Simplify, simplify, simplify – that’s what Thoreau urged in Walden. Over the past year, I’ve tried to take his words to heart as I’ve removed things, influences, people, and places from my life that made no positive contribution. I’ve also tried to be more succinct in thought, word, and deed (hey, David Byrne, you were right: when I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed – say something once, why say it again?) – an attempt to declutter internally as well as externally.
What’s come from that is a focus more on the daily than the yearly, on a few things rather than everything, and on practice rather than perfection. One year ago, I posted a rather lengthy, ambitious 12-month plan for creating more personal freedom in 2018 (here https://declaringfreedom.com/your-month-by-month-freedom-plan-for-2018/), and upon re-reading it, I thought it was just too much: too long, too spread out, and too hard to commit to – it seemed daunting to embark on a 12-month plan on the very first day of the New Year, and even harder to get started.
My new-and-improved solution for 2019 is to focus on a pared-down list of a few simple, daily routines that are easy to get started and easy to make into habits. Good daily habits make a good life: as the writer Annie Dillard said, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So why not fill your days with activities that will create a better, more meaningful, more free life?
Each of these five daily habits corresponds to one of your Five Freedoms. They are:
- Mental Freedom: freedom from anxiety, self-doubt, negative thoughts, and mental clutter that prevents us from being calm, focused, joyful, and productive.
- Physical Freedom: freedom from disease, injury, listlessness, weariness, and immobility that prevent us from fully living our lives. We all have different levels of physical well-being and different challenges and conditions that may prevent us from “normal” physical activity, but no matter what our base level of physical condition, ability, or activity, we can always improve it and give ourselves the healthiest bodies possible.
- Spiritual Freedom: the freedom to create meaning in our own lives, to connect to something greater than ourselves, and to define for ourselves how we choose to mark our time on this planet.
- Social Freedom: the freedom to surround ourselves with people who bring happiness, joy, excitement, adventure, and meaning into our lives, and to remove those people who take those things away from us.
- Financial Freedom: the freedom from meaningless work, drudgery, and the daily 9-to-5 grind that happens when you reduce expenses, increase savings, and invest so that your financial assets provide the income you need to live rather than relying on getting paid for your labor to survive financially. With the right habits, this is within reach for most of us, and sooner than we think if we get off the consumerist treadmill.
I’ve chosen one daily habit to help you build each one of your Five Freedoms. Practice the following five simple habits on a daily basis, and within a few weeks you’ll see a marked improvement in your personal freedom.
Daily Freedom Habit 1: Dispute your negative thoughts.
One of the most important habits you can form to support your mental freedom is to recognize and dispute your negative thoughts. 60% to 70% or more of the 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts we have each day are negative (see https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sapient-nature/201310/how-negative-is-your-mental-chatter); we have evolved this “negativity bias” because, in a world filled with physical threats, it benefited our survival to see dangers around every corner. However, in our modern world, such threats are largely eliminated and we are instead burdened by a negativity bias which is now turned inward: we are not slim enough, tall enough, smart enough, rich enough, and on and on.
To combat our built-in negativity bias, simply do the following each and every day:
- Notice when you are having a negative thought
- Dispute the negative thought immediately by
asking the following three simple questions:
- The reality question: Is it true?
- The positivity question: Is there a more positive way to interpret this situation?
- The perspective or proportionality question: Even if it were true, is it really a catastrophe or is it just an annoyance that I’m blowing out of proportion?
By freeing your mind from negative thoughts, you’ll be less anxious, more focused, and more engaged every day.
Daily Freedom Habit 2: Move!
Evolution crafted our human bodies to be in motion: Mark Sisson of Primal Blueprint fame (see https://www.marksdailyapple.com/) says we have evolved to lift heavy things, cover long distances slowly, and to sprint occasionally. The best way to develop your physical freedom is to move vigorously on a daily basis, so follow Mark’s advice every day and do the following:
- Walk (or jog, or run, or bicycle) at a comfortable pace for about 20 to 30 minutes
- Sprinkle in some weight-bearing exercise (Mark recommends planks, push-ups, and pull-ups)
- Make sure to stretch to maintain flexibility (Self magazine has a great catalogue of essential stretches here: https://www.self.com/gallery/essential-stretches-slideshow)
If you have a physical disability that prevents you from moving freely, substitute a physical activity that you can do (e.g., if you are wheelchair-bound and can’t move your legs, then move your arms, trunk, and head). Moving every day will help build the physical health you need to be as physically free as you can be – and remember to check with your doctor first before beginning a new program of intense physical activity!
Daily Freedom Habit 3: Be kind and compassionate – to yourself, others, and everything in the world around you.
Being kind to others is a key ingredient in feeling connected to them and to the world at large. And you can’t be kind to others unless you show yourself some kindness and compassion, too (this goes hand-in-hand with eliminating negative thoughts – see Daily Freedom Habit 1 above). In fact, kindness doesn’t stop at people, either – practicing kindness toward animals, plants, insects, and the entirety of the physical and natural world around you will make you feel more connected to everything and help develop your spiritual freedom, helping you to find and create meaning in your life as you contemplate your role in the universe and in helping others however you can (see https://theblissfulmind.com/2018/01/08/feel-connected/ for more tips on feeling connected).
Every day, practice the following:
- When interacting with yourself, be kind (recognize and dispute negative thoughts, per Daily Freedom Habit 1)
- When interacting with others, be kind: don’t judge, don’t use harsh words, be helpful, be supportive, be gentle, be caring – you know how this works!
- When interacting with the animals, plants, and things in the natural world around you, be kind: don’t mistreat animals, don’t litter, don’t destroy the natural environment, respect the planet and take care of it wherever you travel
As you practice kindness, you’ll feed your spiritual freedom and have greater insight into how important a part you really play in the world at large (if everyone and everything are connected, then everyone and everything has a meaningful part in creating the universe we all inhabit).
Daily Freedom Habit 4: Maintain your positive relationships with friends and family.
It’s well known that strong social connections are an important part of living a healthy life (see, e.g., https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201208/connect-thrive, by Emma Seppala, PhD, author of The Happiness Track). The famed Grant and Glueck Studies, twin Harvard longitudinal studies on healthy aging, show that the one thing that leads to a fulfilling life is the quality of your relationships with other people – full stop.
So, every day, work to maintain at least one relationship with another friend or family member, someone who’s important to you and whose relationship benefits both of you:
- Call and chat: relationships need steady contact or they’ll wither and die
- Arrange a time to meet in person in advance, for a meal, for an event, or for an adventure (winter hiking, anyone?)
- Forgive and forget: if you haven’t been talking to an old friend because you’re holding a grudge, let it go. Life is too short, and relationships too precious, to let old friendships fade because of perceived slights. Of course, if you’ve let go of an old friend because he or she was honestly abusive or behaving badly (e.g., being consistently demeaning to you, or not supporting you, or taking more than giving in the relationship), then you may have to let the relationship go for your own well-being, difficult as that may be.
Daily Freedom Habit 5: Create more, consume less.
We in the United States live in a consumerist culture: we love to “shop ‘til we drop” and gleefully extoll the virtues of “retail therapy” as a pick-me-up when we’re feeling low. More and more, this culture has been exported around the world, and as burgeoning middle classes develop in China and India, they, too, want their share of LCD TVs, iPhones, air conditioners, and designer clothing, going beyond basic needs to satisfy desires in part created by media and advertising.
This is sheer madness. Numerous studies have shown that buying more “things” (beyond basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, education, and entertainment) does not make us happier – in fact, it can even make us less happy as we need to continuously up our consumption game to stay on the “hedonic treadmill.”
To create more financial freedom every day, you need to get off the mindless consumerist treadmill. We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that the solution to any problem we face is to buy something, whether it’s a pill to lose weight or a robot to fold your laundry for you (yep, that actually exists: you can buy the “Laundroid” for a mere $16,000! https://interestingengineering.com/10-most-useless-gadgets-of-2017). Instead, we need to change our mindsets to become creators, not consumers. Creators exercise their imaginations, not their wallets, to solve problems, and they become more independent, resilient, and financially free while doing so.
To build this habit, try this every day:
- When you’re about to buy something beyond a basic necessity, ask yourself if there’s not another way you could satisfy that need by using something you already have or creating something new out of things you already have at hand
- When you’re faced with a consumerist impulse and think you need “retail therapy” to feel better, try substituting a creative activity instead: write a poem, make a collage out of old magazine cuttings, draw a picture with those old colored pencils in your desk, anything that exercises your imagination and doesn’t involve making a purchase
In addition to saving you money, being more creative will actually make you happier and healthier, according to Amanda Enayati of CNN: “The link between creativity and better mental and physical health is well established by research. Creating helps make people happier, less anxious, more resilient and better equipped to problem-solve in the face of hardship” (see https://deltadiscoverycenter.com/link-between-creativity-happiness-creativity/ for more information on the benefits of creativity).
Practiced daily, these five simple “freedom habits” will help you increase your mental, physical, spiritual, social, and financial freedom – and you don’t have to wait until you finish your master plan for 2019 to get started right away.