The Dizziness of Freedom

In 2021, Tim Ferriss interviewed George Mumford. Mumford has been a mindfulness coach to MJ, Kobe, and countless other elite performers. Mumford’s personal story is as inspiring as any. And if your life has been touched by the darkness of addiction it will be extra relatable.

There was a particular excerpt that resonated that I included in the Meaning Section of my Affirmations and North Star page. It reminded me of the proverbial donkey placed equidistant between 2 troughs of food who starves to death.

On the “dizziness of freedom” (all emphasis mine):

Freedom is not free. The dizziness of freedom is because you’re on a road less traveled, you’re on shaky ground. The ground you’re on is moving to the degree that — I’m going back to 1846, Søren Kierkegaard, and he said that one side of the coin is freedom or potential. The other side is anxiety or uncertainty. So he called it the “alarming possibility of being able.” So when you grow, when you change a behavior or a habit, you have to experience anxietyYou have to experience uncertainty. You have to experience discomfort.

You get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Before you have freedom, you don’t have to think. You don’t have to reflect. You don’t have to take a risk. You don’t have to be vulnerable. Now you’ll be in freedom and you’re going through a different door. You’re trying something else. Then the dizziness is you do this thing, you can do that thing.

So you start understanding there’s no meaning in the universe other than what you give it, that when you do one thing you lose something else. If I have five choices and I make one, I lose four. So now I’m in here, now I’m worrying about, did I make the right choice? The uncertainty is a military term they use, VUCA, V-U-C-A. From moment to moment, things are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. So you have to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity. That’s part of life. This is what life is about. It’s about saying “yes and”. Yes, it’s frustrating. It’s unpleasant, and it’s okay. This is it. When I grow, this is what comes with it. If I achieve my goals, you look at the positive, but there’s a negative.

The other side is you’re in a rowboat with people. You change, they’ve got to change. They’ve got to move. They don’t want to move. Or they got you in a box and now you’re out of the box. So now they’ve got to see who you are. They’re going to keep you in a box and get mad at you. So for whatever reason, it always comes down to discomfort, being uncomfortable. The nervous system is wired this way. If it’s pleasant, we approach. If it’s unpleasant, we avoid. And if it’s neither, we’re indifferent, we space out, because the nervous system does so.

When you impute meaning onto something, and say, “It’s going to be great. Even though it’s uncomfortable, I know on the other side, this is the only way out.” Once I commit to that and I have the experience of going through it and then coming to another level of grace, of ease, of peace, then I continue to do that. That’s what I talk about — the superpower trust. You need trust, but when you can verify it through insight, through information, through experience, now it goes from confidence to conviction, and then now, you get on a beneficial cycle where things keep getting better— the rich get richer, because you know that if you learn and you achieve, it’s going to generate enthusiasm and you’re going to want to learn more. You’re going to want to commit to it, because you know that — this is what the elite performers do. They see those things as challenges. “Oh, this is great. This is an opportunity for me to express myself.” So that mindset is the growth mindset, but it’s also pursuing excellence.

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