Chapter 2 - Influences Subchapter: Inner & outer worlds

What do we mean by inner and outer worlds?

Key points

  • Your inner world is made up of thoughts, feelings, memories, beliefs, values and desires… and more.
  • Your outer world is made up of “easy to see” things like people, places and objects, as well as “harder to see” things like personal experiences, and social and environmental forces.
  • Your body is a bridge between these two worlds, but it’s not neutral—it has its own agenda.


Your inner world

Three portraits of Rachel from the Money scene floating in darkness as she argues with herself


By inner world we mean everything that you experience inside yourself, everything that is hidden from outside view, including but not limited to:

  • Thoughts: The self-talk soundtrack you have in your head, and all the images that flash in your mind’s eye. “Does Max like me?” “Do I need to see a doctor about this?” “Surf!”
  • Feelings: Emotions such as excitement, joy, love, sadness, frustration, despair.
  • Memories: Past experiences that shape and inform you, like memories of how someone reacted when you asked them out, or how your parents got along with each other over summer.
  • Beliefs: Your beliefs about how the world works: if this happens, then that will happen. “If I jump into the creek, everyone will love me.” “If I don’t look him in the eye, he’ll leave me alone.”
  • Values: Qualities that you feel are important priorities in life, like kindness, humility, achievement, making others feel safe.
  • Desires: Things you want to acquire or experience, whether big or small—an overseas holiday, a better job, an extra hour of sleep, a plate of tacos, sex.

There’s all that going on inside you, and more.


Your mental health

While we’re talking about inner worlds, let’s take a moment to call out mental health as an important part of your inner world.

Mental health means a positive, functioning inner world—it means resilience, vitality, a sense of control, connection and meaning.

Stressors, such as poor physical health, relationship conflicts or financial stress, can impact your overall mental health—so you get overwhelmed, can’t cope, feel lost.

If your base mental health is otherwise good, then usually when those stressors disappear, your whole inner world bounces back.

But if you have a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, then the rest of your inner world may be affected even if there are no outside stressors.


Want to learn more about positive mental health?


Your outer world

By outer world, we mean everything that is outside of you. This includes things that are concrete:

  • People: Friends. Family. Co-workers. Romantic partners. Media personalities. Randoms.
  • Places: Home. School. Workplace. Shop. Park. Beach. Hospital. Cinema. Library.
  • Things: Cars. Bikes. Dogs. Plants. Scooters. Pianos. Garbage bins. Benches. Streetlights. Phones.

But we also mean things in the world that are more experiential or abstract:

  • Experiences: Walking. Talking. Working. Studying. Riding. Shopping. Making. Hanging out.
  • Qualities of our environment: Hot. Cold. Fertile. Barren. New. Old. Rich. Poor.
  • Societal forces: Social norms. Laws. Cultural values. Politics. Media. Economy.


Societal forces are important, and we have a whole separate topic about them on The Good Society.


Your body

Demelza and Henry thinking about their individual dreams, Henry smiling and flexing his bicep.


Between your inner world and your outer world is your body. Your body includes:

  • Obvious stuff you can see or feel: Muscles. Fat. Bones. Teeth. Hair. Eyes. Tongue.
  • Things you can’t see but probably know about: Heart. Lungs. Brain.
  • Things you may not know about: Hormones. Neurotransmitters. Nervous system.


All of these parts of our body can influence us too:

  • Our brains, neurotransmitters and hormones directly influence our thoughts and behaviour.
  • Our sense organs like eyes and ears affect our responses by filtering what we experience.
  • Even body parts like our muscles and teeth will influence our behaviour if they hurt (we’ll move differently, eat differently and so on).


The web of influence can be hard to see

All these features of all these worlds interact together to shape every part of our lives, including our relationships, but we often don’t notice.

Some of these influences have big impacts, some small—and the size and type of effect can change over the course of our lives.

Some influences we can’t see because they come from inside us or because they are abstract forces, but there are many influences we don’t see simply because we’re not paying attention.

So we need to use the ideas behind Stop Ask Listen to examine how these worlds affect us.