I was in a conversation about mental freedom this morning and as a brainstorming question someone asked me…What would it take for a person who is physically incarcerated to become mentally free? My immediate answer was “I have no idea.”
In my mind I’m a beach girl who grew up outdoors from the Garden State, yes that’s New Jersey. I was even in Girl Scouts until sixth grade. As an adult I’ve traveled around the world and my family and I stay outside and on the go as a normal routine. Point being, I love freedom and make it a practice to avoid anything that would have me locked up inside. Now I will say that on the flip side of all of that is I know many people who are or have been incarcerated (remember I’m from Jersey) and still, I had never really thought about it.
So how does someone physically incarcerated become mentally free?
I still don’t really know but I believe in many of the same ways someone living in the outside world would have to free themselves from their own mental prison. Clearly physical imprisonment brings a whole different set of challenges to deal with but don’t underestimate the power of being in a mental prison even when you’re physically free.
How many people do you know living in a mental prison and how do we become mentally imprisoned in the first place?
The common thread is institutionalization. Both physical and mental imprisonment involve a process of institutionalization where the norms of the environment get integrated into your own thoughts, feelings, and actions until they become natural to you and internalized. Now tell me who is not connected to some institution? Think corporate, government, educational, or even marital.
Ask yourself these questions, even rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 to see where you land on the scale of mental prison to completely free!
- How much of your daily routine and schedule are driven by your demands (work, kids activities, emails, etc.) vs. being centered around your own priorities (health, wellness, creativity, rest)?
- How often do you feel like you’re not doing something you should be doing and that sooner or later someone is going to call you out on it or the ball is going to get dropped?
- Are you maintaining a “got it all together” or “tough” exterior to keep things in control or at least the perception of being in control?
- How often do you quietly avoid engaging and interacting to get a break or to feel safe and relieved from stress or pressure?
- Do you ever feel on edge and find yourself reacting to situations at a level ten when it really might require a level four response?
- Do you ever feel extra vulnerable to the opinions of others or like you’re starting to see yourself through the perceptions of others more than your own point of view?
- Do current situations cause you to revert back to similar experiences of stress and then start to second-guess your own judgment and ability to resolve any issues?
We’re all vulnerable to the effects of others and our environments so it’s important to check in on ourselves to make sure we are living on our own terms according to what matters most to us. Today our businesses, our jobs, and our families are constantly navigating a world of stress and pressure. It’s hostile! Most mental clutter is a result of fear and worry, which are heightened, in a hostile environment.
Here are four key ways to stay mentally free in any environment
1. Develop a keen sense of self-awareness. Uncover your values, priorities, must haves, preferences, and your boundaries. Knowing these things about yourself free you up to be with others without fear of losing yourself. Get clear and centered around what matters to you so when other people’s norms and perspectives come into your space you know what to take in and what to keep out. Stay open AND stay aware of what and who you let into your space as a way to keep your peace of mind.
2. Leverage your time to do what makes you happy, what is important to you, and what makes a difference in your life and others. Your time is your most valuable resource. You cannot expect to be loose with your time and be in control of your life. When you know you’re valuing your time your mind is free of worry and clutter and you won’t need to resent others for “taking or wasting” your time. Check out my previous blog on Taking Control of Your Time.
3. Release judgment. Notice I didn’t say “stop” judging. Most of us are automatic judging machines; so instead of fighting yourself on that just let the judgment flow then LET IT GO! Give yourself a break, relieve yourself from having to “get it right”, love yourself even when you get it “wrong” in your mind and then do the same for others. Most of what we’re judging day to day is minor and if we release the judgment as it comes our minds will free up immensely.
4. Connect to purpose that is bigger than where you are today. This keeps your mind wide open as opposed to closing around whatever circumstances might be in front of you at the moment. It gives you a higher perspective and a “North Star” to keep you moving along your center. Stay purposeful in what you do and anything that does not support your purpose will become insignificant.