“10 Ways To Achieve Freedom”
12 minute read
When you first read the title of this article you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be an article about severing all ties and disappearing forever. You know the formula; quit your job, quit life, sever all commitments, run off into the sunset and don’t answer to anyone or anything; that’s freedom, right? Well maybe to some people, but that’s not what I consider to be true freedom.
True freedom, just like true happiness (check out this article – Your Pursuit of Happiness and the Irony of New Year) is something that comes from inside yourself. If you don’t have yourself in check first then no matter what you cut off from and no matter where you run to, you’ll never truly be free. All you’re doing is escaping, running, and avoiding.
I appreciate that the term ‘freedom’ is ambiguous and depending upon where you are in the world it could have a whole different meaning. Believe me I am not being ignorant to that fact as I write this.
But for the purpose of this article I am writing about being free as an individual and having that freedom of mind. The ‘10 ways’ that I’ve listed below are just a few simple ideas that I’ve put together which you may (or may not) find interesting. I don’t write these things as somebody who thinks he knows it all; believe me, I’m still learning and I’m still fighting to apply these things to my own life.
See what you think, and as always, please feel free to leave your comments at the bottom of this article.
Free the mind; the rest will follow.
#1 Self awareness…
We are who we are because of what we’re born into and we’re subjected to social-conditioning right from the moment we’re born. But the fact is, we weren’t all born on a production line and we didn’t enter this world on a conveyor belt. We are individuals, not duplications of each other.
The story of our lives began as a blank piece of paper, but we often forget that and somehow allow life, our environments, and the people around us to write that story for us. Self awareness allows us to re-discover that we are all individuals and that we are all here to write our own words in our own chapters of our very own books. We need to write our own life story.
The problem is that we often fly through life with such speed that we have very little time to slow down and take a look around. The modern western world is crazy busy with so much out there which craves our attention. Every second of every day seems to be filled with something.
To have a moment of peace and quiet seems to have become a rare luxury. But if we did allow ourselves to have just a second to reflect, we could ask ourselves one very important question.
“What kind of life do I really want for myself?”
Travelling certainly helps with this because the longer you’re away from your usual environment, the more receptive you are to change. To cut off for a while, to take a time out and to press the ‘pause’ button is essential for self awareness. We all need those moments to just sit back and ask ourselves a few important questions and to decide what we need to do next.
Am I on the right path?
Where do I want to go?
Is my lifestyle benefitting my ambitions?
What changes do I need to make in order to attain the life I want for myself?
We do this at work every year in the form of progression reviews and development plans, so why should life be any different?
Live. Pause. Reflect. Adapt.
#2 …and living authentically
Once we’ve finished reviewing ourselves and identifying what our individual journeys are and what we need to do to get there, the only thing that’s left is to actually, you know, live.
This is the moment when shit gets real.
In order to live authentically you need a game plan. You need to know what your moral compass is, you need to understand your own values, you need to know what you won’t put up with, and you need to execute all of this with conviction. This takes serious discipline.
It also means having the ability to make changes, to break ties with anything that holds you back, and it means being able to say ‘no’. Life is too short to waste time doing things that aren’t right for us.
Live your life in accordance with where you want to be.
Let your life resonate along the path that you’ve chosen for yourself.
Live authentically and attain freedom.
What if I told you that you could live a life in which you don’t repeat the same silly mistakes? Or that you could achieve your goal to exercise and eat healthily every day? How about if I said you could stop yourself from going back to have a fling with that same person who always makes you feel like shit? What if you could become so much better with your finances? Or what if you were able to make quality time for your family and your friends?
What if you could live the life that you truly want, rather than the life that leaves you feeling miserable?
Well there is a way in which you can achieve all that you’ve ever wanted. It’s a line that is drawn in the sand between the life that holds you back, and the life in which you can be all you ever wanted to be.
That line is called discipline.
The number one enemy of discipline is instant gratification. Discipline is about being able to forge a path towards long term happiness and success as opposed to the distractions of short term pleasures. The proof is in the opposites that these two things create. The discipline of sticking to a healthy diet leads to longer term benefits, whereas saying yes to that tasty looking doughnut in front of you does not. Going out and indulging in a series of meaningless one night stands may feel pleasurable at the time, but this does not lead you down a path of strong self-esteem where your ideal relationship will await you.
The application of discipline will allow you to achieve so much more from each day. If you have a project that you really want to work on which involves the devotion of your time; switch of the television, turn off your X-Box, pick up a book, start writing, do your exercise. Do anything. But just do something.
Because if you do something for long enough then it becomes a habit and it becomes easy. The life you want is waiting for you. You just need to develop that sense of discipline and to begin forming new habits.
At some point in our lives we’ve all said how much we’d love to do something, or you’d really like to try this, or one day I’d really like to do that. But then it never actually happens.
