Often without being aware of it, we have constructed a lot of rules for ourselves in our lives. Some of them were put in place to help us to make sense of the world, protect ourselves or be successful. At some point, however, we need to assess these rules to make sure that they are still working for us.
Let me give you some examples. You might have decided that you can’t function without a cup of coffee to start each day. You might have a rule that says you need to read before going to sleep. Sometimes, these rules are challenged. For example, you develop a thyroid disease and need to take medication first thing on an empty stomach and that cup of coffee has to wait for at least thirty minutes.
When our rules are challenged, it can be a source of stress. We become unsettled and even panicked about how we will maintain the status quo. We know that change is a constant and as we get older, more and more of these rules will be challenged. Some of them are easy enough to change. Some, however send us off kilter for a while and we need to find a new way of being that fits into our new reality. That might mean making new or different rules in order to cope with what’s changing in our lives.
We have rules about so many things. We have rules about how work should look and what is work and what is not work. The world is changing and people are making money in completely unique and interesting ways that were unheard of twenty years ago. Maybe you have a rule about what your career needs to look like. Sometimes when we get attached to our expectations, it can lead to a lot of stress and disappointment when things don’t turn out as planned. Sometimes, the best things come from unexpected places, like retrenchment. Being open to possibilities and accepting something different from what we expect, helps to reduce stress.
We have rules about relationships. When I do this, my partner must do that. When I say this, my kids must do that. But people aren’t robots and expecting people to act and respond the way we want, also leads to stress and disappointment. Dropping those expectations and just loving the people in our lives leads to much more happiness. What would happen if you let go of those relationship rules you’ve been living by all this time?
We are often compelled to conform, to fit in to our environments, be it at work, or socially. Our families expect certain things from us and often we get trapped in a cycle of fulfilling the expectations of others while we suppress what we really want to do and who we really want to be. Mark Manson, the successful blogger writes about admiration for the ” willingness to be different, an outcast, a pariah, all for the sake of one’s own values.” Maybe we need to break the patterns we have set in motion and stop worrying about meeting the expectations and needs of others.
We also have rules for ourselves. You allow yourself to do some things and you don’t allow yourself to do other things. Do you allow yourself to have fun? To rest or to be silly? Do you allow yourself to spend time on creativity or things that don’t lead to income or ‘productive’ outcomes? Sometimes breaking the rules you made for yourself can be enormously liberating. I’m not in any way encouraging you to break the law. Just to be clear.
Some rules we have put in place are no longer useful or relevant and when we are inflexible and cannot adapt to the change, we suffer. When I developed my autoimmune disease, I had to give up gluten. That meant a cascade of changes in my life, starting with the daily rusk and tea. I had to start reading the ingredients in all the food I ate and bought. I had to notify hosts of any functions or meals I attended that I cannot eat gluten.
It was hard and I was really grumpy about it for a long time. But I adjusted and now I have a new normal. The more change we encounter, the better we get at adjusting and the easier it becomes when we need to take on a new challenge.
Perhaps I’m lucky in a way that my burnout was so severe that I really had to make a lot of changes. I changed my diet, relationships and career. I learnt to relax and to be kind to myself which was tricky to get right. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered anything but I had to let go of a lot of my rules I had in place.
I create rules for my children to guide them in terms of their behavior and our expectations of them. My youngest adheres to the rules so fastidiously that it can be harmful. She gets overwhelmed if a rule doesn’t work or she needs to bend it for a practical reason. I’m trying to figure out how to show her that some rules can be bent and others are non-negotiable. That’s a balance we all need to learn.
I’m wondering what rules exist in your life and your mind that are no longer serving you? Maybe it’s time to challenge some of those rules and ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t follow this rule that you made for yourself? Would it really be so bad? Do you need to upgrade some rules for your life to work better?Follow me: