Independence Day - Free Your Mind

Dec 6 22:00 2001 Kathy Paauw Print This Article

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"Happiness,Guest Posting like unhappiness, is a proactive choice."
-Stephen Covey

I saw the movie Pearl Harbor over Memorial Day weekend. It
served as a good reminder of the tremendous cost of freedom.
There is also a tremendous cost to not having freedom.

In a physical sense, most of us enjoy freedom. In an
emotional or psychological sense, however, an estimated 80%
of the population puts themselves into a self-imposed prison
cell on a regular basis. We forfeit our freedom of choice
through our own thought processes. I frequently hear my
clients say, "I have to" or "I gotta" or "I should" And when
I hear those phrases I often ask, "Do you have to or do you
choose to?" There are very few things in life that we have
to do. Yet some of us forfeit our choice to the point of
seeing our options in life as limited. This generally leads
to a feeling of hopelessness.

There are indeed times when you are not at choice. When you
are not at choice, you may be a victim. And sometimes you
might slip into the victim role when, in fact, you do have
choices. The first step toward getting out of a self-imposed
victim role is to recognize the choices you have.

Exercise Your Free Will

"Independent will is our capacity to act. It gives us the
power to transcend our paradigms, to swim upstream, to
rewrite our scripts, to act based on principle rather than
reacting based on emotion or circumstance."
-Stephen Covey

We have been given the ability to examine our conscious
thoughts and choose how we react in any given situation. We
learn at a very early age that if we act a certain way, we
will achieve a certain result.

Often the result we opt for is safety. And safety is
necessary to preserve our physical well-being. However, our
desire to be "safe" sometimes paralyzes our ability to
exercise our free will. From childhood on, most of us have
been programmed to "play it safe," and this often affects
the choices we make as adults. We tell ourselves, "That was
so disappointing before, so I better not take that chance

Do you allow your fear of hurt, rejection, or failure to
determine how much risk you are willing to take? What is the
cost of doing this? Perhaps you're stuck in a job or career
path you hate, or you are in a relationship that does not
serve you, or you've chosen not to pursue a relationship you
want. Do you struggle with low self-esteem and self-
confidence? If so, you are probably severely hampering your
ability to manifest what you want in your life by convincing
yourself that you should not try, or that you do not deserve
what you really want. Our choices are strongly influenced by
our disempowering emotions. By learning to recognize and
step out of experiencing these emotions, a whole new world
of possibility will be available to you.

I know this from personal experience. For 13 years I chose
to stay in a stressful career that I did not find
fulfilling. The more time I invested in that career path,
the less at choice I felt. At one point I took an exam to
receive a special certification in my field. When I passed
the exam and was certified, I felt like there was no turning
back! I told myself, "I can't leave this field now look how
much I've invested in it!" And besides, I had no idea what
else I could possibly do. Fear held me back, until one day
the pain of not making a change outweighed the fear of the

Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway,
teaches us how to stop negative thinking patterns and
reeducate our minds to think more positively. In her book,
she shows us how to risk a little every day, how to turn
every decision into a "No-Lose" situation, and much more.

When my clients focus on their values -- what is most
important to them at the core -- they are more at choice and
less at effect. They recognize that they have the freedom to
choose based on their own values, versus being influenced by
limiting beliefs, circumstances, or the opinions of others.
One of the great joys of being a coach is that I get to
journey with my clients as they create the work and play
they are most passionate about. When passion and
talents/skills intersect, there is no limit to the

Inside-Out Thinking

"If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good
to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not
success at all." -Anna Quindlen

Most of us grew up with an "outside-in" model of thinking.
In other words, we have been influenced by the advice and
opinions of others rather than trusting the answers from
within. When we follow the outside-in model, the results do
not usually bring about a deep level of satisfaction or
fulfillment. Outside-in thinking means that we try to
change, improve, or transform ourselves and our
circumstances based on what others think. Outside-in
thinking represents a reactive model, based on external
circumstances. Not only is this less effective, but it
usually takes more effort and energy.