So for times like these I’m going to ask you one very important question.
“How much do you really want the things you say you want?”
If you really want something enough, then you can have it. It’s all about what motivates you. And low willpower really is a very poor excuse, especially when it comes to making changes.
Many years ago I volunteered as a support worker and was assigned a case in which a young heroin addict had been almost beaten to death. His habit had led him down a path that resulted in a beating that was so savage that it left the imprint of boot-marks on his face. And if his attackers hadn’t have been disturbed and scared away by witnesses, he’d have been killed. It had scared him so much that he knew he had to kick the addiction and to change his life, and he did this by having his father lock him away in his bedroom while he went cold-turkey. Despite all the difficulties that he would face doing this, he managed to kick the habit and he turned his life around. He did this himself. He made it happen. He made no excuses.
So stop making excuses, because if you want something enough then you can have it. You just need to want it enough.
Of all the things out there that will grant you a life of freedom; discipline is that thing.
Quit the short term pleasures.
Play the long game.
#4 Own less and live simply
One of the top lessons that I’ve learned from travelling is that we’re a product of our environments and are directly influenced by the people that surround us. This is fact, and as such we often find ourselves measuring our successes by what people around us have, rather than what we really want for ourselves.
One of the many things that this can lead to is the acquisition of ‘things’ and the development of materialism and superficiality. But the most amazing thing about travelling is that once you’ve broken out of that sphere of influence and have allowed yourself to embrace new ways of thinking; your perspectives really do change.
Travelling taught me that we really don’t need all that much to be happy. I’m not going to write about where I was or what I witnessed in order to feel this way as I somehow feel that could sound a little patronising and disrespectful to those people. But in more remote areas where there is very little influence from the outside world, life is very different. As long as there was food on the table, a place to sleep, and loved ones to share it with; people seemed happy. The first time I was around this I was blown away; and in many ways I was envious.
The first time I went away backpacking I made the same mistake as most other first-time backpackers; I tried to pack too much. I had so many things to pack and yet I’d run out of space. So what did I do? Did I go out and buy a bigger backpack? No, I had to stand back, take a deep breath, and then look at each and every item and ask myself if I really needed it. All of a sudden things were getting tossed aside and my inventory got lower and lower.
While you’re on the road, it’s amazing just how little you actually need. Happiness comes from experiences. Happiness comes from new places. Happiness comes from the people you meet. It does not come from the things that you have.
The more things we have, the more fearful we are of losing them. They end up owning us.
And the value of things will diminish over time, but the value of experiences never will.
Owning less grants us the power of freedom.
#5 (Part 1) Take ownership…
There is a shit-stain on modern society which is otherwise known as the ‘blame culture’. Whenever something goes wrong people can be so quick to point the finger of blame elsewhere and to rationalise any of their own wrong doing. When did this become the norm? When did this become acceptable? This is the kind of behaviour that we used to engage in when we’d been caught out for doing something mischievous as children; it’s not something we should be doing as adults. And so to continue pointing the finger in this way when we’re fully grown adults, to be perfectly frank, is beyond embarrassing. We should have grown up by now. Man the fuck up!
To engage in this blame culture is to be devoid of responsibility and can be damaging in a number of ways. We’re all aware of its existence and we all complain about its existence, yet the blame culture has become so ingrained in our modern ways of thinking that we almost accept it as commonplace.
But we all have our own bullshit radar and we know exactly when somebody is pointing the finger of blame elsewhere; we don’t like it, we don’t respect these people, and we certainly never trust these people. The people that we really respect are those who hold their hands up and accept responsibility, who hold themselves accountable, and who admit to their shortcomings; we always respect that, even if we don’t necessarily like the person.
But what does this really all have to do with freedom?
When you avoid taking responsibility and instead choose to lay the blame elsewhere, what you actually do is lose any sense of power and control of the situation. As such, you’ve taken the power away from yourself and put it into the hands of others. You’ve given away your own freedom.
However, if you were to put your hand up and take full responsibility then you take back full control of the situation. No matter what the outcome is, you will be respected for having the balls to admit to your mistake and any power that anybody ever had over you is now gone. They cannot say a thing as you’ve already got there first.
Take the power back! Be in control!
Humility is a wonderful character trait but that is only achieved through owning your flaws and your imperfections, as well as your successes and your merits. Own it. Own yourself.
#5 (Part 2) …and take full responsibility. Always.
Taking ownership is not all about admitting to mistakes; that’s only part of it. What I really mean here, and the point I want to make most is about taking full responsibility for everything that ever happens to you. And I mean everything.
If you make a decision in life which leads to an unfavourable outcome; take responsibility for it. If you make a risky business decision which pays off and you reap the rewards; take responsibility for that too. If you have a bad day and take it out on those who matter most to you by acting a complete dick; then take responsibility and admit you were a complete dick, but don’t blame it on the bad day.
Even when something happens to you as a result of another person’s actions, take full responsibility then too. What I mean by that is not to take responsibility for what they actually did or what action they took, but to take responsibility in how you respond; what happens next. Yes somebody may have done wrong by you, yes you may have been dealt an injustice, but if you let another person’s actions have control over you then you become a victim, and victims are never free.
Whether you become broken as a result of their actions, or whether you rise above it and move on to even better places, these are your own choices to make, and yours alone. This is free will.
Good things and bad things happen to us each and every day, but by being in full control of our responses, making conscious choices, and being fully responsible for ourselves under all circumstances; all of this will grant us freedom.
#6 Have full control over your finances
This is not an easy one and very often touches a nerve, but please hear me out as what I’m talking about is one very specific area of our finances. We all know about the importance of creating a weekly or monthly budget and sticking to that budget, but we all have different levels of income and we all have different responsibilities and financial outgoings in life. Our lives differ and there is no ‘one size fits all’. But the financial independence that I’m referring to here is the ability to control ‘unnecessary spending’.
It sounds obvious doesn’t it, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who remembers that amazing new blender that was advertised on TV which is so much better than the blender I’d already got because it manages to squeeze an extra 1% of goodness from my mango (ahem). I had to buy it, right? And I’m sure I’m not the only person who at some point just had to buy that new shirt because it had been a really bad week and so buying that shirt would make everything seem happy and rosy once again. I had to make the purchase, didn’t I?
Spending money would fix everything that had ever gone wrong. Spending money would feel great. Spending money would be the cure.
Except that it wasn’t.
Spending money on unnecessary things, more often than not, is just like painting over a crack in the wall. It’s just a temporary fix. But eventually that thin layer of paint will weaken and the crack will come right on through once again. What you really need to do is to fill that crack (that wasn’t meant to sound sexual, sorry), sand it down, smooth it off, and THEN paint over it. You know what I’m getting at here.
Do a proper job. Don’t ever go for the temporary fix.
Your rent, mortgage, utility bills, transportation costs, and food; whatever you really need in order to survive; they’re all essentials. They have to go out of your budget. But everything beyond that are luxuries. Enjoy your luxuries, but control them, and enjoy them for the right reasons. Whenever you get tempted to spend money, ask yourself if you really need it. Can you live without it?
Have the strength to be able to see something you like but then keep your wallet in your pocket and walk away.
Control your spending; don’t let your spending control you. This is freedom.
#7 Eliminate the need for external validation
We’re subjected to an endless barrage of external influences these days, especially through social media.
The most deep-rooted motivation behind most of what you see on platforms such as Facebook is the desire for validation. This is normal. We were conditioned that way.
Right from birth we were reliant upon our parents to clothe, feed and keep us safe. As toddlers our behaviour became ingrained through social-conditioning as we sought validation that we were behaving correctly. And this continues into our school years where we were so desperate to fit in that we made sure we kept in line with all the other children around us. We relied on others for validation that we were on the right paths.
But then we reach adult age and all of a sudden we’re in the real world, we’re alone, and we need to find our own way. But deep down that need for validation remains, and it’s only at adult age when this becomes a real problem.
That is when we need to unlearn.
One of the problems with all this goes right back to what I said previously about being influenced by our environments and the people that surround us. With social media, this problem can become tenfold. With each and every swipe of the finger we see where somebody is going on holiday, what somebody has done, what somebody has just bought, who has just gotten married, had a baby, got a new job, moved house, broken a nail, and blah blah blah.
In the end it can often appear as though we’re competing with each other.
Used correctly, social media is a wonderful thing, but if we’re not careful we can often find that the whole thing becomes one big dick-measuring contest (apologies for the crudities ladies). This gives birth to envy, to greed, and it begets a need to impress.
But what we often forget is that the things that we see are only a snippet of other people’s lives; it’s not the bigger picture. We don’t get to see all the crap that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and it’s sometimes easy to think that they have all their shit together based upon one status update.
It can be easy to lose this perspective, and in return we post our own status update in order to achieve some approval of our own.
But do you know what? You really don’t need approval from anybody but yourself. Because the problem here is that if you become so reliant on other people ticking that ‘approved’ box and validating everything that you do, what happens if all of a sudden you don’t receive it? Do you quit? Do you do something else? Do you wait until you figure out something that everyone else gives approval to?
Whenever you’re thinking of doing something, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it and ensure that your motives are sound.
And never do anything with the sole intention of impressing others.
There will always be a side of you that craves a little validation because it’s an inevitable by-product of growing up. But unless you’re careful the need for validation will lead to a life that is lived for others, rather than a life that is lived in spite of others. And this is the complete opposite of what freedom is.
