Inside or Outside? Where to Put Your Focus

We need an inside/outside strategy in our back pocket, ready to employ whenever our stress level is too high, or potentially headed that way.

An inside strategy would involve turning inward to a large, small or moderate degree, and then doing something there.  It could be doing visualization of a calming place, person, object, pet, song, etc. It could involve watching our breathing, or doing a body scan to see how we are feeling emotionally and bodily (and both). Frequently, this is the strategy we use when something is concerning “out there”. Sometimes a meeting is not going well, or we are in the dentist’s chair, or we need to withdraw from the bustle around us.

There are times, however, going inside is not the best strategy.  For instance, if we are trapped in repetitive negative thoughts such as worry and anger, going inside where those thoughts/feelings are flying about, and introducing a counter to that can be too challenging.  Going outside, can be the direction to go.

Going outside can distance ourselves from our mental/heart chatter. Simple attention to our surroundings can help.  Listening to the soundscape, for instance, pulls us from our troubles within. Look deeply at colors, differences in sizes of objects, light and shadow; feeling the wind, the movement of your feet; anything can keep us outside of your inner rumblings. Activity, especially activity with some challenge to it, will engage a great deal of our brain and reduce at least some of the energy going to our inner landscape. Of course, there are the well developed practices: mindfulness, Tai Chi, and Open Focus.

Next Steps: Aim to master a set of inner and outer target methods; experiment with them a great deal to make them your own; do a quick practice session every day. Use as needed. If one direction doesn’t help, switch directions.


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