In Harry Browne’s “How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World”, he identifies a series of traps that can keep you from being free.
One of them is the Box Trap:
“Box Trap is the assumption that getting out of a bad situation is too great to consider.”
This can mean a bad relationship, a bad financial investment, a choice of location, or even smaller decisions like getting the wrong order at a restaurant. How bad does something have to be before you pull the plug? Will you stay with a romantic partner out of a feeling of safety, or in the avoidance of being alone? Are you holding investments out of emotional reasons, like not being able to admit it was a bad decision? Are you unhappy with the town or city you live in but don’t dare make a move because you’re in your own little comfort zone there?
All are common life situations where the Box Trap has taken over.
I try to avoid this one at all costs. There is nothing more stressful than paying into a bad investment, or staying with someone out of fear that that person is your only option. These are all freedom reducing situations.
Avoid the Box Trap using the 5 following ways:
1. Minimalize. When you feel a bit of stress, ask yourself, what is it that you can cut out to free up that area of your life? I tend to move quite a bit, and was bothered by the furniture items and dozens of boxes I continued having to move around every time. My solution was to get rid of it! My bed was not making me happy. I don’t need to lug around a couch. Why did I even own CDs in this day and age of mp3’s? I was stuck in the Box Trap because I felt that I must move all this stuff around every time, there was just no choice. But the fact is there was a choice. I got rid of most of my stuff and I’m more free for it. And I don’t miss any of it. And I can move at the drop of a hat, now I just need furnished places.
2. Voluntary relationships. A perfect representation of the Box Trap is agreeing to make assumptions in relationships. “This person is my girl/boyfriend” seems harmless enough. But what does that mean? When you start assuming that this person will be with you tomorrow no matter what, because they are labeled “your girlfriend”, or “your wife”, trouble may ensue! These assumptions people make in relationships can lead to resentment when one person starts to take the other for granted. Then, the two people find themselves in a situation where they may be just hanging on, because they got married and committed to each other “forever”, or even the more milder commitment of “becoming girlfriend and boyfriend.” However you define your relationships, the one factor that must remain consistent if you want to avoid the eventual Box Trap is to make them voluntary. Every day is a new day in that relationship, even if you’ve been married 50 years. If you look it at it like that, the newness factor can be there no matter how long you’re together, and you both will be more likely to show up as your best self on a regular basis. There is no staying together “out of safety” or “because of the kids” or any factor other than each of your own happiness.
3. Weigh the costs and don’t look back. The other day, I had booked a round trip flight to one city, but then it came into reality that I really needed to be in another city an hour away that weekend for several reasons. The roundtrip flight cost me $200. If I kept that flight, I could have still reached the other city, but only for 1 day, then I would have to turn around and make my way back to the city I was flying out of. I considered all options and what would make me the happiest. Did I want to save the $200 or go where I really wanted to be? I chose the latter, ate the $200 and was much happier with my decision, as I got to see a new, beautiful place and spend time with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. The Box Trap would have had me sticking to my original plan and would have been a huge pain in the ass. I wouldn’t have had the experience I did and I would have decreased my happiness. I would have been living less freely. This can apply to any number of situations. What is the cost of breaking up with that person? Is it really too great to consider, or might you be better off for it? Should you quit your job or would that lead you to a life of poverty and misery? I always use the gut check test. What’s the feeling in your gut when you think about quitting that job or breaking up with that person? Is it instant dread or does it give you a burst of excitement before you go into analysis mode? Your gut will usually tell you the answer of what to do.
4. Check your ego. Years ago, I got into buying stocks. I was buying during the tech boom at the end of the 90s. Every stock I bought would go up, and go up BIG. I thought I knew what I was doing, so I kept buying more stocks. Everything went up and I was a genius and getting rich. But then…the market came unglued. I held onto nearly everything. “It will turn around soon!” I told myself. But of course, nothing turned around. I watched some ridiculous stocks that I owned go to zero. On paper, I lost 10’s of thousands of dollars on companies I barely knew anything about! My ego would not let me sell, because I had to be right. But wanting to be right ended up putting me in the Box Trap and wiped out a good chunk of my savings. Emotionally-based decisions are bad for your bank account, and should be avoided if you want to to avoid the Box Trap and less freedom.
5.The present does not equal the future. You may have a shitty situation right now. Perhaps you live in Cleveland, Ohio. (I actually like Cleveland, but I imagine living there would be depressing, given the lack of sunshine they get!). How much longer will you accept that living in Cleveland is your fate? There’s a whole world out there. There are no rules that you have to stay in one location. You can change where you are and even who you are. Because your situation sucks now, doesn’t mean it will always suck into the future, forever and ever. You simply have to take action to change it. Avoid the Box Trap by dropping the idea of “fate” altogether, and creating your own future- instead of passively letting others decide it for you.
Stop trapping yourself in a box, and enjoy another level of freedom in an unfree world!