I've got them. You've got them. We've all got them. A bazillion Rules are tucked away in your brain, monitoring every minute of your day and telling you how to do everything you do.
There are big Rules, instilled at the cultural level, that keep you from strangling the neighbor's dog when it barks all night, from shooting the idiot that cuts in front of you on the freeway, and from slugging your boss when she demands yet another weekend's worth of overtime. While anger and frustration are justified in all three of these examples, the Rules that keep you from violence provide safety not only for your neighbor, your fellow driver, and your boss, but also for you. Let's face it, expressing that initial impulse might be momentarily satisfying, but you'd regret it in the long run.
Then there are the individual, personal Rules, the Rules you learned from your parents, your teachers, and your peers. These Rules often create restriction instead of safety, limit your possibilities, and stifle your dreams. When you start to question and break these Rules, you'll discover a sense of fun and freedom and you'll become happier and more productive.
That's not to say that breaking Rules is easy. To begin with, they served a purpose for you for a lot of years. There's a reason (to take a ridiculously simple example) why your parents taught you not to talk to strangers. However, that Rule doesn't help you much now that you're an adult who needs to network, deliver presentations to large groups, and conduct business on an international scale. Still, how much of that Don't Talk To Strangers Rule lurks in the back of your mind, creating a lump in your throat and a flutter in your belly when you're facing the adult necessity?
Now, that is, as I said, a ridiculously simple example that may not ring true for you. The thing about these individual Rules is that they are truly individual. While many are shared widely, they tend to have a personal twist; simply put, your Rules aren't the same as your best friend's Rules.
And breaking the Rules is different for everyone as well. For some people, just thinking about breaking Rules makes them break out in a cold sweat. Others gleefully start breaking Rules right and left - until eventually even they come up against a more thoroughly ingrained Rule that makes them flinch.
Here are three questions to ask yourself when you're contemplating breaking a Rule and finding it hard to do.
- Whose Rule is it, anyway?
Who made this Rule? What little voices in your head are clamoring that breaking this Rule will bring down mayhem and destruction? Get a piece of paper and list the names of everyone whom you KNOW will think less of you if you break this Rule. It will be shorter than you expect; you may have a hard time coming up with more than two or three. However many you have on your list, think about whether these are the people you want running your life.
If you're still stuck, make another list of all the people who will support your Rule-breaking. I'll bet there are more of them - and that they're the ones whose opinions really mean something to you.
- What will breaking this Rule do for you?
Make a list of the benefits you'll get from breaking the Rule. Put down everything from It will be fun to I can make more money to I'll take a step closer to being who I really am. No one else will see your list, so it's safe to brainstorm wild ideas.
If you find this hard to do, remember that you're not committing to breaking the Rule, you're just listing some of the good things that will happen when (if) you do.
- What's the worst possible thing that could realistically happen?
I'm not asking you to break Rules just for the sake of breaking them. Nor am I asking you to incur significant risk by breaking Rules. So if you're contemplating, for instance, breaking the Rule your wealthy aunt instilled in you about never lending large sums of money to friends, you might want to consider this question very carefully. If you can see significant financial, physical, or emotional risk in breaking the Rule in question, then it's probably not a Rule you should break.
Listing the worst possible consequences on paper will help you see just how real the risk is. If your answer to this question involves what other people might think, for instance, then go back to the first question - “Whose Rule is it, anyway?"
Be sure that when you identify risks, they're both real and significant. Breaking Rules feels very risky. This step helps you determine what's real and what's perceived.
I challenge you to consider the Rules in your life, and to break one Rule every day for a week. Then let me know how it feels. I'll bet you enjoy it enough to keep right on breaking the Rules!
"Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something. " Thomas A. Edison, American inventor and businessman, 1847 - 1931
(c)Grace L. Judson
Helping professionals who feel trapped and want a sense of direction
About the Author
I'm Grace Judson, the founder of and driving force behind Svaha Concepts
Stuck in a “success plateau" and having a hard time figuring out reasons to get out of bed in the morning? For more information or to access my free resources (including my free workbook “What Would Your Cat Do? Simple Steps to Overcome Overwhelm"), please visit Svaha Concepts' website