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How Structure Gives You Freedom


Working with dysregulated eaters (and clients with other self-regulation problems), I talk a great deal about structure versus freedom. I’ve always thought about them as being opposite ends of a continuum, but recently was struck by something jazz musician Branford Marsalis said about music in a radio interview: “There’s only freedom in structure, my man. There’s no freedom in freedom.” That’s one to ponder, eh? 

Although I don’t know that he meant what I’m going to suggest about structure and freedom applied to music, here’s my take on what he’s saying in general. By structuring some things in life, you get the physical freedom to enjoy other things. Say you abhor the same old same old and love change. All well and good, except you might think, “Gee, I’d love to go to the gym now, but I might want to work on my novel later or go visit grandma, so I’ll pass.” Not having a scheduled time to work out gives you less freedom to take advantage of the time you’re not in the gym to do other things. 

Here’s the key: Once you schedule an activity, you have freedom all the other hours of the day to enjoy other activities. Locking in workout time frees you up to do whatever else you want. Via establishing structure don’t sacrifice freedom, but actually gain it. 

Structure also provides mental and emotional freedom. When you know that you’ll be doing certain activities at a particular time, you have peace of mind. You don’t walk around like some people do, worrying about when you’re going to squeeze in a walk or meditation. You don’t agonize about time lost when you want to do one thing but feel pressured to do another. With structure, you don’t lose present time because you’re thinking about what you didn’t get to do or want to get done. Do you know how much mental energy you lose thinking spending time in the psychic land of past and future? 

Clients complain that they avoid planning ahead or making a schedule because they dislike making commitments. But then all they do is worry about doing the activities anyway. They insist they have the right to choose to do an activity or not. Of course they do. That’s beside the point. I’m guessing that this feeling of pressure which clients call commitment is actually a recall memory from childhood when they had to do things they didn’t want to do. As an adult, you can either choose to do something or not. And live with consequences from your actions of course.

Consider the value of structure regarding eating, exercise and other activities. Maybe a bit more structure won’t hurt—and maybe it will give you more freedom than you think.







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