The Harsh Reason You're Still Chasing Inner Peace

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spiritual woman with hands together

Does this sound like you? Maybe you’ve been on retreats, read self-help and self-improvement books, been to church (and maybe out of church), taken seminars, had energy work, bodywork, listened to podcasts, read articles, filled out questionnaires, taken tests, gotten certifications, hired a life coach (or two), meditated, prayed, and/or done therapy…and yet, that lasting inner peace is still elusive.

I’ve got both good news and bad news for you.

The good news: All the work you’ve done has brought you here, to this day and this time. The seeds of the solution to inner peace lie buried inside the discontent you are currently feeling.

The bad news: You’ve been looking in the wrong places. This is not to say that the work you’ve done is wrong. The work you’ve done is wonderful. This is to say you’ve been looking in the wrong places for the answers. You’ve been looking to other people, to other work, to external conditions. 

The answers lie within you.

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Why can't you find inner peace? 

The harsh truth: inner peace won't be found outside yourself

Here’s the catch. Looking outside yourself is not the place where you will find inner peace. Nor will you find it buried in your past, or ahead in your future. Inner peace is a here-and-now experience. If you are looking back, looking ahead, or looking outside of yourself, you won’t find it.  


The thing that is stopping you from finding inner peace is your painful past learning. It may seem like I’m contradicting myself. I just said looking to the past isn’t the answer, yet painful past learning is?

Let me explain. When have you experienced moments of inner peace? On vacation? On retreat at a beautiful location? When deep in meditation? Moments when your outer environment is highly supportive of your inner environment, resulting in a sense of safety. Yet it hasn’t been lasting. You can’t hold onto it when you are back in your ordinary world, at work, at home, commuting, dating, or the daily stuff of life.

You can't find peace if you don't feel safe

When I speak and present these concepts, I ask my audience to tell me if they are safe right now. Only a few people in the room raise their hands. The majority of the people don’t feel safe. Here’s the catch. We aren’t wired to have inner peace when we are afraid for our safety. Not just your physical safety, but also your mental, emotional, and financial safety. 

For most of us, inner peace is canceled in the presence of fear. The external world has given us many reasons to fear, like the economy, the crime rate, the housing market, among other reasons. What taught you to fear? 

Your painful past learning.

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Fear is a learned emotion

As a newborn you came into the world not knowing any of those reasons, you had to learn everything, from sitting up, to feeding yourself, to standing, reading and ultimately to fear. 

You had to learn to fear.

This isn’t faulting your parents or the world around us. Walking in front of a moving bus is deadly, and something legit to fear. Being irresponsible with fire risks burning down your home, and as such, fire is something to handle with care. There are places where fear serves you and provides for your physical safety. This is a useful fear. That fear brings peace.

Not all fear is useful, however. The fear of having a conversation where you will ask for a raise, or stand up for yourself in a relationship, or take the next step in building your dream, these fears are not useful. You get triggered nonetheless and pulled away from your inner peace.

You are triggered because of painful past learning. Somewhere along the way, you learned that its unsafe to stand up for yourself or go for your dreams. For some people, this looks like stress, anxiety, and being in a job you no longer enjoy and can lead to symptoms of burnout.   

You are perceiving a threat. In a state of perceived threat, you can’t find peace.

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Your body gives you clues all day long

Your inner peace is elusive because your past learning gets in the way. And your body is giving you clues all day, every day, that point to the problem and simultaneously to the way out. 

The way you can tell if painful past learning is afoot is to notice when you are experiencing involuntarily tight muscles. (You didn’t see that coming, did you?)

Involuntarily tight muscles are a sign that you are in a sympathetic dominant nervous system, getting ready for fight or flight. That state is beneficial for the first 30 seconds — you’re checking to see if there is a tiger out to get you — beyond that adverse to your health and detrimental to inner peace. 

Your body is communicating to you that your capacity to access your inner peace is offline. Inner peace is available in this moment, however, your ability to access it is offline.

Your job then, is to notice when your body is sending out signals that you are in fight or flight. Once you notice this you can change it, re-establish a connection to your parasympathetic nervous system and find inner peace in this now moment.

There are two things you need to do in advance to prepare you to master this change. To begin, you are clear on what inner peace means to you. This will be as unique as your thumbprint. Design and define it for yourself, I’ve included a link to a worksheet you can use to help you. 

Next, decide that inner peace is something you are going to have, no matter what you have to do to get there. 

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Three steps finding inner peace

1. First, you notice when you have any involuntarily tight muscles somewhere in your body. 

Remember, involuntarily tight muscles are the signal that you are in fight or flight and unable to access a state of inner peace. The best way to do this is to make a habit of doing a quick body scan. Starting at the top of your head, check-in. Any tight muscles? Go down through your face, neck, torso, arms, hands, back, hips, legs, ankles, feet.  

Anything tight that doesn’t need to be? Make a mental note.

This is an act you want to do hundreds of times a day. Attaching to another habit will make you more successful. Things like: Every time you pick up your phone, before reading an email, standing from sitting, sitting from standing. You get the idea. Your capacity to find inner peace depends on your willingness to shift your habitual responses.

2. Second, ask yourself this question: Am I safe, right here, and now?  

Get real with yourself here. Is someone threatening to hit or hurt you right now? Are you in a burning building? Yes? Then you shouldn’t be reading this! 

Point being, if you are in danger now, as in imminent physical danger, get out and get safe!

The rest of the time, notice that you are indeed safe at this moment. Remember, inner peace can’t be had in the past or the future. It can only be had in the present. You deserve it. 

Notice that you are safe.

3. Third, once you’ve identified that you are safe, intentionally relax those tight muscles, the ones you noted in the body scan

We’re looking for relaxation progress, not perfection. This  is one of the five ways I teach clients to do this:

Starting at the top of your head, go back over your body scan, and one by one, invite the tense muscle to relax. See the muscle as a limp piece of spaghetti, and intend that it let go of the tension. Tell the muscle it’s OK, we’re safe.

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Practice your simple 1-2-3 process

This 1-2-3 process of noticing tense muscles, reconfirming safety, and relaxing takes less than 30 seconds to do, and with practice only 5-10 seconds. It’s invisible, so you can do it anywhere. 

The benefits go beyond the momentary achievement of inner peace. When you relax in the presence of a perceived threat, not only do you restore your parasympathetic nervous system, you increase your capacity to think, you diminish the power of the same stimulus to trigger a threat response in the future, and perhaps the best of all, you heal your painful past learning. 

That’s right, you get to heal your past in the present, just by relaxing while taking action.

This technique is deceptively simple. It will restore your inner peace right now, and if you stick with it, that restoration will be long-lasting. You will find lasting inner peace, greater life satisfaction, and be in a state of emotional regulation.

Now when you work with your coach, go on retreats, take the seminar, meditate, pray, etc., you can harness even more benefits from these experiences. You will deepen your inner peace because you’ve already found it.

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Tara Brown, LMC, RA, RScP, is an architect and life coach and is a best-selling author on using mindset to change your results.