Monday, March 29, 2010

Freedom - part 1

"He is free who knows how to keep in his own hands the power to decide."
Salvador de Madariaga

It is life denying to diminish your world through limited choice and flexibility.

Freedom and choice are important and life enhancing values and you want to hold on to them with all your heart.

This is the first of a multi-part focus on freedom in this blog. In it I'll introduce some of the key ideas and distinctions around freedom to get you attuned and thinking about the subject. We'll then follow this up in the next blog entry with an interview with Pulitzer prize nominated author Thomas Sullivan as he discusses and shares his insights on freedom, its importance and how to create more of it in your life.

For now, let's get started on our explorations into the ideas that underpin freedom.

Never give away choice

There is an old Estonian proverb, full of wisdom that says “never leave yourself with only one pair of shoes” because if they get too tight and start to hurt, your life can end a painful misery. This maxim or learning tool refers to the idea that if you give away choice and only allow yourself one option in life, and if that option becomes problematic, you’ll end up with a life of unhappiness.

Thinking Tool: Freedom and Choice

Never leave yourself with only one pair of shoes!

Requisite Variety

There is also a provable mathematical theorem from Systems Theory that supports this. Known as the ‘Law of Requisite Variety’ it suggests that in any system the element that has the most choice, flexibility or requisite variety will be the controlling element. The corollary to this is that to gain more freedom or control in any system, you need to give yourself more choice or flexibility.

NLP Success Formula

Remember the NLP Success Formula:
  1. Clearly know your outcome
  2. Take congruent action
  3. Learn from feedback
  4. Change and adjust your behaviour until you achieve your outcome
The fourth step is about flexibility and is supported by the ideas from the Law of Requisite Variety. A simple way to remember this law is ‘Choice = Control’. Always give yourself more choice and flexibility and never give away your control. As often as possible in life always give yourself more choice (within reason) rather than less.

The Bliss Point of choice

Of course, choice and the number of options needs to be balanced. Research in cognitive psychology has shown that too many choices can also lead to stress and decreased happiness. The optimal number of choices appears to be somewhere between 3 to 6. More or less than this can be problematic. I'll blog soon about the difference between choice and freedom and how they are related. For now, note that there is a 'bliss point' to choice and that if you need more freedom or control in a situation, then it's often because you have limited your choice, flexibility or requisite variety.

Thinking Tool: Choice and Control

Choice = Control

"If you don’t take control of your life, someone else will.”
Paul McKenna

The power of Generative Questions

One way to encourage yourself and directionalise your mind towards freedom and choice is to ask yourself generative questions - questions that open your mind to new possibilities and new directions. Questions have the power to shape your thoughts, your Reticular Activating System, your head, heart and gut brains and ultimately your life. Use the following example questions to increase awareness around freedom and flexibility in your life.

Awareness Questions:

Ask Yourself -
  • In what situations or contexts do I need more choice and control?
  • In what areas of my life do I lack flexibility?
  • How can I create more choice and freedom in my life?

"Between stimulus and response is the freedom to choose."
Viktor Frankl

Types of freedom

Note that freedom is not a single, unitary and amorphous entity. Freedom comes in a number of flavours -- there are many types and forms of freedom. For example:
  • Financial freedom
  • Relationship freedom
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Emotional freedom
  • Beliefs and Identity freedom
  • etc.
Every one of them is life enhancing and has skills and techniques for maintaining and maximising your choice and freedom in that domain. In up-coming blogs I'll explore these with you. We'll look at how dis-empowering and irrational beliefs rob you of freedom. We'll drill into the skills and insights needed for financial freedom. We'll play with ideas for intellectual freedom and the ability to question all the false assumptions that society swamps you with. Importantly, we'll also learn about how to do relationship freedom and how to create exquisite relatings in your life.

For now, during this following week, make some time to reflect on the various contexts of your life and whether you are truly free and have real choice. Or are you constrained by the expectations of others? Have you given away your choice and power to decide? Are you truly living the life enhancing destiny you desire? Are you dreaming BIG dreams and putting them into action? Or are you living a join the dots life of mundane mediocrity and following rules foist upon you by society and the ignorance of previous generations?

All big and life enhancing questions. Have a play with them. And look forward to some stimulating responses from author Thomas 'Sully' Sullivan in next week's interesting and inspiring installment, as Sully ponders upon these crucial questions on the life enhancing topic of freedom.

Want to learn more, get a copy of my book: Avoiding the Enemies to HAPPINESS!

life enhancing great wishes

And if you are interested...

Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life - Judith Orloff M.D.

A superbly written series of psychological strategies for maximizing positive emotions and minimizing toxic ones. A practicing psychiatrist, the author straddles the worlds of mainstream medicine and alternative healing.

Beyond Freedom & Dignity - B. F. Skinner

In this profound and profoundly controversial work, a landmark of 20th-century thought originally published in 1971, B. F. Skinner makes his definitive statement about humankind and society. Insisting that the problems of the world today can be solved only by dealing much more effectively with human behavior, Skinner argues that our traditional concepts of freedom and dignity must be sharply revised. Beyond Freedom and Dignity urges us to reexamine the ideals we have taken for granted and to consider the possibility of a radically behaviorist approach to human problems. It is the environment rather than humankind itself that must be changed if the traditional goals of the struggle for freedom and dignity are to be reached.

A Theory of Freedom: From the Psychology to the Politics of Agency

In this short yet ambitious work, Philip Pettit offers a single, unified, and overarching theory of freedom. A puzzling topic, freedom extends from the individual and the metaphysical (i.e. free will) to the social and the political, yet a theory connecting these two realms has yet to be devised. In an elegant, accessible manner, Pettit presents a survey of available theories of freedom, then develops his own--one that manages to straddle the personal and political spheres. The view he develops--which includes the seemingly paradoxical notion that we are free to the extent that we are capable of being held responsible


  1. Hey, I knew that Estonian guy who said, "Never leave yourself with only one pair of shoes." Married 7 times, died with 43 bullets in his head from 7 different guns. Kidding, kidding! More than one pair of shoes applies to freedom/choice WITHIN a marriage, of course. And I hope my responses next week up the high quality of this first installment, Grant. You're a tough act to follow...

    -- Sully

  2. Hey Sully, yes very good point there -- shoes for shoes sake (or wives for wives sake) is not life enhancing. I think that's encapsulated under the 'bliss-pointing' for choice concept.

    I'll blog about that in more detail in an upcoming entry. But definitely worth a note, that choice just for choice sake, rather than choice for flexibility and to increase requisite variety towards meeting your values and outcomes, is not really freedom.

    If you are locked into a more-the-more pattern of constantly needing more and more choice, then you aren't free. To be truly free, you need to also be able to have (give yourself) the choice to give up choice when appropriate. A very subtle and important distinction, and I thank you for bringing that to the fore :D

    best wishes and smiles


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