Breaking the rules?
How many of your decisions are really your decisions?
I’ve been looking back at my life and taking inventory. I’m wondering how many of my decisions have been decisions that: others wanted me to make; or that my younger, less experienced self would make; or that I think I ‘should’ make because of some unspoken rule that I’ve been following without even knowing it?
As an experiment, 2017 is the year I’ve tagged “letting go of all the rules that no longer work for me”.
Rules are sets of understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. Some are written and some are understood.
I have no argument with speed limits, The Golden Rule, no texting while driving, or planting seeds at a specific time of year to get an abundant crop. These rules are guidelines that have proven to support the best interests of a healthy society.
I’m all in for certain rules of etiquette: keep your mouth closed while you chew; let people off the elevator before you get in; be quiet when people are sleeping; on a busy train or bus don’t take up two seats with your ‘stuff’. These rules indicate that you have a brain and a heart.
I’m not talking about overthrowing the government (although recently the thought has crossed my mind).
The vast majority of the decisions I’ve made over my lifetime have been made because of rules, shoulds, and ideas I actually didn’t see dragging in the dirt behind me … the ones that didn’t add to me or to the health of society. In hindsight I suspect I used them as an anchor to hold myself together. Maybe my fear was that if I wasn’t attached to a bunch of beliefs and ideas and rules I would run totally amuck?!
The rules I want to let go of are the ideas and unspoken dictates that are keeping me in line with someone else’s idea of how I ‘should’ act. Rules like “boys don’t cry”; “don’t gather undue attention”; “boys play sports”; “girls do the housework”; “men bring home the bacon”; “children should be seen and not heard”; “children should be allowed to do or say whatever they want”; “don’t rock the boat”; “keep everybody happy”; “don’t leave a high-paying job for a more satisfying one”; “you can only be happy if you have children”; “don’t waste your time on an art or music degree”; “get married” … and on and on and on …
I want to do things differently. Can I actually trust my own judgment? I’m not kidding myself. It won’t be easy.
Unspoken rules come from our families, our workplaces, our churches and our society in general. They’re everywhere. So how does one even begin to sort them out?
It’s also difficult because most everybody follows most of the rules, whether they know it or not. We’re hardwired to want to be part of everybody. Most of us way deep down want to be accepted. And for sure, there’s safety in numbers.
WHERE DO YOU START?
So if you want to use more discretion in which rules you follow, where do you start? What do you use to guide your decision-making?
First of all, you need to show up. That means you notice when you’re on automatic pilot. When you’re on automatic pilot you’re going to do what you’ve always done. On automatic pilot you can hurt yourself and you can hurt others, and you may never know it. You want to do something different this time.
USE ALL OF YOU
Second, use all of you. By that I mean you have amazing resources to make healthy and reasonable decisions when you pool all your resources. When you bring in the wisdom inherent in your intellect, your heart, and your body and they’re working together, you know what to do! Literally.
Pause, breathe, notice the story (i.e. notice that you’re creating chaos or scaring the crap out of yourself with your thoughts), and then soften your body, You will come back to yourself. Every time.
If you allow yourself to trust in your own basic wisdom, you will find it easier to follow the rules and laws that make sense, and enjoy the freedom of ignoring the ones that are insane. I don’t think there’s ever been a time that would benefit more from that approach. Maybe we can look back on this century as the beginning of the wisdom revolution.
As I keep practicing what I preach – pausing, breathing, noticing the story in my head, and softening my body – I’m experiencing fewer regrets and also more open-hearted moments.
I’m not expecting a complete overthrow of the rule police in my head. I am seeing myself slowly developing greater trust in my own wisdom.
Is there something that you’re doing that you know isn’t in your best interest? Is there a rule you’re following that sucks the life out of you? Have you ever asked yourself what feels ‘right’ to you? Not what ‘is’ right, but what feels ‘right’ to you? That one shift, from asking what ‘is’ right, to what feels ‘right’ to me in this moment, has changed the course of my life several times.
Think of a decision or a choice you need to make. It could be as simple as whether or not you want to let your daughter stay out after curfew. You get that it’s important to her and you know she’ll be mad at you if she has to leave the party early. You know that all her friends are being allowed to stay. But you also know the curfew is in place for a variety of reasons.
Put your hand on your belly, breathe out, soften your body, and then ask yourself what feels ‘right’, to you, in this moment. Not what ‘is’ right, but what feels ‘right’ to you?