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Learn to be free

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Learn to be free

Scott Miker

When I was younger I felt very restricted. I was a student and had responsibility. I had a job, was taking classes etc.

But over time I started to realize how free I was back then. I didn’t have major responsibilities, like a family or career to worry about.

It has made me realize that our perception is often flawed. I couldn’t see how free I was and was too focused on things that I didn’t like.

Over time I have realized just how free I am, yet I have much more responsibility than I did back then.

The reason is simple. Freedom doesn’t mean that we only do fun, gratifying things all day. Freedom simply means we have options, even if those options aren’t great.

Last week I took my family to an amusement park that is about a 3-hour drive from my home. When we set out on our journey, we headed towards our hotel.

Everything started pretty normal. It was raining a bit and was cooler and more overcast than is usual for this time of year but otherwise seemed like a normal day.

But after a couple hours we started to experience heavier rains. At one point it was raining so hard that cars were pulling off the highway. Everyone put their hazards on and slowed down.

I started to realize that our safe trip became significantly more risky than it was earlier. The risk of crashing went up. We couldn’t see too far in front of the car. We were not familiar with that stretch of road. And some cars decided the rain wasn’t a deterrent to driving well past the speed limit so they recklessly sped past the rest of us.

At this point, I knew that the risk of a crash went up. The risk of injury or even death went up.

I decided that I had a few options. But, none of the options were perfect. I couldn’t stop the rain, or put myself on a familiar road. But that didn’t mean there weren’t things that I could control to help improve the odds of arriving safely.

In my mind, I played out the various options. I knew that I could stop on the side of the road. But that didn’t seem much safer than continuing.

If I stopped, I relied more heavily on the other drivers being able to see me and give enough space on the side of the lane to avoid hitting us. I didn’t like the option. I also knew that I didn’t know how long the rain would continue and if it would stop or just slow soon.

If it didn’t stop and kept raining, at some point I would have to make the decision to get back on the road. At that point, I would have a small stretch of highway to merge safely, hoping cars saw me and moved over.

The more I thought about stopping the more I felt it would increase the chances of something horrible happening instead of decreasing it.

Then I started to think about other options. I could slow down, put on my hazards, stay focused and keep going. I could find other drivers that were traveling safely and follow them so I could see their faint tail lights and would know when the road curved a little sooner.

I could lower certain risks. I could let everyone in the car know that I needed to focus and not talk to me or make loud, disruptive noises. I could lower the music to help keep my attention on the road in front of me.

I could avoid drivers who decided to drive dangerously fast or who were swerving in and out of lanes.

Freedom in life is very similar to driving in the rain. We always have options. Those options might be between multiple less-than-ideal choices, but nevertheless, they are options.

Freedom isn’t about having everything perfectly in front of us. It is about being able to analyze our situation and make decisions that we feel are best.

In life, there are always factors that we can control and factors that we can’t control. We have to learn to put our focus on what we can control and make decisions based on the many options we have. We can’t focus too heavily on the factors that we can’t control or we start to feel too caged, too restricted. Freedom, for me, is more about seeing the options and control I do have instead of focusing on what I can’t control and don’t like.