What is Freedom?

People have many different ideas of what freedom is. In the 6th century BC, Lao Tzu the ancient Chinese philosopher and central figure in Taoism said, “He who conquers others is strong; He who conquers himself is mighty.” For me, freedom and authentic power comes from conquering the Self. The Self for me, is conquering my habitual behavior patterns, which are my compulsive, observable, repetitive reactions to life situations.

In 2000 I started my personal growth and development journey with DTP-Leadership, an expert in the field of habitual behaviors. For me there are effective and ineffective habitual behaviors. Through DTP-Leadership’s innovative self-discovery process based on experientially-based learning, I became aware of my ineffective habitual behavior patterns.

I repeatedly acted out patterns that were harmful and destructive to me and all my relationships. Some of my ineffective habitual behaviors were always reacting with fear, negativity, people-pleasing, and judgmentalism. For the first time in my life I could see I was a prisoner of my habitual patterns and that I compulsively reacted and was not able to think clearly or freely in the moment.

The 3 A’s — awareness, acceptance, action — are tools I use to liberate myself from my ineffective habitual behavior patterns to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Awareness is the first of the 3 A’s. Initially I came up with a long list of habitual behavior patterns I wanted to eradicate. I was conceited in my excitement that I knew what my problems were, and unfortunately, in my arrogance I didn’t take any action to change them. Finally I got sick and tired of having the same painful outcomes in my relationships due to my destructive behavior, and I became ready to have a different experience. I accepted I needed to change. Talking about my experiences and learning’s with the DTP-Leadership community helped me stay on track.

The second of the 3 A’s is acceptance. In order to have a different experience I needed to accept that my ineffective habitual behaviors were sources of my problems. What I do not accept, I cannot change. For instance, I used to think I was the nicest person in the world. I used to believe to be nice I had to do as much as possible for others and neglect my needs. I frequently loaned the same person money that chronically could not make ends meet. I listened to people’s complaints and fueled these complaints by not challenging them to look for solutions. I even went out of my way to do things for others when it was inconvenient to me and all the while I was judgmental of others for their lack of planning. I feared that if I didn’t help, others would fail. From DTP-Leadership I heard the message often that “being nice is not nice.” Over time I began to see my compulsion to act “nice” was harmful to others because it robbed people of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and do things for their own behalf to gain self-esteem. Also, I saw I derived my self-esteem from other people’s irresponsibility. My habitual behavior of acting nice fed my need to be needed and enabled others to be dependent on me. I wanted to get out of this role but I was afraid of what would happen to the relationship if I changed. I needed help to take action to change.

Action is the third A. Practicing effective ways of living and replacing ineffective habitual patterns is not a solo journey and I don’t recommend doing it alone. Initiating and practicing new habits requires living courageously in the moment with people, relationships, and situations. I can only learn new behavior by practicing new behavior. Changing the role I had played in relationships was breaking a habit. Often I was confused by my options (“Can I really do this?”), fearful of others’ reactions (“What if they reject me?”), and doubted myself (“What if I’m wrong?”). I believe taking action on my own is not as effective since I’m limited by my own thought processes, narrow experience, and can easily abandon my efforts to change and revert back to my old way of being when change is met with resistance. The DTP-Leadership community had the experience, skill, and strength to support me in staying accountable and in integrity with myself.

Am I free from my Self today? No. I’ve learned becoming free from ineffective habitual behavior patterns is a journey, not an event. I continue to make progress in changing for the better to live in harmony with my Self and others. The longest journey is the one within and each step in the journey is the destination, and thus will never be over until my last breath. I use the 3 A’s—awareness, acceptance, action—daily in my life to assess where I am in the process of change to live in true freedom, free of ineffective habitual behaviors. Having the help and support of the DTP-Leadership community—a group of individuals committed to working, learning, and transforming their own habitual behavior patterns and supporting others to do the same—was vital to my success.