Tag Archives: Freedom

You Have More Choice Than You Think

This one or That one?

The other day I was walking down the street, minding my own business. I had forgotten my iPod, so I was just lazily listening to the everyday sounds drifting around as I slowly made my way towards wherever it was that I was going to end up. I wanted to take the train downtown, but since it was Saturday, they only run every hour. I had just missed the last one, so I had an hour to kill.

Eventually, I knew I was going to end up back at the strain station, but between now (which was really then) and then I had an hour to kill, and a couple of internally accepted restrictions.

A word about restrictions. OK, maybe a couple words about restrictions. Basically there are two kinds of restrictions. Internally imposed, and externally imposed. Most of the restrictions are internally imposed. Now, before you click off to another blog describing something easier to stomach, allow me to explain myself.

If somebody points a gun at your head, and says “you’re money or your life,” (Henny Young man jokes notwithstanding) you’d likely see this as an externally imposed restriction. Not entirely. You still have the choice to give the other person your money (which in this day and age may not buy you much), or go simply give him the finger (which would most certainly not lead to a happy ending).

Yea, but that’s stupid. Who would choose death over life? What good is a choice if one of the choices is so incomparably stupid that it doesn’t even count as a choice?

Well, believe it or not, this is an extreme case of a decision, or choice that we make on a daily basis. Most of the time we make our decisions unconsciously, and mostly in line with decisions we’ve made before. We like what’s comfortable, so what we chose yesterday, is most likely what we chose today.

Think of the structure of the gunpoint choice. Choice number one is to remain hold on to your possessions at all cost, hold on to your ego of giving into a mad man, and accept the consequences. Because the consequences are so immediate, and so obvious, it is hard to not feel their weight. So most people would choose (hopefully you’ll never have to make this choice) choice number two, which is go give up your possessions, swallow your pride in hopes of holding that which has suddenly become more important, in the moment at least, than either of them.

Your life.

But what if the choice isn’t so cut and dried? What if the negative implications of a choice aren’t so obvious, and aren’t so immediate? Everybody knows that smoking causes lung cancer, which in turn causes death, but still millions of people still make the choice to smoke a cigarette several times a day.


The short-term benefits outweigh the potential long-term detriments. For the smoker, the pleasure they get is more than the pain they will experience in the present when considering the long-term downsides.

Now, most people who don’t smoke can’t imagine how anybody could come to this conclusion. It is obvious that smoking causes lung cancer. It is obvious that smoking causes poor health. It is obvious that smoking causes bad breath. So why in the world would anybody choose to smoke?

What about other choices, like to eat ice cream instead of a bowl of oatmeal? Surely we are aware that ice cream is not as healthy as oatmeal, right? Here is where it gets interesting. The way we trick ourselves around this is by saying that “it’s only just this once.” Surely we aren’t planning one eating a bowl of ice cream every single night, right? By telling ourselves that “it’s only this once,” we allow ourselves to significantly minimize any negative feelings we might experience in the moment when considering any long-term downsides.

How many times have you heard a smoker say the say thing?

I’ll quit tomorrow.
This is my last one.
This is the last pack I’m ever going to buy.
After next week I’ll never smoke again.

What about the flip side. We can that by tricking ourselves, we can minimize any future negative consequences of our actions, and making the present moment more enjoyable, regardless of any objective evidence to the contrary.

What about doing something that we know will benefit us in the future, but we don’t do it because it causes negative emotions in the present?

Did you exercise today? Why not? Surely you are aware of the long-term benefits of exercise right? Well, the same mental trickery works here as well. Either in the form of excuses, (to minimize the present negative emotions) and in from of promises about the future.

I’m too busy today.
I have too much to do.
I have a bad hip/shoulder/leg.

I’ll start after the holidays.
I’m going to start next week.

The human brain is a fantastic machine that can use many forms of lightening speed shell games to hide reality from us. We minimize the potential negative outcome to better feel good now. We minimize the future benefits to better feel good now. When we have a gun pointed at our heads, when there is only NOW, all the mental trickery collapse into single choice.

Life, or death.

So what do you choose, life or death? When you decide to smoke, or yell at your husband, or eat a bowl of ice cream, or go to or avoid the gym, how are you tricking yourself? What are you doing to convince yourself that the future won’t be so bad if you keep doing what your doing? How can you convince yourself that you’ll start doing whatever it is you know you should be doing today, tomorrow?

Your life, all of it, is the cumulative result of all the choices you’ve made. If you are completely happy with your life, or completely disgusted, it’s all on you. People that are generally successful and happy realize this, and make changes along the way to improve their lot. Those that are generally unhappy refuse to accept this, and try their whole lives to find blame in somebody else, somebody outside themselves.

