“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”-Viktor E. Frankl
One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read is “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankel. I won’t spoil the experience by sharing it here, but please go check it out. He speaks of his experience in the Nazi concentration camp. He learned that even when all external freedoms are removed. What cannot be removed is the internal state of a persons thinking. The message of this book is so powerful that for most people who read it, it changes them forever. I can’t speak on freedom without referencing Victor Frankel. Especially the type of freedom I’m speaking of in this post.
One of the most fundamental desires in all of us is the desire to be free. There’re many forces that act upon us that impact our ability to truly be free. But those external forces are not nearly as prevalent as the internal forces that keep us in bondage.
We are most often in a prison of our own making. We often look at the external world around us and lament the political forces that remove our freedoms, but we don’t look at what we are doing internally to keep ourselves held down.
We are creatures of habit. Our habits stack one on another to create the person we become. Habits can be purposeful or they can evolve overtime without too much of our own thinking or direction. These habits can either free us or build, block by block, the walls of our own prison.
Let’s talk about some of the most common blocks that build the walls of our own prison:
- Cultural and societal pressure
- Bad habits
- Grudges and and unwillingness to forgive
There’s so many people who want to see you addicted today. You have to be on the constant watch for psychological and physiological substances designed to keep you coming back for more. Whether this is gambling, gaming, sugar, caffeine or social media. Everyone wants a piece of you and if you aren’t watching for it you may be falling into the trap. Marketing messages are designed to create demand. What that means is they are looking at ways to make you believe that you absolutely must have the thing that’s being offered.
Or in the case of gaming and pornography these work upon a person’s natural desire to escape. And before long that becomes your primary coping mechanism for everything. Rather than facing life and tackling it head on you learn to escape to substances and activities that fog your ambition.
Almost all processed food now has mass quantities of salt, sugar and caffeine. They are even putting caffeine in bottled water! It’s not like the whole world is out to get you per se. No, the point I’m making is that if you don’t consciously choose to not allow these addictions into your life they can take over by default.
I’ve worked with hundreds of addicts and none of them woke up in the morning one day and said “Gee I think I’ll be a drug addict”. In most cases they were surprised to find themselves in the circumstances they were in. It’s no different for each one of us. We have to be purposefully and consciously aware who we are and what we want.
Cultural and societal pressures:
Group dynamics always seek for equilibrium. What that means is when you’re part of any majority group that group will seek to have you follow it’s mores and behaviors. This isn’t always a bad thing. But it can be if you’re not paying attention. Generally speaking if you’re following the crowd you might be walking toward a cliff. We are hardwired to look for social proof for what we do and how we justify our thinking. But what if the group is wrong? Even if the group is right it’s dangerous to follow blindly. Again, the remedy is to have a clear plan for yourself. Way too often people are merely trying to live up to scripts of expectations that others have for them. Figure out your own script! The fact of the matter is most people don’t think about you that much. They have too much going on in their own lives. Yet many times we are so concerned about what others think that we completely alter who we are. Let me tell you a little secret: most people only think about you for about 90 seconds before their mind moves onto the next thing. Why change who you are just so someone can feel better about themselves for 90 seconds? And if someone really only feels better about themselves because they see you as less of a person then why give them any credibility anyway?
As we’ve already established it is easy to fall into patterns of repeated behavior. Whether that’s as simple a going to bed late and waking up late. Or eating too much. Or watching too much TV and wasting time. Or just ambling along aimlessly in life without a sense of direction. Always looking for the next escape and way to pass the time. The way to not fall into this trap is to consciously and purposefully create a routine that develops habits that lead to growth. In the same way that bad habits can hold you back, great habits can set you free.
We all have fear but when our fear of things dictates how we conduct our lives, then we have put ourselves in a virtual prison. About 99% of what we worry about has no basis in reality at all. It’s not so much about eliminating fear it’s about learning to do things anyway. Most of the time the thing you fear just simply never comes to pass. So by pushing through and doing it anyway you learn that fear is usually an illusion. Fear has two purposes: to protect us and help us grow. Fear is to be overcome. There are legitimate fears and these are usually evident as a rational mind can clearly determine the difference between something that will take our life versus something that just makes us feel uncomfortable. For example Public speaking is one of the top three fears of most people. Yet I don’t know anyone who died from speaking in front of a group. I’m sure somewhere along the way it’s happened but it doesn’t happen 99.9999% of the time.
Have you ever noticed that if you tell one lie you have to tell thousand more? Some people get caught in such a web of lies that they live in constant bondage. Always trying to tell and remember lies that will protect them from the last lies that they told. It just doesn’t pay to be a liar. They’re short term benefits perhaps. You can get out of the immediate fix but you’re only creating a larger pit that you will have to stay in until you tell the truth and dig your way out. There is also something liberating about being transparent about who you really are. Sometimes you work so hard to convey an image about who you think others think you should be, that you’ve completely lost yourself. Just be yourself! And if you don’t know who you are then take some time to consider that. Read my “Prosper You Manifesto” to get some ideas.
Hate is such a waste of energy! Think of how much you put into hating someone. It’s exhausting. Just choose to love people instead. If you really dislike someone just go do something nice for them and you’ll find out they are person just like you. They have their own fears, imperfections and hangups just like you. My daughter taught me a great lesson on this one. One day I was ranting and raving about a guy at work and my daughter Kallie said, “Hey Dad, have you prayed for them?” All I could think about was why would I want to pray for him? But once I got past the emotion I decided try it. What I found out is it’s impossible to hate someone when you’re praying for them. Because in the act of praying for them you have to empathize with them. Free yourself from the prison at hate and just decide to love people instead.
Grudges and unwillingness to forgive:
This one is a lot like the section above on hate. But it’s so common that people hold grudges that I just have to tackle this one by itself. Holding a grudge is like carrying around a massive backpack full of rocks. It takes a lot of energy and it’s just plain stupid. Really who cares what someone did sometime in the past? It’s not like your carrying that bag of rocks around is going to do anything to them. All it does is weigh you down. Take every grudge and write it down on piece of paper then crumple it into a ball and throw it in the garbage. Feel that bag of rocks drop off your back! Seriously now, go do it.
There’re probably many other things that put us in our own personal prisons but these are the most common in my experience. Take some time today to consider these and set yourself free!
Go make it a blessed day!