I've really been doing the (inner) work.
If you've spent time around the personal development and self-help space, you've probably heard someone utter some version of that phrase.
And, if we're being honest, the concept of inner work has become so popular that it's kind of lost its meaning.
That's a shame. Inner work is the most transformative work you can do. There's a reason why we named the company Inner Workout.
So let's get back to the basics: what is inner work, and what exercises will support your inner work?
At Inner Workout, we use this definition of inner work:
Inner work is the work you do to become more of who you already are.
Read that again. You don't need to become more like that author, that woman you went to high school with that you still secretly compare yourself to, or the person you follow on Instagram.
Our definition of inner work lines up well with this quote by Carl Jung, the king of introspection and inner work:
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. - Carl Jung
When done right, inner work connects you to a truer, fuller expression of yourself instead of an off-brand dupe of someone else.
Are you a human being? Then you'd probably benefit from inner work.
Remember, inner work isn't a punishment you subject yourself to when things aren't going as planned. It's not an attempt to "fix" yourself.
Think of inner work as a return to self. It's a way to reconnect to your inner wisdom and realign.
This inward orientation is key, especially if you're a fan of self-help and personal growth. As Carl Jung said:
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. - Carl Jung
It's all to easy to get caught up in a cycle of consumption where you listen to podcasts about the inner work and read other people's takes on inner work. But consuming content isn't the same as integrating it.
Maybe you're feeling a little called out by the list above. You know that doing the inner work would be good for you, and yet, a tiny, tired voice within is saying, "I already work more than 40 hours a week! Why would I voluntarily to choose to do more work?"
Valid question. We love when folks get a little skeptical.
Here's the honest truth: the work you put into inner work makes the rest of your life easier.
We could spend the rest of this article hyping up the benefits of inner work, but our time is probably better spent breaking down the aspects of an inner work journey.
So, you're in the midst of your journey to inner work, and it's starting to feel like an uphill climb. It's not unusual to hit a few roadblocks along the way. Let's break down some common barriers and how to overcome them, shall we?
Many people fear the unknown, and this fear can become a significant barrier to inner work. The thought of delving into the depths of your subconscious and confronting your deepest feelings can be daunting.
"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." - Joseph Campbell
Don't let this fear deter you. Remember, the inner work is a journey of self-discovery. It invites you to meet your true self, warts and all.
Time, or the perceived lack thereof, is another common barrier. But, how much time does the inner work really need?
Inner work isn't about spending hours meditating or journaling; it's about incorporating habits and practices into your daily life that help you tune into and understand yourself better. Even just a few moments of mindfulness each day can make a significant impact.
Starting the inner work can be overwhelming. With so many aspects to consider, it can be hard to know where to begin.
Don't worry. We'll explore each aspect of inner work and offer ease-filled starting points.
Inner work is not a one-and-done experience. You don't check it off your to-do list and then get to forget about it for the rest of your life.
It's a journey. And though everyone's journey looks different, each transformational journey contains four aspects:
Too many people overlook the role that self-care plays in inner work because they want to roll up their sleeves and get right to the "real work." In reality, self-care and support are foundational.
Inner work is deep work. If you start the process without setting up meaningful ways to support yourself and allowing yourself to be supported, you're going to burn out before you get to the best part!
Prioritize your self-care by:
Most people treat inner work as if they're starting from a blank page. That's not actually the case.
Inner work is more like writing on a page filled with invisible ink. The invisible ink is our biases, beliefs, and behaviors. Although we don't always see it, these themes color how we treat ourselves, how we engage with others, and what we envision is possible.
It's hard to make meaningful progress when you skip out on unlearning. You get stuck in the same patterns. Your options feel limited. You keep repeating that same behaviors even when you intellectually know they're not serving you.
Unlearning allows you to address your invisible ink so that you can start from more of a blank page.
Starting points for unlearning:
We're over halfway through the article, and we're just now talking about the role of learning in inner work. This is the place where most people start their inner work journey.
But, as you can see, our learning is so much more effective when we have a foundation of self-care and we've surfaced limiting beliefs through unlearning.
Learning takes on two forms in inner work:
1. Learning about yourself
We keep returning to the definition of inner work as "the work you do to become more of who you already are." You can't effectively do the inner work without learning about yourself.
This piece is often the hardest for the people who most identify as self-help junkies or self-aware overachievers. You know so much about what you "should" be doing according to everything you've read, watched, and listened to. Learning about yourself invites you to step back into your own self-expertise. You are your own best expert. Filter through all of that knowledge to find what works—and doesn't work—for you, according to your current circumstances, personality, identities, values, and goals.
To quote many wise teachers who came before us, learning invites you to:
Take what serves you and leave the rest.
