Internal Freedom vs External Freedom (How to Find the Balance)

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Silhouette of young man gazing at the northern lights while standing at the edge of the cliff

When you look at people who seem to have everything – financial wealth, social status, connections – do you believe that they’ve achieved total freedom because they don’t appear to lack anything?

Most people do.

But in reality, “successful” people can feel just as trapped by their circumstances as someone who hasn’t yet accumulated material goods.

This is a misconception many people have about what happiness means – that it’s something you achieve by reaching certain benchmarks such as financial success, job promotions, or material wealth.

But not everyone who’s reached those benchmarks is happy. Because those things don’t necessarily lead to true happiness.

So if having a 6-figure income, becoming a celebrity, or owning a mansion won’t necessarily make you feel fulfilled in life, what will?

The truth is only you can answer that. But one thing’s for sure: It won’t come from chasing after things that the world tells you will bring you happiness. You have to look inward, find what truly matters to you, and that’s what you go after.

Internal Freedom vs External Freedom

There are two types of freedom: Internal and external.

External freedom is what most people go after in life – it’s the idea of having as much control over your circumstances as possible. To not just be financially secure, but financially wealthy. To be loved and admired by hundreds, thousands, or millions of people. To rise to the top of your career ladder and show your family, friends, and colleagues just how much you’ve achieved.

It’s being able to do and get what you want, whenever you want it, with whoever you want.

But there’s a problem with pursuing this type of freedom.

You can set a goal, and once you’ve reached it, you may find that it’s not enough. Then you’ll want more. So you set a new goal, one that’s more difficult to achieve than the last, then you achieve it, and still you may not feel fulfilled. And the cycle continues.

It’s because this type of freedom is an illusion. It’s not real. You can never have complete control over your external environment because there are always other factors – other people, other events – that are out of your reach.

The only thing you can control is how you react to these events.

This is where internal freedom comes in. It’s the key to creating a life you love because it’s something that you can find no matter what your external circumstances are.

It’s the sense of peace and contentment that comes from knowing that you’re living your life in line with your values and principles. That you’re doing what you believe is right, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Inner freedom doesn’t rely on outside factors like money, reputation, and material things. It comes from within you. And that’s why it’s so much more powerful.

How Do You Find Internal Freedom?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some tips to get you started:

1. Find Your Passion

What makes you excited to get up in the morning? What do you love doing so much that time flies by when you’re doing it? When you’re passionate about something, it’s easy to find internal freedom because you’re driven by your desires rather than someone else’s.

This means that you’re in control of your life and can do what makes you happy. Plus, when you’re passionate about something, you’re more likely to put in the effort required to achieve success.

2. Find Your Tribe

Surround yourself with people who support your dreams and encourage you to be your best self. These are the people who’ll keep you on track when things get tough.

Having a strong support system is key to finding internal freedom. When you have people who believe in you and are there to help you through tough times, it’s much easier to maintain your focus and bounce back. So make sure to cultivate meaningful relationships with people who’ll help you grow and achieve your goals.

3. Set Your Own Rules

Don’t let others dictate how you should live your life. If you want to do something, do it! There’s no need to conform to someone else’s idea of what’s “right” or “wrong.”

When you set your own rules, you’re in control of your life and can live it the way you want to. This is a key component of internal freedom. Don’t let others dictate how you should live your life – you can make your own decisions and follow your path.

4. Set Boundaries

It’s important to know your limits and stick to them. This means saying no to things that don’t align with your values and setting boundaries for everything – be it for your relationships, work, etc.

When you have clear boundaries, it’s easier to stay true to yourself and maintain your internal freedom. This means you’re in charge of your life and can choose what you do and don’t do. It also helps keep relationships healthy by ensuring that both people are respected and treated fairly.

5. Live in the Moment

Too often, we focus on the past or the future, instead of the present. This can be a major obstacle to finding internal freedom. The past is gone and the future is yet to come – both are out of your control.

The only thing you can control is the present moment. So make sure to focus on what’s happening right now and enjoy it. This will help you live more in the present and less in your head. When you’re living in the moment, it’s easier to stay in tune with your inner desires and follow your path.

Finding internal freedom can be a challenge, but it’s worth it! When you’re able to find your passion and live by your own rules, you’re in control of your life and can be happy no matter what. So don’t give up – keep working toward finding that internal freedom and eventually, you’ll get there!

The Beauty of Finding a Balance Between the Two

Too much focus on either internal or external freedom can create an imbalance in your life.

Too much focus on the external can lead to a life of chasing after things that you think will make you happy but never being content with what you have. Too much focus on the internal can lead you to neglect to work on your career, social, or financial goals.

Finding the balance between the two is key to living a fulfilling life. You need to be externally free to go after your dreams, but you also need to be internally free to stay connected with your values and what truly matters to you. When you find this balance, you’ll be able to live with purpose and meaning.

So how do you find the balance between internal and external freedom?

The key is to focus on what you can control, and let go of the rest. This doesn’t mean giving up on your dreams and aspirations – it just means being realistic about them.

If you want to achieve something, focus on the steps you can take to make it happen. Don’t worry about things that are beyond your control, like whether or not someone will hire you or whether the market will crash. Don’t get attached to the outcome, because that’s out of your hands.

If you approach it in this manner, you’ll find that you’ll get there anyway because you’ll be comfortable with failure and learn from your mistakes without being too emotional about it.

External and internal freedom can work in tandem to help you achieve meaningful things in life. By using your external resources to fund your internal purpose – be it finding a cure for cancer, fighting pollution and climate change, or even something simple like learning to ride a skateboard – you’ll gain even more inner freedom.

On the other hand, being internally free can make you more effective in achieving external goals such as launching successful businesses, increasing your income, or gaining meaningful connections.

Remember that although internal and external freedom can be used hand in hand to help you advance in life – if you had to choose which to prioritize, internal freedom is more important.

Don’t get so focused on chasing after your goals that you lose sight of what’s important to you. Make sure that your actions are in line with your values, and don’t let anyone else control your life.

When you find this kind of balance between internal and external freedom, you’ll be able to live a life that’s both meaningful and fulfilling. You’ll be able to go after your dreams while staying connected to what’s important to you, and you’ll be able to handle whatever life throws your way.

Cam Woodsum
I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.