break free from your self-imposed rules

Breaking All The Rules

The twist: YOU wrote them

Rule #378: You can't have it all.
Rule #826: Guys like you when you're as good as them at sports.
Rule #1,257: You can only wear shorts with rounded edges on your protruding thighs.
Rule #2,914: Smile when you answer the phone.
Rule #3,993: You have to travel to have an open mind.

There are thousands of rules we write in our heads, from the giant, life-defining ones (#378) to the largely inconsequential mini-rules (#1,257). We write new rules for ourselves every day, before and after every experience, and these rules help us. These rules shape our lives, our principles, our character, our integrity. Rules give us structure and guidance, and we need those.

Like the healthily willful rule-breaking child I was raised, sometimes I rebel against my own rules—and that's necessary too. Redefining my principles, character, and notions of integrity can only be good for me, as I grow, learn, and change. Setting new precedents by breaking old rules can be a sign of progress and growth.

The problem with rules has never been the rules, but how they're made. What's the impetus for making them? Order? Morals? Self-preservation? When acknowledged, these are excellent reasons for making rules. But left unchecked, our subconscious minds are making all kinds of rules for us that we don't need to follow—rules borne from our fears, inadequacies, and self-doubts.

These fearful rules are the hurtful ones, and when we fail to recognize them, we let our lives be guided by fear, inadequacy, and self-doubt rather than by principles, character, and integrity.

Let’s examine my rules.

Rule #378: You can't have it all.
Logically, I believe I can have it all—and I want to! But subconsciously, I believe I don't deserve to have it all, for a myriad of reasons: I was born into a great family in the United States (and in Texas!), I got a great education, I’m tall and athletic and generally happy with my appearance. Why do I deserve any more than this?, my inadequate self questions. So I make a rule: I can't have it all. Because that way, I don't get what I "don't deserve."

Rule #826: Guys like you when you're as good as them at sports.
This may be true. It may also be completely irrelevant to love. Or only relevant to certain sports. Or certain guys. Point is, my am-I-pretty-enough fears made up this rule to protect us: so long as we're good at sports, guys will like us, whether we're pretty enough or not.

Rule #1,257: You can only wear shorts with rounded edges on your protruding thighs.
I mean, this one is obvious, right? Rounded edges are much more flattering, as they draw the eye upward and don't cut the larger thigh in half. It's a fine rule, though it's made up by my insecure psyche, because I recognize that it's made up by my insecure psyche.  I can and do break this rule even if I often follow it.

Rule #2,914: Smile when you answer the phone.
This is a good rule. Smiling comes across in your voice. The rule was borne unconsciously, after reading about it in a magazine, but I recognized that I was making it and decided I wanted to continue with it. Key: recognition.

Rule #3,993: You have to travel to have an open mind.
I love to travel, but I also love to nestle into home. Somewhere along the way, the part of me that feels like I don't do enough traveling decided to make a rule that an open mind can only come from traveling. While there's a kernel of truth to this—the currency of subconscious rules—there's also much to be said for the psychological exercise of maintaining an open mind within your normal setting as opposed to one engendered by a completely new setting.

Rules can be about control, behavior, emotions, and other people … can you think of a few rules you've created for yourself? What are your giant, life-defining rules and countless mini-rules? These rules shape your life, your principles, your character, your integrity. See if you can let your rules give you necessary structure and guidance, while at the same time allowing you the freedom and willingness to break old rules that don't serve your purpose anymore.

Image: Some rights reserved by martinak15

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