Our favorite tools for learning about yourself:
2. Learning skills and tools to support your inner work
Once you're clear on where you're at, how you tick, and what you want, then you're ready to do more targeted learning. You might want to learn a new movement practice to support your physical well-being or learn a skill to support your longterm career dream.
You have the blessing and curse of living in an age of infinite content. Amazon has over 32 million books for sale. There are nearly 3 million podcasts you can listen to. There are 800 million Youtube videos. And there are countless apps, courses, and programs available for purchase.
How do you choose where to learn from? Some guiding questions:
The final aspect of the inner work journey is growth. As with all cycles, this ending is also a new beginning.
The growth stage is where you put your self-care foundation, unlearning, and learnings into practice in your daily life. It's perfectly normal to revisit another part of the inner work journey as you grow.
For example, you might finally start to develop new relationships—only to realize that there are still some beliefs that hold you back from going deeper. And then it's back to unlearning you go!
Or maybe you you try to set boundaries then realize you don't know how to approach those conversations. So you revisit learning.
Don't be discouraged. This is all part of the inner work.
Here's what you can expect during a growth phase:
Perfectionism and growth don't mix. Growth requires action, and perfectionism will leave you agonizing over the tiniest details without actually doing anything. Remove perfect as the end goal and aim for alignment instead. Take actions that align with your mission, vision, values, and definition of success.
As our founder likes to say:
You can't fail an experiment. You can only learn.
- Taylor Elyse Morrison
Approach growth as an experiment. Use language like, "I'm trying this..." or "I'm experimenting with...".
It might also be helpful to put a time limit on your experiment. Try something for a week, a month, or a season. Then reflect with questions like:
You're always changing. Your environment is evolving, too. Approaching your growth as an experiment allows you to adapt.
If you can’t acknowledge your growth, you’ll never experience the full benefits of growing.
You’ll still feel behind.
You’ll still feel trapped in comparison.
You’ll still feel like you have to grow just a little bit more to finally feel worthy.
At Inner Workout, we don’t use a super complex tool to develop your ability to see your growth as it’s happening.
We pause, and we celebrate.
Celebration is such an underutilized tool for sustaining growth. When you allow yourself to celebrate the progress you’ve made thus far, it feels worth it to keep taking small steps forward.
But too often, we reserve celebration for some goal post in the distance—one that inevitably gets shifted as soon as it gets within reach.
What progress have you made recently that you haven’t paused to celebrate?
Now that you understand the four aspects of inner work, you might feel a little overwhelmed.
Where do you start? To help you navigate this path, we've outlined three practical inner work exercises that you can start today. These exercises will assist you in connecting with your true self, fostering self-awareness, and promoting personal growth.
Journaling is an effective—and free— tool for inner work. It fosters self-reflection and allows you to articulate your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe space. Make it a daily habit to write down what you're thinking, feeling, and experiencing. You'll be surprised how insightful this exercise can be whether you're in a process of unlearning, celebrating your growth, or somewhere in between.
Meditation is a key component of inner work. It allows you to quiet your mind, focus on your breath, and connect with your inner self. It also helps you step into the role of observer and put some distance between you and your thoughts. Start with just a few minutes a day, and gradually increase the time as you build your practice. Remember, any time spent is better than no time spent.
The power of positive affirmations cannot be overstated in the context of inner work. These are positive statements that you repeat to yourself, reinforcing your self-belief and boosting your self-esteem. Craft affirmations that resonate with you, and repeat them whenever you need a reminder of who you truly are.
Remember, the inner work is a personal journey. It's a process of self-discovery, self-knowledge, and self-improvement. So, take your time with these inner workWith persistence and patience, you'll uncover layers of your true self, fostering growth and transformation. This journey of inner work is a lifelong commitment, and its rewards are immeasurable. Embrace the process, and you'll find yourself empowered to live a more fulfilling and authentic life. exercises. Reflect on your experiences. Be gentle with yourself. The goal is not to be perfect but to rather to meet yourself where you are.
The process of inner work is simple, but not easy. We're here to make it easier.
As you prepare to start your inner work journey, you might be wondering, "How long does it take to see results from inner work?" The answer, like the journey itself, is deeply personal and varies from one individual to another.
Despite what you may see on social media, inner work is not a race or a competition. It's a lifelong process of self-discovery, self-understanding, and self-improvement. It's not about reaching a defined end point, but about continually growing and evolving.
"Inner work is about journeying deeper into oneself, peeling back the layers of our experiences, emotions, and beliefs to understand who we truly are at our core."
That said, while some people may notice changes in their attitudes, behaviors, and overall well-being within weeks or months of starting their inner work, others may take longer. It's crucial to understand that this is perfectly okay. Inner work is not a quick fix, but a commitment to ongoing growth.
Know that we're rooting for you as you begin your inner work!