The New Year is a traditional time to reflect on the past, learn (at least a little) from it, and use it as raw material to make the next year even better. This is a great opportunity for each of us to think about the Five Freedoms in our own lives, whether and how we’ve made progress toward personal freedom over the past year, and how to continue to cultivate these freedoms for ourselves and others in 2017. Here are 5 ways you can declare your own freedom in 2017 and beyond, with some recommended reading from experts worth your time.
Mental Freedom. Having the right attitude is foundational to all the other freedoms; without being free of self-defeating thoughts, fears, and anxieties, it will be difficult to make progress toward the other Five Freedoms. An idea I kept coming back to in 2016 was that of “mindset,” the way you think about yourself and your opportunities for growth and change: you can either cultivate a “growth mindset,” in which you think it is always possible for you to grow, change, and improve, or you can be hampered by a negative mindset in which you believe your abilities are limited, change is hard, and opportunities for growth are few and far between. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., is a professor at Stanford and pioneered the study of mindset in personal achievement; she wrote a ground-breaking book on the topic (http://mindsetonline.com/thebook/buythebook/index.html). Developing a growth mindset is key to mental freedom and an important pillar of personal freedom.
Physical Freedom. In a prior post (http://declaringfreedom.com/my-great-big-fat-paleo-diet/), I extolled the virtues of a Paleo diet to increase energy, focus, and overall health. I’ve experimented with it in the past, but really made a commitment in 2016 to adopt a diet focused primarily on protein and vegetables, avoiding unnecessary (and harmful) carbohydrates and sugars. Sure enough, I lost 10 pounds in a couple of weeks, got a ton more energy, and have managed to keep the weight off during the holidays (even though I’ve had more than the occasional Christmas cookie). This kind of diet also improves the mood, and researchers are now discovering a powerful link between diet and happiness (see, e.g., The Happiness Diet by Drew Ramsey, M.D., a professor of Psychiatry at Columbia, http://drewramseymd.com/books/happiness-diet/). So, think carefully about what you eat in 2017 if you want to achieve physical freedom.
Spiritual Freedom. In 2016 I finally bit the bullet and took up a consistent meditation practice. Based on advice from a good friend, I picked up the book, Super Mind, by Norman Rosenthal, M.D. (https://www.normanrosenthal.com/blog/book/super-mind/). In Super Mind, Dr. Rosenthal reviews the hundreds of medical studies done on one specific type of meditation, Transcendental Meditation (TM), and shows the numerous mental, physical, and spiritual benefits TM provides. That was enough to give me the impetus to get started, so I checked out TM’s website (http://www.tm.org), found a beginner course near me, and signed up. Since I’ve started my twice-daily TM practice about 6 months ago, I’ve been much calmer, more focused, more energetic, and less anxious – pretty much as advertised. A regular, daily practice of meditation will help you to achieve an inner peace and focus that will free you from fear and allow you to achieve more, with less stress, in all areas of your life, work, and relationships.
Social Freedom. So many attempts at personal freedom run aground on the shoals of perceived (and actual) social constraints. Many of the people on this planet are denied basic social freedoms because they are trapped by repressive political regimes; others may live in countries which are politically free but not socially progressive, and so find themselves unable to be free to express their true natures in social interactions with strangers, friends, or even close relatives. No matter where on the spectrum of social freedom you may find yourself, you can always benefit from the wisdom of The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz, M.D. (see http://www.miguelruiz.com/), which I’ve been re-reading this past December. In particular, the second of the Four Agreements, “Don’t take anything personally,” can help you understand that the way other people react to you is a function of their own background and point of view (their own “dream”) and has very little, if anything, to do with you – and that, therefore, you shouldn’t let other folks’ expressed opinions about you carry any weight in how you act or in how you feel about yourself. What they say about you or how they treat you in a social interaction places no real limitation on your social freedom – as long as you don’t take it personally.
Financial Freedom. Finally, this New Year is a great time to think about spending and saving in a new way that will enhance your financial freedom. Avoiding mindless consumerism is step number one to financial independence – David Bach of Finish Rich fame (https://davidbach.com/) coined the “latte factor” to describe the small (but continual), thoughtless, wasteful expenditures that prevent most people from making meaningful progress toward saving significant sums of money. And it was Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, in Your Money or Your Life (https://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Life-Transforming-Relationship/dp/0143115766), who made clear that spending money is the equivalent of expending life energy: every dollar represents some of your personal time spent laboring to earn that money. When viewed that way, it becomes obvious that most of our choices for spending money are just a waste of our life energy (is that shiny new pickup truck really worth 25 hours of your life every month for the next 5 years?). Financial freedom begins with a careful assessment of spending habits, and a reduction of wasteful expenditures so that our life energy is spent not to accumulate “stuff” but to procure personal freedom and more time to pursue the things we love: time with family and friends, meaningful pursuits, and creating (and enjoying) true personal freedom. Take the time to find out how you are really spending your life energy, and whether you are truly satisfied that you have made the right choices in those expenditures – chances are that you can greatly reduce your expenses and increase your quality of life and happiness at the same time.
The New Year may be only one day old, but there’s no time to waste: each day represents another step you could be taking toward developing the Five Freedoms for yourself, your friends, and your family, as you create your own ultimate vision of personal freedom.