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Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. The Minimalists have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Forbes, TIME, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CBC, and NPR.

Self-Restraint as a Virtue

Freedom. Regardless of how you define it, everyone values freedom. The word alone conjures images of doing whatever we want, whenever we want.


Dig deeper, however, and we quickly realize that’s not freedom—it’s self-inflicted tyranny.

Left to her own devices, my four-year-old will happily do “whatever she wants”: throw her toys across the room, binge-watch Peppa Pig, gorge on chocolate cake, refuse to brush her teeth, play in traffic.

These decisions feel good in the moment, but as our poor decisions compound, we reap the rotting fruits of our indiscretions. In time, bad decisions pave the road to bad habits, and those habits trap us. Eventually, the cage we’ve built keeps us closed off from the very thing we sought—freedom.

Of course, a four-year-old lacks the fully developed prefrontal cortex to be blamed for her impulsive decisions. But what’s our excuse?

The antidote to impulse, then, isn’t more freedom—it’s self-restraint. When implemented regularly, this restraint seeds a better life formed by good habits, and a refined freedom blossoms with bounty.

This essay was also published in our side project, Minimalism Life.