I love coffee. I often refer to it as life’s blood that fuels me.
A few weeks ago after a nice early morning surf session, I stopped by my local caffeine shop for a double espresso. I noticed a woman sitting alone with her nose in a book. I noticed that it was a book I had read last year.
“Excuse me, I apologize for interrupting your reading but I just wanted to comment on the book you’re reading. It’s excellent, I hope that you’re enjoying it.”
“I am,” she said and then followed it up with a question of her own. “Do you always talk to strangers?”
I had never really thought about it but I told her yeah. I really just like a conversation, especially with new people.
“You’re a Sagittarius aren’t you?” She asked me.
I said that I was and proceeded to sit down directly in front of her. “How’d you know?”
She mentions that she’s into astrology, horoscopes, and enjoys trying to guess what zodiac sign people are. I asked if she could tell anything else about me as I was curious.
“Well, she says. I bet you sleep with your windows open (my mouth opened a little because I always sleep with my windows open) and you probably even use the restroom with the door open at every chance you get.”
I laughed a little but was amazed. It was true and I wanted to know how she knew those things. She said it was typical of a Sagittarius sign because of their free-spirited nature. They’re afraid to be trapped, confined, and always want to keep their options open. They want freedom and choice.
A lot of the post ideas I get for the site are through personal experiences with friends, family, or strangers and this is no exception. The brief exchange I had with this woman got my mind firing about personal freedom and what that exactly means and how to achieve more of it.
Table of Contents
What is personal freedom?
What does personal freedom mean to you?
When I sat and thought about it for a bit I decided that my freedom wasn’t about doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Instead, it was about having options and choices. I have so many interests, so many things I want to accomplish or learn. I want the ability to pursue those interests freely and without interruption.
As we’ve shown, it’s experiences and not material wealth that leads to happiness. Freedom is a way for me to leverage those experiences to produce as much happiness for myself and for those most important to me in my life.
What’s getting in the way of your freedom?
I consider time to be the world’s most valuable resource and the one we take for granted. If you live to the average age of 79 that gives you roughly 700,000 hours to play with.
The average person spends about one-third of that time sleeping which leaves you with about 49 years of waking life. I like to think of that as a full 49 years to create as many opportunities for yourself as possible.
Think about the time you spend in class, stuck in traffic, at work, performing daily activities like brushing your teeth, showering, and sitting on the porcelain throne. Not to mention running errands, cooking, cleaning, or playing video games.
When it’s all said and done your left with about 9 good years of life left to call your own.
Saving time is a difficult task. Make the most of the mundane and routine.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to stop bathing, avoid cooking, forget about sleeping, or just up and quit their job. I believe you make the most of those opportunities by creating more life in those seemingly mundane and routine tasks.
Remember grocery shopping as a kid? I bet on more than one occasion you ran that shopping cart down an aisle or two as fast as you could and hopped on the back and just coasted. Ever been stuck in traffic, rolled down those windows, and passed the time by belting out your favorite song to pass the time?
I remember doing yard work on my own. Not much fun. I also remember doing it with my Pops or best friend and having a great conversation about life, love, or just shooting the bull about our favorite sports teams.
A complete overhaul in your life to find more time might be a difficult task to achieve. But improving the quality of time you already spend might be something a little more manageable.
Since the majority of us spend most of our time at work what are three ways you can improve upon the time that is spent there? Think about ways you can contribute, add excitement or value, or grow personal relationships.
Are you ruining your freedom?
A few months ago I had a chat with David over at Raptitude.com. He’s been one of my inspirations for this idea of getting better at being human. I had a few questions for him one of which was this:
If you had to break getting better at being human into smaller skill sets to practice what would they be? The things humans are not good at. (ie: mastering emotions, health, personal finance, etc…)
His response didn’t disappoint.
- Training your mind to be more conscious and less reactive (staying in the moment / avoiding getting mistaking your thoughts for your life / knowing what your emotional push-buttons are/learning to shift your thinking habits towards optimism)
- Preserving your freedom by avoiding common mistakes (debt, bad finances, bad relationships, bad careers)
- Setting up your life so that it produces joy as a matter of routine (finding a way to make a living that doesn’t drain your life from you, living with fewer possessions and commitments, devoting regular time every week [rather than “found time”] to achieving goals)
Essentially we’re ruining our chances at freedom by making poor choices in our lives. As David said, making common mistakes by getting into debt and living outside our means, holding on to toxic relationships, getting involved in careers that have no real value to us, or making poor health and wellness decisions with regards to the foods that we eat or how active we are.