Find your own path, begin your own journey, and keep moving forward.
Knowing you can do something overrules a hundred people telling you that you can’t.
Give yourself all the approval that you need. Give yourself freedom.
#8 Increase your value (and add many strings to your bow)
Do you want to hear a harsh fact about life? Nobody is going to come to your rescue when things go tits-up.
We all need to work for a living and we all need the money that working brings, but what happens when the shit hits the fan and you suddenly find yourself without a job? We all have relationships in which we invest ourselves emotionally, but what happens if that relationship falls apart and you’re suddenly left out in the cold? We can all hit rock bottom, but how easily we come back from all that can be determined in part by how valuable we are as people.
Every day we should do things that somehow increase our value as individuals.
Nothing is guaranteed in life, and we should live in a way that acknowledges that fact rather than hide away from it.
Embrace the uncertainty of life; don’t fear it.
We can train for new skills, obtain further qualifications, and build up our CV’s. We can choose to turn off the television and pick up a book instead. We can educate ourselves and expand our minds. We can create something that demonstrates who we are and what we can offer the world. We can build new relationships and build social networks. We can strengthen our bodies, and strengthen our minds. We can be ready to fight.
There are endless resources that are available for us to do all of this. We’re lucky enough to live in the age of the internet where everything we wish to know is just a few clicks away. If we need tutorials on how to do something then you can pretty much guarantee there will be a video sitting somewhere on You Tube which is ready to educate us. In this respect, we have things easy these days.
Add as many strings to your bow and keep as much up your sleeve as possible. Do whatever you can to ensure you’ve always got a back-up plan.
Create your own opportunities. Give yourself options.
#9 Find meaning in everything
It was in reading Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl that this lesson really hit home.
Viktor was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist, detained in a concentration camp during the Second World War. Viktor survived the holocaust, and as an inmate he was able to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most horrific, and therefore to find a reason to keep living. It became known as logotherapy.
The cruelties that Viktor witnessed and was subjected to are beyond all comprehension for most of us, but his lessons remain and should never be forgotten.
Alex Pattakos took the concept of logotherapy and applied it to work and to life in his book Prisoners Of Our Thoughts. This is also a fascinating read and demonstrates practical ways in which we can continue to apply Viktor’s legacy to our own lives.
Look for meaning in everything that happens. Look for the lessons that come with every given situation. Try to find the positives, no matter how bleak things may seem.
Look hard enough and you can find light in some of the darkest places.
Nobody can control your thoughts; no matter how hard they try. This is a freedom that will always be yours.
No matter what happens, no matter how hard a situation tries to break you, and no matter how cruel this world may seem; if you can apply the belief that there is meaning to be found in everything, then you will always be free.
#10 Owning your fears
The power of fear can never be under-estimated.
But fear is also something that exists purely in our own minds and more often than not comes from irrational thinking. Fear shows its ugly little head at times of uncertainty, when facing a big decision, when entering into the unknown. It is there to make us stop in our tracks and to make us think twice about what we’re doing. And then it becomes fight or flight time; it’s the tipping point, the game changer.
But the reality is that the fear that surrounds the outcome of an event is usually far worse than any outcome of the event itself. And this is something that we need to remember.
Fear can be a complete show-stopper and it can destroy our ability to become everything that we want to be. But because fear comes only from within ourselves, it means that ultimately all we’re doing is sabotaging our own lives.
Remember that ‘as you think, so shall you become’, and as such, fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But fear can also be a friend, and the reason for this is because every time fear shows itself, it means that a challenge has been presented and, well, that’s when life gets really exciting.
And that’s when you need to throw yourself into it, face-to-face, all guns blazing. When you’re immersed in the event that you feared, you somehow manage to deal with it. Human instinct kicks in; the will to survive.
When you come out of the other side you are stronger, more resilient; and even if you can’t see it straight away, you find that you’ve grown.
To be courageous does not mean to have an absence of fear, but to have an ability and a willingness to walk through that fear.
Fear is normal. Fear is natural. Everybody feels it at some point in their lives.
To experience fear is to be human.
If you cannot own your fears, if you cannot control them, then you cannot be in control of your life.
But if you can face it, deal with it, and use it to your advantage; fear can be an incredibly powerful tool on your path towards freedom.
As a closing thought, throughout history thousands upon thousands upon thousands of brave men and women have sacrificed their lives to secure our freedom. But the freedom we have been granted is not the freedom to sit around on our backsides and do nothing with our lives. We were granted freedom so that we could live side-by-side and to help each other. We were granted freedom so that we could try to make this world a better place. We were granted the freedoms that we now enjoy so that we have the opportunity to make the very best of ourselves.
It is not an option, but a duty.
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