Book Review: How I found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

I am free to shape my life as I want it. Two things stand in my way.

  1. I am unaware of the many alternatives available to me to achieve my goals.
  2. I have accepted assumptions that restrict my freedom.

Examples of common assumptions, or traps:

1. Identity Trap

Every thing has an identity. A rock has an identity. It has certain properties that make it behave like a rock. We do not pat a rock and expect it to wag its tail. People have identities as well. Each person is unique, has been moulded by his experiences, possesses a different understanding of the world he inhabits; each person has unique properties, like a rock has properties, that makes him behave as he behaves. He might change his identity slowly, but he does not change over the time you take to argue that he is wrong, and you, right.

I fall into the Identity Trap when I deny other people their identities and expect them to behave in accordance with my desire. I should treat people in accordance with their identities. Remember that a rock does not wag its tail.

I also fall into the Identity Trap when I deny my identity and try to conform to the expectations that other people have of how I should behave.

2. Intellectual and Emotional Trap

The Intellectual Trap is the belief that my emotions should conform to some standard – I fall into the trap when I deny that I am happy, or try to be happy because other people say I should be. When I deny my emotions, I cannot find genuine happiness because my emotions will not be authentic.

I fall into the Emotional Trap when I make decisions when I am feeling strong emotions. Strong emotions cloud my judgment. I should recognize these emotions, but not make long-term decisions while influenced by them.

3. Morality Trap

The Morality Trap is the belief that I should follow someone else’s moral code. But someone else’s moral code is not likely to take into account my identity. Instead, I should have a personal morality. A morality is a code of conduct that guides my actions. It takes into account my nature, my goals, and the consequences of my actions. I use my knowledge and experience to create rules that will guide me towards my goals and reduce the risk of disaster. That is a personal morality. A personal morality is necessarily unique to me.

Browne also offers specific advice for becoming free of things in our lives.


4. Freedom from Pretence

Dishonesty comes at a price:

  1. I expend emotional energy covering up my lies.
  2. I miss the chance to reveal my true nature and the chance to attract like-minded people who might help me achieve my goals
  3. If I am found out, people trust me less, and this decreases my power in the world.

Honesty is good:

  1. My words make more of an impact because people know I am honest.
  2. I can relax and say what I think without expending energy covering myself up.
  3. My honest self can be more attractive than my fabricated self. My assumptions of what people want to hear can be wrong.
  4. If I can share my secrets easily, I can understand them better and satisfy them more easily.

Lying hurts my reputation and disempowers me. It is the other person’s responsibility to handle the truth.

5. Freedom from Insecurity

I want certainty in my life. I want something reliable I can depend on. But security should not come from anything external. What is external can be taken away. Depending on an external thing then makes me more vulnerable and insecure.

Security has to come from a belief in the self. Three attributes: self-reliance, vigilance and honesty make up security. I am self-reliant when I take responsibility for my life. I am vigilant when I am prepared for change. I am honest when I acknowledge the mistakes that I make. If I am self-reliant, vigilant and honest, I have no reason to fear, because I know that I can have love and financial security and I don’t need anyone to tell me that I am right.

I do not want to take the gamble out of life. I do not want life to be static and unchanging. That is boring. No. I want a dynamic security. I want to cultivate a belief in the self that is adaptable to the changes that life throws at me.

Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

– Bruce Lee

Three forms of security I look for:

  • Financial

The worth of my assets, cash, investments, skills and property depend on the general market. Financial security is in knowing that changes do occur and acknowledging mistakes I make along the way. An uncertain income can be a source of adventure rather than dread.

  • Emotional

I want to be loved, understood and appreciated. I do this by living life to my own standards, then finding people who value those standards, and finally, continuing to live up those standards! Realise that people can change, and let them go. Relationships should not be based on obligation, but mutual self-interest.

  • Intellectual

I want someone else to tell me that I am right. I look to ready-made philosophies to tell me what to do. Instead, I must realize that the consequences of my actions are the final judge of whether I am right or wrong. I have to rely on myself to craft a Morality. That is how I obtain intellectual security.

Finally, Browne offers advice on how to change from a non-free life to a free life.

6. Who Am I?

I have to find out who I am. My desires may be conditioned or authentic, and to discover my true desires, I need time alone to reflect on my past and to daydream about what I want. I should also do new things to discover what I like.

7. My Own Morality

I should also develop a personal morality. My actions have consequences. These consequences either take me towards or away from my goals. A personal morality establishes the boundaries of my actions within which I can act freely and spontaneously. My knowledge determines what consequences I think my actions will have. My values determine whether those consequences are good or bad. A good personal morality takes me towards my goals. It does not create mixed emotions from my actions. It is also important to consider moral questions so that I will be ready in times of crisis.

8. Is My Life What I Want It to Be?

I can’t manage what I do not measure. An exercise: Log every hour I spend for a week. Label my activities:

  • Good (makes you feel good), Bad (causes discomfort), Indifferent (neutral).
    • Bad items:  can I eliminate these?  What is the price to pay to get out?
    • Indifferent: are they just to pass the time? Daydream, explore new activities to replace indifferent with good.
  • Positive (things you do to increase your happiness), Negative (things you do to avoid unhappiness)
  • Active (things you initiate), Passive(things other people want you to do)
    • Initiate new, more enjoyable activities. Only I know what I want. Ask.
  • Enjoyment (brings happiness now), Past Mistakes (activity to pay for a thing in the past), Productive – Short Term (you expect will produce happiness in the short term), Productive – Long Term (produces happiness in the long term), Productive – Never (will never produce happiness)
    • Get rid of Productive – Never.Be skeptical of Productive – Long Term. Will they become irrelevant when completed?
    • Short-term projects can naturally evolve into long-term projects.

This exercise creates simplicity. Get rid of activities that do not contribute anything positive.

9. A Fresh Start

Another exercise to start afresh:

  1. Imagine complete freedom
  2. What would I do?
  3. What is my present life like? (refer to previous exercise)
  4. What in my present life does not belong to my dream life.
  5. What is the time and cost required to set up my dream life?
  6. What are my present assets and liabilities?
  7. Change! Liquidate what I don’t need to pay for my dream life.



  1. I should lose the urge to control others. When I lose this urge, I will no longer hate or fear people, because I am no longer vulnerable and dependent on them for my happiness.
  2. I am responsible for my own freedom.
  3. Focus on direct alternatives. Direct means that I do not have to depend on the actions of other people for the result.
  4. Daydream more.
  5. Record the time I spend and ruthlessly discard the negative or indifferent, keeping and introducing positive habits that direct me towards my goals.
  6. Life is an adventure, not a burden.

Important questions to answer:

  1. How honest am I prepared to be? Does my honesty depend on the relationship I have with the person?
  2. What is the limit I will go to to satisfy my parent’s wishes?

These moral questions prepare me for times when my morality will be tested.

Mind Map


2 thoughts on “Book Review: How I found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

  1. Thank you for the “thinker” compliment. External approval certainly feels good :).

    I am wary of touching philosophy books because they seem to deal with metaphysical questions that are far divorced from the problems of everyday life. I’ll give it a go and see if it’s illuminating.

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