[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Ask people — yourself! — what they value and freedom will rank near the top. What do they mean by freedom? I bet you don’t know and that this post will show you can have more.
The better you know what freedom means, the more you can bring about. If you’re vague about what it means, you won’t have as much. You probably have potential for far more than you exercise.
People can be jailed or have their freedom constrained by others. Sometimes even those jailed or otherwise constrained agree they deserve their constraint. Other times their constraints feel unfair to others.
I consider physical constraints and addressing feelings of unfairness important, but I’d like to look at other types of freedom. I also assume everyone reading this blog has enough freedom to move about and pursue happiness. By “enough freedom” I mean that if an ordinary person somewhere sometime with less physical freedom and material resources was able to achieve happiness, you have enough.
(If you believe you don’t have enough freedom by that definition, please let me know. For everyone else, I’ll continue assuming you do.)
Physical freedom and material resources are important to achieve happiness and other emotions. I’ve never been so deprived of them to know how necessary they are. Nor have I met anyone who has. So while they are important, I’m going to speak to everyone else about their lives. Doubtless readers will say, Josh, you aren’t thinking about people starving and being tortured in the world. I am, but I’m talking about freedom for people in other conditions. I’m not opposed to helping others, but I don’t believe not helping yourself helps anyone else.
Once you have physical freedom and material resources, why do so many people not achieve the happiness they pursue? Forget what they pursue, why don’t more people live the lives they want, even when not constrained from doing so?
Here we get to a mental freedom, especially in your beliefs and emotions, which seems to me largely independent of physical freedom for those who have enough, as defined above. Since your emotions are largely outside your conscious control but react to your environments, beliefs, and behavior, freedom in your environment, beliefs, and behavior determine your mental freedom.
Since I assumed we have enough freedom in our environments and behavior, the only thing left — freedom to choose our beliefs — plays a critical role in determining what freedom we have mentally.
In my experience coaching, leading seminars, and living myself, I have found inflexibility in changing one’s beliefs the critical piece for people to change and improve their lives. Psychologists have told me flexibility plays a major role in intelligence. For people with more than anyone who has been able to find happiness with less — you and me — freedom is the ability to choose your beliefs.
The crazy thing is that we all have complete control to choose our beliefs. I don’t know how people can take that from us. George Orwell speculated in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a classic work on freedom, that torture could take it away — if betraying Winston’s deepest love that kept him from feeling he was rotting away is a close enough concept — but it was the last thing taken and required inexplicably knowing and implementing a person’s deepest fears. Nobody reading this blog is in such a situation.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
“… everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” According to Frankl even Auschwitz could not take away one’s ability to choose one’s beliefs.
You can choose how you view things no matter what your situation, meaning you can bring about the emotions you want, at least according to someone who lived through Auschwitz. Needless to say, Frankl was not unique in this view. Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and Mandela come to mind, though I am no expert on their lives.
But you can take away that ability from yourself. You can do what no one else can to remove your own freedom. Or let’s look at things more positively: You can maintain all the freedom you need to experience the emotions you want by maintaining your ability to choose your beliefs.
Some call this mental freedom a luxury. Yet it costs nothing in time or any other resource. I believe they call it a luxury to excuse themselves their misery, convincing themselves they are victims unable to change themselves. But I’m getting too far afield from the point of this post:
For people with more than anyone who has been able to find happiness with less — you and me — freedom is the ability to choose your beliefs.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book