The "inside-out" model of thinking represents a proactive
model, which is based on accessing one's own internal wisdom
and core values. The word "proactive" means more than merely
taking initiative. Our behavior is a function of our
decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings
to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to
make things happen. When we align our actions with the
essence of who we are and what we value most, we are using
the inside-out model. As each of us more fully honors our
essential selves and our values, outer conditions begin to
change, improve, and even transform.

One of the best illustrations of the power of "inside-out"
came to me when I was a child. I went to see the movie
Papillon. For those not familiar with this story, Henri
Charriere was a Frenchman who was convicted in 1931 of a
murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he
spent 12 years in the penal colony of French Guiana. After
eight unsuccessful attempts to escape, he finally got away
to Venezuela. More than 20 years later, when he was 60,
Charriere wrote his story, which became an international
best seller and was made into a movie. One scene from the
movie has stuck with me all these years. Charriere was
locked in a dark, small cell in solitary confinement almost
24 hours a day. The only living things sharing the tiny
prison cell with him were the roaches. He chose to make
these roaches his "friends" and actually looked forward to
seeing them on the occasions when a beam of light would come
into his cell so he could see.

Now, if you're like me, I was taught that roaches were not
my friends. This scene in the movie taught me a very
important lesson in life: It is not our circumstances that
make or break us, but rather our response to those
circumstances. Jack Canfield illustrates this beautifully in
his book, How to Build High Self-Esteem, by sharing this
simple equation: E (experience) + R (response) = O

In Charriere's case, the experience was that he was
imprisoned in solitary confinement in a very small roach-
infested cell with little or no light. The response was that
he chose to think of the roaches as welcomed guests in his
home -- his way of honoring his own value of having
companionship in his life. The outcome was that he was able
to maintain his sanity by inviting the roaches to provide
him with the companionship he so desperately craved while in
solitary confinement. Had Charriere's response been
different, I'm certain he would have experienced a
completely different outcome. As I recall, the movie
paralleled Charriere's life with that of another prisoner in
the same penal colony. Although the two prisoners shared
similar experiences, their responses were quite different.
The other man ended up losing his sanity and dying during an
attempt to escape.

Although we may never find ourselves in Charriere's
circumstances, I believe most of us are mentally imprisoned
by our own response to experiences in our lives. When we
experience emotions like fear, anger, and jealousy, we have
chosen thoughts that put us in the smallest of jail cells.
These emotions completely paralyze our freedom of choice.

We have the ability to be completely at choice about how we
see things, how we feel, and what we do as a result. In
Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
People, he explains how these things are all connected: Our
paradigms -- the lens through which we view things -- inform
our thoughts. Our thoughts inform our feelings. Our feelings
inform our response. Our response affects the outcome. This
explains how two people working from different paradigms can
experience the same event and yet experience completely
different outcomes. To illustrate, Stephen Covey tells of an
experience he once had:

Mr. Covey was sitting on a New York subway one quiet Sunday
morning when a man and his children got on his subway car.
The man sat down next to Covey and closed his eyes, while
his children immediately began yelling back and forth,
throwing things, and even grabbing people's papers. Although
the children were being very disruptive, the father made no
attempt to control his kids. It appeared that he was
oblivious to the situation. Covey grew more irritated by the
minute. Clearly everyone else on the subway felt irritated,
too. So Covey finally turned to the man and said, "Sir, your
children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if
you couldn't control them a little more?" The father lifted
his gaze as he became conscious to the situation, and he
said, "Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about
it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died
about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess
they don't know how to handle it either."
At this point, Covey shifted from feeling irritated and
judgmental to feeling compassion, concern, and empathy. In
other words, as Covey got more information, it shifted his
paradigm, which shifted the way he thought about the
situation, which shifted his feelings about the man and his
children. And all of these shifts helped Covey to choose a
different response, which changed the outcome for both Covey
and the other man.

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About Article Author

Kathy Paauw
Kathy Paauw

Kathy Paauw, a certified business/personal coach and
organizing/productivity consultant, specializes in helping
busy executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs declutter
their schedules, spaces and minds. Contact her at or visit her website at and learn how you can Find ANYTHING
in 5 Seconds --Guaranteed!

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