Breaking out requires real emotional commitment to change. And to get that commitment, you need to focus on why you would want to change, not why others might think you should change, but why you would want to change for yourself.
I had never considered myself someone who could achieve academically. I’d even been held back a year at school. Yet I enrolled in those first two psychology papers, because I knew that understanding what makes people tick is a useful skill to have in prison. Anywhere from 50% to 80% of people in prison suffer some form of mental health issue, and being attacked due to the mental instability of others was a real concern.
It made me dream. It made me think: “Imagine, imagine if I could get out of here with a degree!”
Going for a degree seemed like such an audacious goal. And a major obstacle to achieving this dream was the amount of marijuana I was smoking.
Smoking weed allowed me to enjoy the moment, and avoid the reality of my situation. I was young and locked up. I was frustrated, I had no sense of direction. If I was going to start the process of really changing my life, I needed to stop doing drugs.
Passing those exams had reinforced my desire to break out of my prison. But wanting change, and turning that change into action, are two very different things.
Make the escape
The third step to freedom is to make the escape. Dreams without action remain dreams. In order to make the escape, you need to start taking steps that reduce the distance between where you are and where you desire to be.
People that want to break out of their prisons, but fail to do so, often think about change as something that occurs in some distant future. The problem with us is that it doesn’t prompt you to act, and change can start to feel like it’s beyond your reach. It’s tomorrow, next month, next year.
To make your escape, you must get specific about what you want to change. Specific change is not wanting to lose weight, but wanting to lose 5 kilos. Having the general idea that you want to write a book, will not get you to put pen to paper. Having the specific goal to write 500 words on Thursday just might.
The research shows that having vague goals makes it hard to start and easy to give up. Specific goals mean that you can’t fool yourself into thinking you have done enough.
Many people in prison talk about what they will do when they are released, how they will take better care of their kids, how they will lead better lives. But life and change are about what you do right now.
Time is a different commodity when you’re serving a long period of imprisonment. To survive psychologically, you need to forget about the outside world, accept this is your new life, and to focus on the present.
Focusing on the present was key for making my escape. I didn’t worry about what I was, or wasn’t going to do in some uncertain future. I just focused on what I could do today. On what I could do right now.
Research shows that this ability to seize the moment makes you 3 times more likely to achieve your goals. So, I stopped smoking weed, which allowed me to complete my undergraduate degree. It also massively reduced the amount of time I spent in solitary confinement.
For me, the specific and related goals, were to become drug free, and to complete my degree. The cost of making my escape was sacrificing being emotionally numbed. But making my escape didn’t come without a struggle.
Fight for your freedom.
Many people think that willpower and self-discipline are things that you either have or you don’t have. But the research shows that these are characteristics developed through practice and application.
At various stages in my journey, I encountered obstacles that required persistence and commitment to overcome. Yet my dreams increased in proportion to my successes. Once I had completed my Masters, a Doctorate seemed like the next logical step. This time the barrier was even bigger. I was told it would be impossible to start a Doctorate, without regular face-to-face meetings with my supervisors.
So, my supervisors traveled hours out of their way to visit me in prison. Fighting for your freedom is crucial to successful change and growth. Yet the fights best won are those with allies.
1. We are born free : we acquire self – defeating and distorted beliefs, overtime these beliefs imprison us. Yet this is not the life we were born to live, 50-80% people in prison suffer some forms of mental health issues.
2. Make the escape : Focusing my present. ‘Sieze the moment makes you 3 times more likely to achieve your goals”
3. Fight for freedom to achieve your goal you must overcome any obstacles you encounter, will power and self disicpline these characters developed through practice and application.
4. Concern living free : freedom is a journey not an event, it is a condition that requires effort to maintain.
Self help books and programs often fail, because they do not acknowledge the reality of living free and the on going commitment it requires.
Real sustained, positive change and growth is not something that you achiev cross of your list of things to do and then walk away from. The price of freedom is ongoing effort. To live in freedom we must be mindful of the architecture of our personal prisons. Recognize and avoid seemingly innocent choices, and learn ways to respond when obstacles are encountered.
Well, living in freedom is what keeping it real is all about. Living free requires us to acknowledge that sometimes we are weak. We will not always progress towards our goals in a straightforward manner. Sometimes we will slip back into old habits. Sometimes we will fall short of our ideals. Yet such failures are the opportunities for us to grow. They provide us with a chance to reflect and identify the chinks in our armor. We fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.
We all have this capacity to come back from bad choices and situations. At 18, I made choices that have negatively impacted on many people, and that I will live with for the rest of my life. I’d then spent over 10 years in a negative environment where all the wrong values were espoused, and all the wrong behaviors were rewarded.
To live in such freedom, we must recognize we were born free. We must choose to break out of our prisons. We must make the escape. We must fight for our freedom, and we must keep it real about what living in freedom means.
The man iam today is defined by how I choose to behave today and we all have this ability to step away from our past to embrace our aspirational selves and to re-write the narratives of our world.
My prison was my belief that the measure of a man was his capacity for violence, and that men shouldn’t feel scared, sad, vulnerable, or weak.