Kind of a heavy post to make, but one thing that you will always have and you should always use, is your choice. You can choose. No matter if you have a gun to your head, or a choice between the gym and the TV, you can choose.

So back to my story. My self-imposed restriction was that I wasn’t allowed to buy anything. Because then I’d have to carry it around with me all day after I made my way back to the station. And since it was only ten in the morning, that was too long to be carrying something that I bought on whim.

Unless I see something really cool, then all bets are off.

How To Take Ownership Of Your Emotions

Who’s In Charge Of Your Brain?

I was listening to this lady on a talk show the other day. Apparently she is well known best selling author of several books. I was doing other stuff, so I wasn’t really watching, more like listening in the background. Every time they said something interesting, I would pause momentarily to check this out, as this sounded like something that might be of immediate benefit.

She was talking about setting goals, and other stuff. She had written a book that, at least in my opinion, puts a kind of a new spin on an old idea. That old idea being that while you aren’t in control of much of reality, you are, whether you realize it or not, in complete control of how you respond to your reality.

The one thing she mentioned that grabbed my attention and made me focus on this was that you should claim ownership of all your emotions, and emotional responses. The biggest thing we say to ourselves is “he makes me so … whatever.” As soon as you imagine that somebody else has some kind of magical power over your emotions, you lose. Your emotions suddenly become out of your control and at the whim of every passing stranger you see.

See some guy that reminds you of somebody that broke your heart in high school?


You just voluntarily gave up control over your emotions to some stranger on the street. Somebody says something in a tone of voice that reminds you of the way your second grade teacher used to embarrass you in front of the rest of the class?


You just served up your hot button of emotional pain to somebody that wasn’t even thinking about you all that much when they were speaking.

You hand in a report you worked on all week to your boss, and he makes some comment that indicates he is not as appreciative of your efforts as you’d like him to be, causing you to feel resentment, anger, and dangerously close to giving him an attitude that may negatively influence your next review?


You just grabbed the metaphorical loaded gun he was holding out of his hands and shot yourself in the foot with it.

So how do you assume ownership of your emotions? Just like any other response, you need to practice. It helps if you think of things like this not in touch-feely terms that are usually vague and not much help, but more like a sport.

If you’ve never played catch before, you would likely need to practice before you can play catch with somebody, listen to your mp3 player, and watch girls walk by all at the same time. You need to consciously focus on the ball as it is coming at you, and focus on moving your glove to just the right angle, and closing it at just the right time, with the precise amount of force.

It might be a little clumsy at first, but the more you practice, the more automatic it gets.

The same goes with responding to the world. The first step is to simply practice stopping and thinking how to respond in certain situations. Instead of standing there waiting for your emotions to kick in, you can make a choice to quickly observe the situation objectively, and think of the best response. Any emotional response comes only after you brain realizes you don’t have one already prepared, and it looks for the nearest one that may work. Usually this doesn’t work out so well.

Just by getting into the habit of stopping everything, and choosing the best response before you emotions come up, you will generate enormous choice and emotional freedom.

For the boss example. You hand in your report, and he dismisses it as not being good enough. It would be nice to always be given warm fuzzy pats on the back for our efforts, but at work we only get paid for the results. (And truth be told, this is true of most relationships as well.) So instead of getting upset that you didn’t get any props for you hard work, think of it objectively.

Boss asked for report, employee turns in report, report is insufficient. What would be the best course of action? Find out exactly in what areas the report is insufficient, and exactly what would be required to remedy that. And remember that next time your boss asks for a report, be sure to find out exactly, as specifically as possible, what is the intention for the report, what information needs to be in it, what he is actually going to use the report for, how is he going to use it, etc. This can help misunderstandings.

For the guy on the street, well, he’s just on the street. If you see somebody and are getting a funny feeling, stop and ask yourself, “Do I know him? Does he know me?” If the answers are both “no,” then any communication between the two of you is based on a completely random set of circumstances of which you never fully understand. That way you can place no meaning on any interaction at all, and quickly be on your way.

One powerful trick to ask yourself if it’s too late, and you are already angry or hurt at something somebody does, is to ask yourself “Why did I choose to feel hurt, (or angry, or whatever.)” That will give you immense power over your situation.

And if you are interested in reading more about this woman that was on the talk show, her name is Byron Katie, and she’s the author of a book called “The Work,” and lots of other stuff. You can check out here website at:


There’s all kinds of free information, and videos to watch, and worksheets to download to help you get more control and take back ownership of your emotions.

Have fun.

Untie Your Elephant Leg and Roam Free

The other day I was reading this really interesting article on the Internet. You know how you are just surfing around and come across something that intrigues you somehow. You get a feeling of curiosity, and you have to read this, like something here is really fascinating.

