Why is freedom important?

Freedom is a state that brings us joy, peace and clarity. In my opinion freedom is the ultimate state for a person, it’s the opposite from suffering and negative feelings or emotions.

Freedom is about not being caught up in all the little details in life. It’s about knowing what is important. It’s about recognizing thoughts and behavior that makes you feel bad. And mostly, it’s about being free to choose how you spend your time and energy in this life.

I always struggled with freedom. On one hand, I consider my freedom as the highest value in my life. I am very careful that nobody limits it. On the other hand, I tend to limit my own freedom. Sometimes I feel trapped and stuck, without realizing that I am the one creating these limitations for myself.

External vs internal limitations

External limitations are imposed by your surroundings, by your environment. A few examples:

  • Laws that are created by society
  • Rules that are made by your parents when you live under the same roof
  • Obligations imposed by your employer

Much more subtle are the limitations we set for ourselves; the internal limitations. We are not always aware of those. In this article I want to focus on them. We can differentiate multiple internal limitations:

Consensus

We follow the consensus of our society. For example, a lot of people believe that it’s normal to work 5 days a week for 8 hours a day. Why? Because we have a consensus in our society that considers this as “normal” behavior. We are raised in a particular culture, a particular country, a particular city and a particular family, … and we automatically inherit some of those concepts, believes and convictions. We don’t always realize if those ideas are coming from ourselves or from our environment. Before we can be free, we need to realize they were never our concepts, believes and convictions. Once you realize the origin of those thoughts, you can really start thinking for yourself.

Real life example: When I made a conscious decision to work 3 days a week instead of 5 days a week, a lot of people couldn’t grasp it. “What will you do the other days?” and “Is business going bad?”. While this was not the case, people reacted with disbelieve and misunderstanding. In our society having money and being successful is considered the ultimate goal. When somebody doesn’t follow this concept, people have a hard time to understand this.

Thought exercise: What is your definition of success? Is it influenced by society? Do you have any other concepts, believes or convictions that are not yours? Are you scared people will see you as a failure if you do not conform?

Programmed behavior

By growing up under certain conditions, you developed behavior to “survive” in those conditions, let’s call it programmed behavior. Programmed behavior is triggered by specific situations and it automatically decides your response. For example: when the traffic light is red, you push the brake pedal. You don’t consciously choose to push the brake pedal.

Programmed behavior is a survival mechanism, once you dig deeper you will find fear as the cause for this behavior. Maybe some of that behavior is not needed anymore. It had its purpose: it protected you. But now, it doesn’t serve you anymore. First, we need to be aware that this behavior doesn’t serve us any longer. Second, we need to understand there is nothing to be afraid of. Notice how your response to a situation is fueled by irrational fear.

Real life example: Tine was a girl who always searched approval from her father when growing up. He wanted her to be good in math, but she was lacking the skill. Her father had no interest in her drawings and never played with her. The only time her father was interested in spending time with her, is when she was doing math exercises from school. She tried to be good at math to get attention from her father.

When Tine was older, she copied that behavior to her boyfriend. Unconsciously she was scared to be rejected. She sought approval by assuming what’s the best thing to say or to do to please her boyfriend, without considering her own opinion. She was scared that her boyfriend wouldn’t like her if she was completely true to herself.

Thought exercise: During our childhood, we are very susceptible and imprint the behavior of our parents. What behavior doesn’t serve you any longer? What behavior do you consider as undesirable?

Escapism

Unconsciously, we are afraid to be alone with our thoughts. So, we try to escape reality by numbing our minds, so the stream of thoughts comes to a halt. We find comfort in watching television, drinking alcohol, gaming, (over)eating, shopping, … . However as soon as we stop the activity (or state), the thoughts come back.

Escapism is when you repeat the same behavior over an over again, and you experience the behavior as undesirable. Notice how, once you start, it’s hard to control it. You:

  • spend more time
  • spend more money
  • you drink more
  • you eat more

… then initially anticipated.

Real life example: When I had a lot of work as an independent IT consultant, I tended to escape my stressful thoughts by playing computer games. By playing a fast-paced game, I put my mind to rest and my stressful thoughts disappeared. However, as soon I stopped playing the game, the stressful thoughts returned. I wanted to have more free time in my life, but contradictory it felt like I wasted my little bit of free time. I didn’t enjoy the nice weather, or I didn’t go outside for walk, after already being inside the whole day.

Thought exercise: Can you be alone with yourself, without doing any activity? Are you scared of the thoughts that pop up in your head? Next time, instead of watching television, don’t do anything and notice what comes up in your mind. In my next article I’m going to describe on how to use inquiry: how to examine your thoughts without being scared or attached to them.

Limiting beliefs

You are your own best friend, but also your worst enemy. If you look at a child it still believes it can become anything, an astronaut, a soccer player or a baker. As soon as we start to take part in society and we become older, we lose that sense of “everything is possible”. The child that wants to be a baker will be told that you cannot make money with this profession. The child that wants to be an astronaut will be told it’s unrealistic. We should be more like the kid. Believing something is possible, is the first step towards making it a reality. Yes, you can lose 10 kg! Yes, you can stop drinking! Yes, you can find a better job!

Real life example: When I was younger, and I attended high school, a lot of my teachers communicated (quite literally) that we were stupid, and we wouldn’t succeed in anything. There was this constant feedback loop that we had no idea about the “real world” and we would learn this the hard way. Some of them even told my parents during the evaluation that I shouldn’t try to get higher degree, that it was waste of money. That’s how they saw us (and the world). Unconsciously, I copied this believe. That’s how I saw myself (and the world). It took me some time to see it’s a faulty assumption and quite the opposite is true. It took me some time to overcome this limiting belief.

Thought exercise: When you were younger, who influenced you negatively? Who “planted” a limiting belief in you?

Search for a feeling

How can we know we are on the right track? How can we know we are not bounded by our limitations? Use your feelings as a compass. When you experience a positive feeling, you know you are on the right track. When you experience a negative feeling, it’s time to examine your thoughts and behavior. In my next blog article, I’m going to explain how you can do this.