Reality Check: The paradoxical freedom of structure

If you’re like a lot of us, you don’t appreciate it when someone tells you what you should do. Some of us take that distaste for being “told” even further. We’ll keep our options open, even to the point where we resist telling ourselves what we need to do.

The need for freedom is one of the basic needs that Dr. Glasser identified as common to all of us. The strengths of our needs can vary. But Glasser asserts that a satisfied life requires that we satisfy those needs.

What would an unsatisfied need for freedom look like? Picture this: you’ve been looking forward to having this weekend free to go fishing. Your spouse has just “suggested” that you need to paint the guest room so your mother-in-law can visit. Bam! Did you feel that pain? That’s the pain of an unsatisfied need for freedom.

In a relationship, a high freedom-needing partner can contribute excitement and spontaneity. Going on vacation? Throw a dart at the map and set out toward wherever it lands. It’ll be fun!

Or, that high need for freedom could bring discord. Is it smothering when your partner wants to know where you are going and what time you’ll be home? If so, maybe your dissatisfaction is the result of an unmet need for freedom.

Unless partners can figure out effective ways to reconcile their needs, relationship troubles can result.

The need for freedom can also contribute to challenges in school and work relationships where we deal with people whose job it is to tell us what to do. How we manage that reality can have an impact on whether we graduate, succeed, or even remain employed.

But what about aspects of our lives that don’t involve others? Does the need for freedom have any impact there?

Let’s see. Are you ever late because you’ve misplaced your keys? Perhaps you refuse to rigidly force yourself to put keys in a specific place every time. If you enjoy that kind of freedom, then you’ve likely also experienced the joy of lost keys, too.

As always, if what you are doing is working well for you, then you won’t see a need to make a change.

However, if you’re a high freedom-needing individual who finds that life is a little too chaotic for your satisfaction, you could try this different perspective: Structure can bring you freedom.

Yes; it’s true! When you create structure, you can free up valuable space and time; resources that you can use to truly satisfy your needs.

For example, a creative person who can’t find their tools and supplies when the urge to create strikes them never gets to make anything. By the time tools are located, the energy to create has dissipated. That’s not very satisfying, is it?

Rather than being a restriction, creating a locational structure for your tools can be freeing.

It’s even more freeing to structure time. When you create a structured routine (and follow it) you ensure that repetitive tasks get done, essentially automatically. That routine frees up time; time to take full advantage of your freedom.

Would that work for you? Try an experiment. Choose a routine for one tiny part of your life. For example, this evening, decide what you will have for lunch tomorrow. Prepare it tonight. Follow that routine for a few days. See how it works.

Do you find yourself objecting? “I want to keep my options open;” “I don’t know what I’ll feel like having when lunchtime rolls around tomorrow.”

Decide anyway. Experiment. There are tradeoffs everywhere in life. A high need for freedom comes with both upsides and downsides.

Does the structure of pre-choosing your lunch feel restrictive or freeing?

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