“Freedom from…” vs. “Freedom to…”

by Barry Hill

freedom from vs freedom to

At Fit After Fifty, yesterday the concept of “freedom from vs freedom to” entered into our conversation…

For those of you unfamiliar with the phraseology, it is first credited to German social psychologist Eric Fromm in his book, The Fear of Freedom (first published in the US in 1941). In this work he identifies and differentiates positive and negative liberties as it relates to societal tendencies toward government & rule.  For the scope of this blog, I’ll stop there, but feel free to read more here. (Certainly these concepts are more faceted and complex, but for this article, we are keeping it fairly simple.)

Freedom From: Think back to when you were turning sixteen about to get your first drivers license (don’t strain yourself!). For those of us that legitimately waited to drive at the legal age, this was ALL ABOUT NEGATIVE LIBERTY. Freedom from: parents, your little sister’s nagging….this was it…freedom from your childhood past. Big time! So you jump in the car and take off  down the road, only to discover, you really have no where to go! But you quickly justify to yourself: “It doesn’t matter…at least I’m not stuck at home!”

Freedom To: Fast-forward this scenario ten years. You’re nearing 30 and you decide it’s time to open that coffee shop that you’ve always romanticized owning. You meet with a small business mentor and make an appointment with a small business loan officer at your local bank, relishing in the “freedom to” do something you’ve always wanted to do.

So let’s apply this to health habits. When you look at the cupboard, do you feel the need to resist? More specifically, to resist opening the door for fear of consuming those chocolate chip peanut butter cookies the neighbor brought over last night? Do you need “freedom from” your sugar cravings?

How about your workout shoes?  (Hopefully they’re not collecting dust in the garage!) When you look at those shoes, do you think “I must…” or  “I should…”?

In creating new healthy habits, we often need “freedom from” our previous way of thinking, and in doing so, we have the “freedom to…”. And yes, that’s easier said then done. But the mind is powerful. And I can’t think of a better representation than the account from Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. (His story as a WWII prisoner in a concentration camp.)

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We all have the freedom to choose. We just need to be reminded sometimes.






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