America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. — Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln’s quote applies equally to the individual as to the collective.
It’s tempting to look to external constraints, to blame circumstances for where you are in your life. The truth is that you have more power than you think.
The biggest obstacles to your happiness are within you, and you can free yourself from them at any time.
What obstacles are in your way, that if you were free from them you’d unlock the door to a life of greater ease and joy — perhaps even that “happiness” that is promised in the Declaration of Independence.
When we speak about freedom, it helps to differentiate between freedom from and freedom to.
Here are three ways to get freedom from — releasing the constraints holding you back.
(1) Freedom From Knowing
Do you remember what it felt like the last time you learned or discovered something new?
Notice the joy that children have as they discover new things. That joy is available to all of us — if we free ourselves from what we know.
Learning new things is a core need for our psychological well-being. It boosts self-confidence and self-efficacy, and fosters creativity and connections.
Curiosity and wonder can open us to new ideas, experiences, and possibilities.
Unfortunately, the pressure to be an “expert” and have the “right” answers keeps many people trapped in the veil of “knowing.”
The minute you think you know the answer, you close yourself off from learning and discovery.
Each of us views life through the peephole of our own experience. What you see and know is a small fraction of what exists.
Free yourself from the constraints of what you know, and open yourself to the joy of discovery.
(2) Freedom From Expectations
Expectations create resistance.
Resistance creates suffering.
Expectations create suffering.
We often operate within the confines of expectations — either those we perceive that others hold for us or those that we hold for ourselves.
We also hold expectations for others: how they should be and act, what they should say, wear, or do. When they don’t meet our expectations we are disappointed or angry.
When we are trying to meet expectations or expecting others to meet our expectations we resist life as it is. This resistance creates our suffering.
When you free yourself from the expectations you hold for yourself or that you believe others hold for you, you give yourself room to explore. You also remove your fear of disappointing others.
When you free yourself of the expectations you hold for others you eliminate disappointment and resentment.
Allow life to unfold as it happens.
(3) Freedom From Regret
Regret is pain without purpose. It keeps you looking to the past instead of focused on the present or looking to the future.
Trust yourself, then you will know how to live. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Regret is a direct attack on your self-trust.
When you regret something you did in the past, you send yourself a message that you cannot trust yourself.
Fear of future regret keeps you stuck in indecision and prevents you from moving forward.
Not every decision pans out as you expect (yet another reason to free yourself from expectations). And sometimes we exercise poor judgment in our actions.
Regret is an escape from responsibility — the ability to respond.
When you free yourself from regret, you will force yourself to find the gifts in decisions that did not produce the outcomes you desired. You’ll take ownership of your actions.
That sense of agency over your decisions and actions breeds self-trust and self-efficacy, which lie at the heart of happiness.