How acting outside-in helps you to make the change


I have lost count of the times I’ve heard people saying things like, “When I’ve lost weight I’m going to learn to Tango” or “I don’t have the energy to exercise” or “I’m not in the mood to go out”.

In each of these examples, the person is not doing something because they feel a certain way. They believe that they have to wait until they’ve lost weight, have more energy or their mood has lifted before they take action. They hold off doing what they want to do until the conditions are right. But will they ever be?

Let’s look at this in more detail. Take someone who has insomnia. They might decide not to go to the gym until they start sleeping better as they feel knackered all the time and don’t have the energy. This is known as acting inside-out.

However, exercise would actually give them a boost in energy and potentially allow them to get to sleep easier because they’ve been active.

So, if this person were to go to the gym despite feeling tired because they’ve not slept much this week, they’d be acting outside-in.

Instead of waiting for something to change in your circumstances, physically or psychologically, you take action regardless. By changing what’s on the outside, you change what’s going on inside.

A few months back I wrote a blog post about how changing your activity levels and the activities you carry out boosts your mood. The process discussed in the article is behavioural activation which seeks to balance your mood by doing more activities that make you feel good, as well as those that you need to do, plus making changes to unhelpful coping strategies. Typically when someone has depression and they first record what they are doing day to day, they notice that they spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t conducive to boosting their mood and have stopped doing the things that typically make them feel good. They act inside-out, believing they have to feel better before they meet up with a friend, file their tax return, or go for a walk around the block. I help my clients to start acting outside-in, doing those small things they’ve been putting off in order to lift their mood.

Rather than waiting to feel better to do something, do something to feel better!