“Free your mind and the rest will follow.” 1
Remember that song, “Free Your Mind” from the 1990s? It’s seared into my memory by a moment on the dance floor. I looked to my right and grooving to En Vogue as if she had not a care in the world was a woman about to go on trial for killing her husband. I knew her from the pictures that were plastered on the front of my newspaper every day. I felt shocked, amazed, and somehow challenged/inspired. Even if she was innocent, how could she possibly feel free enough to fully enjoy that moment?
I’ve come back to this question from time to time in the ensuing decades. I inherently understand that no matter what has happened or what other people think, my thoughts are mine. And I’m happy letting my mind roam free. But understanding on a deeper level why she could dance freely in a situation in which I would be more likely to hide requires an exploration of the emotions, training, and thinking that limit me.
Exploring these has led me to some thoughts on how can freeing your mind improve your life. Here are a few:
You cannot control anyone but yourself.
The dancing alleged murderer could not control the crime investigation, the newspaper reports, her employer (who fired her the minute she was arrested without waiting to see if she was guilty), or any of us on the dance floor. She could only control herself.
Attempting to impose limits on someone else so that they will conform to you is futile. When you change yourself, everything around you will shift. Sometimes this may be joyfully in the direction you desire. Other times it will be painful. I witnessed a moment of joy on that dance floor. No matter what my training said about an alleged criminal enjoying life with abandonment, that moment was inspiring.
For everything you think you know about someone, you don’t know much unless you’re willing to invest.
So often we make choices based on people’s outward presentation. This limits our choices for friendships, romantic partners, employees, and caregivers. The caregiver who treats you with kindness, gentleness, affection, and respect may use bad grammar or vote for another political party. The well-read, well-spoken, impeccably dressed professor may beat his wife.
My parents greatly diverged in their understanding of this concept. Very few of my dad’s friends were acceptable to my mother. They were mostly what you’d call colorful characters that brought him laughter, adventure, and intellectual stimulation. My mother preferred socially acceptable appearance above all else. She missed many opportunities for expanding her thinking and enriching her life even within our extended family.
Free your mind to visualize.
When you learn to waterski, you also learn to fall. If you can’t get the falling out of your mind, you won’t get it out of your muscle memory. We accept that many sports require conquering the mind game. Life in general is no different. And just like you can improve your basketball shot by visualizing, you can improve your chances of becoming successful at any goal using the same technique.
I’m not saying that visualization will suddenly make me a great basketball player, but unless I can see the possibility of becoming one, I’m doomed before I start. Many of us have learned how to visualize failure.
Most limits are self-imposed.
If your initial response to this statement is a four-letter word, that’s not surprising. It’s more enticing to believe that we are limited by outside forces. It is a fact that outside forces affect us and may change the options, but they limit us less than we believe they do. When we let go of the idea that outside forces control our fate, we are required to face our own demons.
Taking responsibility for our limiting thoughts and behavior is much more emotionally difficult. It may require processing through anger, grief, and loss. It may require a shift in self-image. It will require some decisions that don’t feel good. Letting go of self-imposed limits is not easy, but to the degree it’s hard it’s also healing and rewarding.
Flip the script.
If you understand the value of freeing your mind but aren’t sure how to start seeing the possibilities, try flipping the script. For example, instead of imagining only how awful you’ll feel if you don’t get the job you really want, imagine how great you’ll feel when you do. Don’t stop there. Imagine days, months, and years filled with excitement and fulfillment. Hold onto those thoughts and feelings until you feel a shift from anxiety to confidence.
It is at that moment that the world of possibilities will open. You don’t need that particular job anymore. You want it, but it’s not the only gig in the world worth having. There are millions of opportunities. When your mind is free to embrace all the options, you’ll be free to see abundance instead of scarcity.
It’s not mind over matter.
For some this will work differently. If you have experienced significant trauma, you may need to free your body before you can free your mind. The two are significantly intertwined. There’s nothing wrong with this and there are great tools to help – somatic experiencing therapy, EMDR, and yoga for trauma are all great options for helping your body release so your mind can follow.
Another benefit of freeing your mind is problem solving will get easier. There are multiple solutions to any problem that presents itself. An open mind makes it possible to imagine creative and innovative approaches. Easier problem solving alone is a great reason to free your mind!
I’ll just dance my way out now.