, time poverty and information overload.

How then do we go from the frustrations and stresses of what often seems like an increasingly uncertain and chaotic world to a calm and focused understanding of what we need to do? The coach and consultant Jamie Smart has some advice for us. Tt deals with how we can regain our focus, get better ideas and more of the kind of results that matter to us.

The Outside-In Trap

Many of us live by an “Outside-in” understanding. By this is meant a basic perception that our core state is determined by external circumstances. It is the idea that we must go someplace and/or achieve something in order for us to feel good; that the grass is greener on the other side. That place with the more luscious grass is different things to different people: it can be obtaining certain material goods, getting that job/promotion, getting that “trophy” mate, becoming the smartest person around, etc. The common denominator of all these outside-in driven activities is that we feel increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated by our current state and believe that only the achievement of the external goals will make us feel as good as we believe we need to feel.

In order to achieve these external goals we seek enabling information and methodologies (management theories, personal development theories, etc.). We try to implement these methodologies, but more often than not we are not particularly successful. The principles behind the methods may be advantageous for us to implement. However, if the methods do not gel with our way of thinking about and understanding the world it becomes inordinately difficult for us to see the changes through. We may try to act the part, but that shows as in-authenticity and inconsistency in terms of our actions and behaviours. If we believe that external matters define us, then whatever methodologies we seek to implement will at the end of the day merely serve to augment our outside-in understanding, but not effect any changes.

How many of us have tried to actually achieve a long and dear-held goal only to find that it did not make us happy, fulfilled, content? How many of us have tried to reach our goals only to feel an internal emptiness and perhaps even confusion as our lives seem to have lost direction now we have nowhere we need to go, nothing we need to achieve. So, instead of happiness and satisfaction what we get is continued frustration and dissatisfaction with our situation. How many of us have then as speedily as possible found a new destination or achievement to work towards, because that must be what will make us happy, now the first destination/achievement fell short. Basically, we turn life into an unwinnable game of achievement-dissatisfaction-achievement-dissatisfaction.

The Inside-Out Way

The main characteristic of the Inside-Out approach is the understanding that the way we experience the world and ourselves in the world is created solely in our own thoughts. If we think that the world is a harsh, competitive place then that will all we experience in the world we inhabit. If, on the other hand, we think that the world is a place of opportunity, abundance and communality, the world will be that to us, as that will be what we see when we look at the world. Nothing in the world creates thinking in us, it is our thinking that creates the world such as we experience it. When we behave and act in accordance with our experience of the world, we strengthen our existing thoughts of the world and thus the way we experience the world. What we think is what we get/experience.

Instead of looking to external factors to make us feel better, we need to transform our thinking to appreciate what we are and have in the present moment. That involves letting our thinking tune itself into to appreciation, gratitude and a comfort with ambiguity, lack of absolute knowledge and uncertainty. Once we engage our sense of wonder, our curiosity, our wisdom and intuition, our mind has the capability to self-correct from momentary upsets and frustrations. We can recognize that the way we define ourselves, our characteristics, skills and our limits are a pure product of our thinking and thus we can modify it.

By recognizing that our experience is created and controlled by our thoughts, and understanding the principles that govern the generation of thoughts, we can approach clarity of who and what we are. We gain the ability to choose and motivate ourselves for goals for their own sake. Not for how we expect to feel when reaching the goal or because a methodology tells us to pursue these goals. By decluttering external influences from our thought process, we can tap into the state of flow where we simply are and do for the sake of the work in hand, not for goals, achievements or an expectation of greener grass.


Many of us are caught up in the Outside-In understanding that our present state is determined by external things and that we need to achieve one or more goals to feel happy, fulfilled and reveal the true us. We live life in a state of dissatisfaction and anticipation. When we arrive at our goal, we end up feeling strangely unfulfilled and as frustrated as ever.

We may do well to consider whether making life this perpetual non-winnable game is good for us. We may need to consider instead that we determine our experience in our thoughts and that changing our thoughts about ourselves and the world changes the way the world works for us. It may well be a better and more giving road to travel.

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