It’s no secret. I hawk freedom for living. My “theory of change” revolves around the idea that we are stuck in habituated ways of being that are no longer serving our best selves.
For most of its young life, psychology’s main job has been to discover how past events influence present behavior. That’s the traditional route most folks think of when they think of therapy. And it has done a terrific job of making us aware that adult irrationality is often the result of childhood frustrations. But there is another task on the horizon that points to a different question: Given that we are who we are, with whatever hang-ups and repressions, what can we do to improve ourselves?
Unhook and Let Go
To achieve this, a person has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances. This is an inside job that requires discipline and perseverance. A lot of it. Habit is easy and our mind likes itself set. But in order to be free from anxiety, depression and other maladies of the soul, we have to learn what is important and let go of what is not.
The key is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn to substitute them for rewards that are under our volition. This isn’t to say we should abandon every goal endorsed by society. There are some keepers. Rather, it means, in addition to or instead of the goals others tell us we should strive for, we need to develop a set of our own. Viktor Frankl said: “The last of human freedoms is the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” This man watched his family and friends die in concentration in a camp. That just blows me away.
In gratitude to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience