When you travel or nomad, you can’t help but think of the concept of freedom. The ability to explore foreign lands under one’s own volition is the hallmark of the vagabond, the itinerant, the cosmopolitan.

But did you know there are two types of freedom? These are positive freedom and negative freedom. Understanding and embodying both will not only enhance how you hold the value of freedom in mind, it’ll also make you a better person as you’ll lead your life not encroaching on other people’s freedoms.

Two types of freedom: Positive Freedom and Negative Freedom

Before an audience at the University of Oxford in 1958, philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin delivered his inaugural lecture ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’. In it, Berlin introduced the masses to his paradigmatic ethical theory of Value Pluralism and the distinction between ‘Positive Liberty’ and ‘Negative Liberty’ (henceforth referred to as ‘Positive Freedom’ and ‘Negative Freedom’ respectively). Even Berlin probably couldn’t have predicted the impact his lecture would have. Several decades have passed since it’s creation but it remains one of the most important pieces of post-war political philosophy.

It’s usefulness isn’t confined to politics nor philosophy. We can all use it to instruct our value systems and navigate the world and life with greater aplomb.

When we hear the word ‘freedom’, most of us tend to think about it ‘via negativa’, what it’s like to not be free due to constraints and restrictions and how we go about removing those obstacles to our personal liberty. This concept is Negative Freedom—our liberty resulting from the absence of constraints, restrictions and interference from others.

But there’s also another concept long understated. Positive Freedom is liberty derived from the presence of something. It’s the ability to enact our beliefs, desires and values in the pursuit of personal growth and expansion, a process sometimes referred to as self-actualization.

For much of human history, we’ve been obsessed with cultivating freedom by preventing intrusions from others.

Politically, modern societies trend towards holding personal liberties as a fundamental good with higher importance. There are far more democratic societies and institutions across the world than in pre-Enlightenment eras for example.

Individually, we push for greater self-autonomy in ways our ancestors couldn’t imagine. Slavery was once the norm for large periods of modern history but it’s all but abolished in current times. Proliferation of different types of jobs has yielded higher disposable income for more demographics than ever leading to greater numbers of possessions and experiences within reach. If you don’t like your job, you have the freedom to find a new one unlike the poor serfs of bygone ages.

Improving our negative freedom then is a huge part of lifestyle design. Simply put, no flourishing life is one where the person is held back by other people’s agendas. The two can’t coincide. Behind every success story is someone now unburdened by the shackles of an inquisition.

Yet we often forget (if not remain totally oblivious to) the other part of the equation. Inside all of us bubbles the fuel for self-mastery. We have to ensure we ignite it through action thereby nurturing positive freedom.

All successful people have to reach high levels of positive freedom and negative freedom eventually. Freedom to express themselves. Freedom to create. Freedom to reach their highest potential.

Negative Freedom Positive Freedom Two Types

Tips on cultivating freedom

With the dual nature of freedom clarified, we now turn to the cultivation of those two types of freedoms in our own lives.

Positive freedom and negative freedom have additional distinctions in terms of the characteristics that accompany each type.

Positive freedom is associated with internal factors. If positive freedom is aspiring towards self-actualization and fulfillment then we must learn to foster the potential within ourselves. We must define our values, evaluate our beliefs and master our desires. Likewise, we must conquer our minds and bodies so that they work with us, not against us. Once we have this foundation down, most crucially, we must take action in order to reach our full potential.

Negative freedom on the otherhand is influenced more by external factors. Constraints, restrictions and interference stem mostly from the whims of others. Some of them are justifiable (parents making certain decisions for children, various legal guardrails to disincentivize criminality etc.) but some of them are downright illiberal (imposing dogma while discouraging critical thinking, machiavellian coercion without caring for the needs of others etc.). Avoidance and removal of these is key.

How then do we cultivate freedom? We boost the internal factors for self-mastery and eliminate the external factors hindering our lives.

Internal factors for positive freedom

Define your values

Our beliefs and values comprise our core viewpoints of the world and as such, will influence every decision we make navigating the field of life.

Explicitly defining your values is alignment squared—you’ll gain clarity on what makes you fulfilled and not only avoid ‘FOMO’ but in fact gain pleasure in missing out on certain things that aren’t in accord with who you are.

This will mean less meddling from external factors: it’ll be easier for you to keep away from other people’s agendas from having clarity on what has meaning to you and what doesn’t.

Conquer your mind and body

We can have multiples of most things in life. Either we accumulate many of the same possessions or we get the chance to replace something that we’ve lost.

Yet we only have one mind and one body that we get to carry throughout life. No accumulations of either and no replacements (human cloning hasn’t been invented yet and even if it will, is any clone actually YOU?).

Therefore we’d better control them to the greatest extent we can since they are with us for the entire ride. Have them be helpful passengers instead of hampering drags.

Conquering our minds and bodies is one of the great paradoxes of life. We all should do this fine, after all, of course we control our minds and our bodies physically right?

Yet as we all know this is far from easy in daily life. Our minds can lose focus at the faintest touch of peripheral stimuli. Our attention is hijacked by short-term sources of gratification. Correspondingly, mental health issues are higher than ever.

When it comes to our bodies it’s not much better. Chronic health problems such as obesity are high in first-world countries relative to historic rates. Many still drink or puff their problems away through alcohol and smoking. Due to the stresses of modern life, most of us have something about our bodies inconducive to how we evolved.

We must make it a priority to get this foundation on track as much as possible.

Biohacking has much to say about optimising for both (too much to cover for this particular post) but here are a few things you can do:

For your mind:

-> Practice daily mindfulness such as through meditation

-> Continue active learning (education hasn’t stopped just because you’ve graduated)

-> Minimize unnecessary exposure to digital media (social media, online pop-ups, doomscrolling etc.)

-> Spend quality time with meaningful others (good relationships correspond with positive health and wellbeing)

For your body:

-> Maintain a healthy body mass index (easily researchable)

-> Adopt a diet that works for you and doesn’t let you fluctuate just because you’re abroad (e.g. intermittent fasting)

-> Exercise on a consistent basis (e.g. the standard is sufficient zone 2 cardio per week)

-> Cut back on alcohol and smoking/vaping or give them up altogether

Unsurprisingly, improving one often improves the other so leverage the compounded benefits from treating your body and mind well.

Strive for peak experiences

One of the major conceptualisers behind self-actualization Abraham Maslow reported that among the people he observed who were self-actualized and free, one major characteristic they shared was the frequency of peak experiences. Peak experiences are hard to describe but they tend to be moments of ecstasy, bliss, profundity and a feeling of harmony with the universe.

Unsurprisingly, peak experiences are more likely to occur to those who lead an experience-oriented life rather than one dominated by status, objects and possessions, the latter type all too widespread in our materialistic age.

Chuck Palahniuk once wrote “The things you own end up owning you.” Instead of making your sense of self contingent upon items you possess, seek out richer experiences and stories that enhance your worldview. Your mind will be less reliant on that which is perishable and freer to soak in the richness of experiences life has to offer, even in the seemingly mundane.

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External factors for negative freedom

The obvious preface to this section is to say that averting the external factors that limit our personal freedom is difficult to implement and not realistic at all times. However, if you value your freedom and the thrill of reaching your full potential, you’ll need to get around these to cultivate as much negative freedom as possible.

Go where you’re treated best

This site is called Abroad Lifestyles for a reason. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the power of packing up shop and relocating abroad or adopting a nomad lifestyle if necessary.

When we’re young, the culture and upbringing of our hometown mold us but that doesn’t mean that same place is the best for us in adult life. Our values, outlook and skills can all change from our formative years. If you’re not in a place that fosters them then it’s no exaggeration to say you’re missing out.

Would Elon Musk really have catapulted Tesla and Space X to exemplary companies in their industries if he hadn’t ended up in Silicon Valley? Would Lionel Messi be considered one of the greatest footballers of all time if he and his parents decided to make do in the Argentinian leagues instead of relocating him to Barcelona as a child? Would Marie Curie have won multiple Nobel Prizes and pioneered the fields of physics and chemistry if she hadn’t moved to Paris and met her husband Pierre who she shared her first Nobel with?

You get the picture. In this limited time we have, we need to be somewhere that gets the best out of us. If you’re sitting pretty, nice and integrated in your hometown, not worried about whether horizons yonder may maximise your life then this need not concern you. But if you have the inclination of a maverick (and chances are, if you’re reading this you do), put yourself in an area that values your strengths not looks down on them, even if that means moving abroad.

Structure your environment

I’ve spoken numerous times about the importance of structuring your environment on this blog but it’s always worth repeating.

The first step of ‘structuralism’ relates to the above—going to a town/city/country that promotes your strengths rather than stifles them.

Then it’s up to you to make use of the environment to further your interests and freedom. Set up your home and workspaces for smooth productivity. Create a sanctuary for ‘me time’ free from trivial distractions. Strike the balance between enough exploration (into new areas or interests that you discover ways of improving) and exploitation (so you build momentum with what you have).

And expose yourself to the right types of people which leads to the next point.

Remove toxic people from your life

The late great investor Charlie Munger advised one of life’s great lessons as getting toxic people out of your life as fast as possible.

And for good reason. There are fewer things worse than being around toxic people. They can drain your reserves to no end and if you hang around them long enough, you risk becoming desensitised to their destructiveness that you don’t even notice what it’s done to you.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible or immediate as we’d like. For some people, the major toxic person in their life is a coworker who they directly work with. For some, it’s a family member. If you realistically can’t remove these people from your life then at the very least minimise contact with them. They may get the message eventually.

As the saying goes, you are the five closest people you surround yourself with. Hyperbole or not, the people closest to you affect your mood, output and potential in huge ways and you can’t afford to have one of them be toxic. It’s necessary for complete negative freedom.

Negative Freedom Positive Freedom External


A desire for freedom is a perpetual wish since the dawn of mankind. Little do most know there are two types of freedoms: positive freedom and negative freedom.

Positive freedom is liberty arising from the presence of something. When we have the capability to pursue and live out our values, beliefs and desires to reach our full potential, we’re demonstrating positive freedom. This type of freedom is defined by the internal factors, the ones we have to cultivate within.

Negative freedom is the type of liberty resulting from the absence of something such as the restrictions and constraints from others that guardrail our lives in various ways. Evading these demonstrates negative freedom. This type of freedom is defined by external factors outside of ourselves.

Both types of freedom are crucial for a liberating life. Stimulate the internal factors behind positive freedom and lessen the impact of external factors behind negative freedom to live up to your potential as a self-actualized person.