The article was about elephant trainers in India. It was talking about how when they take an elephant at a certain age, they tie a long rope around it’s leg, and the other end to a large post in the middle of the elephant training camp. The interesting thing about this is that they have to tie the rope to the elephant’s leg at just the right time, or else it won’t have the right effect.

Timing is very important in cases like this. People can realize how important timing is because life itself is a long succession of events, which are dependent upon events that transpired before them. When you think of how events are really based largely on what happens before them, you can appreciate the value of proper timing. I’m sure many comedians have made the mistake of telling a punch line at the wrong time, to unhappy professional consequence.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried stand up comedy, but it’s an interesting study in communication, there is a unique style of communication that makes doing stand up particularly humorous. And when you can combine the skills of stand up with other acting skills such as improv, then you can be really influential with your communication. There are lots of different books on this subject, if you are interested in improving your communication skills. Most people can realize the importance of being able to improve your communication skills.

So when they tie the elephant’s leg to the middle of the camp, they only need to keep him tied up for a few months before he learns of the limitation. Even when they remove the rope later on, the elephant still thinks he is constrained by a physical limitation that is no longer there. Some elephants can go their whole lives and be tied by an imaginary rope that was taken away a long time ago.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been constrained by something in the past that no longer applies, but it can be useful to look through the list of limitations in that you keep in your head and go through them. You might be surprised to find that many of them are no longer applicable. And when you can take any list of things where most of the items on the list don’t apply any more, most people just go ahead and crumple up the whole list and throw it in the garbage.

When you can remove all your limitations just like that, you are free to do pretty much anything. Have sex with beautiful men and women, make lots of money, run for president, whatever you can think of is how way more possible than when you had that old list of outdated ideas in your head. Something to think about next time it feels as though something is tugging at your leg.

Take Charge of Your Mind

I was listening to these two guys arguing over some political issue on the radio the other night. Lately it has been a big issue, with people from both sides seemingly digging into their positions. Just like those two guys were. Recently it has been in the news quite a bit, and prominently written about on many online news sources and blogs. I’m sure you’ve seen more than enough of it recently. Which is why it was interesting that I listened to these two guys going at it for as long as I did. They weren’t really bringing anything new to the discussion; they both seemed to be repeating the same arguments that had been repeated from both sides already. I don’t know if the news has been slow lately, or there aren’t enough national disasters, but this issue, (and I think you know the one I’m talking about!) seems to be in the news way longer than it should.

It got me thinking about the way people argue their point. When you really dig below the surface of most arguments, they aren’t really arguments at all. An argument, of course coming from the mathematical or logical term, where a set of facts is presented, and an argument is how you illustrate that one set of facts logically leads to another set of facts. All cats speak Spanish, here is a cat, therefore, this cat speaks Spanish. All people are smart, you are a person, therefore, you are smart.

But if you listen to most arguments, they are really just a collection of synonyms and examples of their beliefs, and not why their method is better for a certain application. And not only that, they are contests to see who can most forcefully present their set of beliefs and collection of synonyms. Who ever forcefully and relentlessly puts forth their opinions the strongest is usually the winner. Even in political debates, where you expect a high level of logical skills, they just present their opinions over and over again.

There have been many extended studies of primates, and you’d be surprised how similar they behave to humans. There was one famous book called “Chimpanzee politics” written by Frans de Waal, where he studied a group of chimps for two years. They exhibited intricate and detailed political maneuvering, social rules and etiquette, different strategies that they used to interact with each other based on the individuals social status and standing. It was really extraordinary how we are much more similar to our primate cousins than we think Sure we dress up in suits and use eloquent words, but are the intentions below our actions any different?

Some say they aren’t. Some will point out that there is only a two percent difference in our DNA. Others will point to the book “The Naked Ape,” by Morris. Some will use complex social theories to describe how we really are no different than monkeys, and that the whole of our culture, religion, art, music is nothing more than a complicated expression of our natural desires. Others even go so far as to say that we are completely bound by our primitive urges, that we cannot escape the need to beat our chests and proclaim ourselves better than the next guy.

I don’t think so. I think that despite the huge proclivity for humans to behave, in many ways, identical to apes and monkeys, we don’t have to. Sure we come pre-programmed with desire for food, safety, sex that manifests itself in the form of housing developments, insurance companies, and a plethora of sex related marketing tools, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Mother nature only wants us to live long enough to produce more people. And she, in her infinite wisdom, put in us the drives and desires necessary to be able to do that without ever having an original though or plan of action. We can go through life being a complete slave to our drives and desires and still do pretty good.