You can solve most of these problems by simply becoming aware of them.
- Spend a month tracking your finances to see where your money is going. (Use these templates from Budgetsaresexy.com)
- Keep a food log and exercise journal to see how consistent you are with your nutrition and fitness plans.
- Take note of the relationships that give you energy and provide positive life experiences versus those that do not.
You have a choice in how much freedom you can experience. How important is it to you?
Freedom in career
I hate the idea of trading my time for money. It makes me feel like I’m putting a price tag on myself.
Right now the message that is being sent by trading time for money is this:
“…The message that corporations are sending employees is that showing up and putting in your hours is as important as being productive….” –Deliveringhappiness.com
But the truth is we will always be trading our time for money and if that’s the case why not tilt the trade-off in our favor by doing more work than we’re actually excited about.
It’s not that we don’t want to work, it’s more about doing more work that we love. Work we feel contributes to something bigger than ourselves, and can be done on a schedule that makes finding more joy in our life easier. In fact, I would argue that if we didn’t work we’d all probably go a little crazy.
Psychologist and Professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, Barry Schwartz tells us that too much free time, autonomy, and choice might actually be bad for us. It can contribute to lower levels of happiness if we are not clear about what we want to do with our free time and choices.
Think about it for a second, what do you do when you have free time now? I bet most of it is spent running errands, performing small time-consuming tasks, watching TV, relaxing, or possibly even doing more work.
Maybe it’s time to start getting clear about what it is you would actually do with more freedom. Let’s take a second to perform this little exercise.
One day of pure freedom:
- Grab a notebook and pen or pencil
- Think about your next day off. Forget about running errands and all those tiny time-consuming tasks we like to do that make us feel busy and important. What would you actually like to do with a complete 24 hours of pure freedom?
- Get extremely specific and even detail your day hour by hour.
- Now go and do that your next day off and record exactly how you felt.
Now think about an entire 30 days of pure freedom
- What would you be doing each and every day with all that free time
- Take special notice of the people you imagine spending time with, activities you’re performing, work that you’re doing, and places you’re going.
You’ll probably notice some common themes. Maybe there is some consistency with who you are spending time with or something you end up doing like a specific activity each day. Now brainstorm a little bit and think about how you can create more experiences with those people and doing those activities. Take a look at your current schedule and if you don’t currently use a calendar to schedule out your day, activities, and tasks I highly recommend doing so.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available we provide for it. So essentially the amount of time we have to complete a task is the amount of time we will use. If you give yourself 30 minutes to complete some paperwork you will finish it in 30 minutes but if you give yourself an hour to complete the same amount of paperwork you will take an hour. Putting time constraints on certain activities or work has made me so much more productive each day.
After looking over your schedule figure out a way to fit in 30 minutes every day to spending time with those people or performing one of the activities you imagined in your day off or 30 days of pure freedom.
Contribute to your pure freedom account
Most of us want more freedom so that we can pursue various interests and passions. You don’t need an entire day, month, or year off to accomplish the things you want. You simply need to get specific about what it is you want and then set time aside to actually participate in those things. Treating them like a job – something you get paid for and are required to show up for the day in and day out.
You might not be in the exact situation you had hoped for at this time in your life but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working towards those things. Even if it’s only 5 minutes every day, take that 5 minutes and get to work.
How to spend the pure freedom you currently have:
- Work on personal development: Read books, have conversations, and take free classes online.
- Know yourself: Define what you want out of your personal relationships, career, health, and wealth. Consider other roles you currently have in a life-like husband, father, mother, daughter, lover, etc… what do you need to be doing in those roles to be fulfilled?
- Values: Get clear on the things that are most important for you. If you’re not sure where to start use this values chart to help the brainstorming.
- Practice being optimistic: It just doesn’t make much sense to me, not to me. Being optimistic can be tough but spend a few minutes before bed each night identifying three things that you’re proud of, went well, or got excited about. What are you looking forward to tomorrow? What do you anticipate going right?
- Do work you enjoy: I love writing and almost never get paid for it but I always feel in the zone when I’m doing it. I love spending my free time working on an article, poem, or some other written piece. Find time each day to do work you really are excited about.
- Practice wellness: Get to stepping during your free time. Find ways to be more active and move. Go for a walk, practice a handstand, climb a frick’n tree.