But the great part about being human is that we have choice. We can choose to obey our desires as if they are our gods, and that will be that. Or we can merely acknowledge and accept them as only a motivating factor to drive us towards the life that we want. We can choose the outcome we desire, and organize our lives around them, so that we are not slaves to our desires, but we can turn them around and allow our desires to power us and motivate us to achieve any result that we want. Of course, it’s not easy. Just look around you and you will see many examples of this. Fast food for out bodies and minds are in absolute abundance in our society. Resisting can be difficult, but not impossible. Any true reward can be a long time coming, but when it comes, it makes it all worthwhile.

The big difference between us and our monkey cousins, it that we can choose, and despite the ease with which we can forget that, we know this to be true. We know that the fully human life we deserve is only a choice away. A thought away.

The biggest promise of humanity is the simple ability to choose our thoughts. This has been known, written about, and passed down orally since the ancient times. But it’s not easy. Especially today with a bazillion things to snatch your attention from where you want it to be. Like everything, with practice it becomes easier. Those that know this secret, and practice it are the engineers of the society we live in. The rulers, the captains of industry and the politicians that presume to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. You don’t have to listen. Choose your own thoughts. Choose your own destiny. Start today. Now.

Release and Be Free

I remember when I was a kid we were studying anthropology in school. It wasn’t actually anthropology, because it was only third or fourth grade. I don’t think we actually studied anthropology until maybe high school. I guess it was called science, or maybe nature. Weird how that is. When you grow up and learn new things, things you experienced before take on a completely different light. Certain filters are removed from your experience, and certain filters are added. Things just don’t look the way they did back then. Which is kind of cool, when you think about. All I knew back then was this thing called “science.” Now I know about all different kinds of science and different ways to study and different fields. It’s truly amazing that the more you learn, the more there is to learn. It’s like each new thing you learn or experience has the possibility of branching into about a million other things. This is one of the reasons I think it’s important for people to always continue learning.

So our teacher recommended a movie that we watch. It was about animals and different tribes in Africa. There was on famous scene that stands out. I’ve heard this particular scene brought up in several different conversations related to several different things, so it’s likely that you’ve seen it or have at least heard about it.

It goes like this. These tribesmen knew a troupe of monkeys had a secret water stash someplace. But the monkeys were smart, and they never hit up their secret stash when they knew they were being followed. So the tribesman had to figure out a way to outsmart the monkeys. They found a small hole that went into a rock. It was maybe a few inches deep, and then opened up into a much large hole after an inch or so. They sat next to this hole until the a monkey happened by. Then they carefully, and obviously took some pieces of something out of a pouch, and then put them one by one into the hole, making sure the monkey would watch. Then they left. The monkey, being a curious little monkey, wanted to know what was in the hole. So he went over and stuck his hand in to grab the small mystery items. He could barely fit his monkey hand in the hole, but once he felt around and picked up all the mystery items, he couldn’t retract his hand, because when he clutched his fist to hold the items, it couldn’t come out of the hole.

Later on the tribesmen came back. They monkey was still stuck. They started feeding the monkey very salty snacks. The monkey kept eating, but his hand was still voluntarily stuck in the hole. All he had to do was release the mystery items, and he would be free. But his curiosity demanded that he hold the items. His monkey brain also demanded that he eat the free snacks. As time went by, he became thirstier and thirstier until he couldn’t bare it any more. He finally released the mystery items, and ran to his secret water source. He was so thirsty that he forgot to practice monkey stealth, and lead the tribesman directly to the secret monkey water source.

Now think about this poor monkey. He had set up a system where he had a resource, which he took pains to protect. Then he suddenly came across something that he became really interested in. Something he had to have. Like he said to himself “You really have to get this.” Or maybe he said to himself “You really need this here.” I don’t know. But he had a system set up, and he was derailed by his curiosity over something that might or might not have been an additional resource. Something he hadn’t set out looking for, something he hadn’t decided beforehand was important. He saw something, wanted it, and without any thought or planning wasted a lot of his effort chasing something that he didn’t even know the value of.

To make matters worse, when he had what he thought might be important in his grip, it became severely restricting. He couldn’t move. That which he had convinced himself was important had power over even his physical movement. To make matters worse, while he was in the clutches of this unknown, perhaps worthless item (most likely a handful of useless pebbles), he gave in more to his greed and gobbled up the free food that was given to him, which further reduced his power and choice.

Pretty soon the poor monkey was so desperate to overcome his sudden problems he decided the best course of action would be to reveal his secret resource to all who wanted it, perhaps diminishing its value completely. To chase something that might turn out to be completely worthless, the monkey gave up everything. Of course he was only a monkey. He didn’t know that the best way was to never be dependent on free stuff. To take your time to investigate things that falls out of the sky. And had he not been a monkey, he might have learned the most powerful lesson of all. When you find yourself in times of trouble, the best course of action might be to just release, and take a step back, instead of holding on tightly to something that is causing you all kinds of trouble.