Do we really need to follow rules?

So, the question for today is; do we really need to follow rules? And if you have been reading our other posts you probably would have grasped by now that we are strong believers in exploring the context, as well as, the content of any discussion. Therefore, if we add context it might include; who made the original rules? Which rules do I choose to follow and which do I choose to ignore? Why are some rules seen as good and some as bad? What about cultural rules? Family rules? Religious rules? Government rules? Suddenly that simple question ‘do we need to follow rules’ may become quite complex. So let’s get more specific.

There are some rules that it makes sense to follow

Not because they are right or wrong, but because we are not OK with the consequences of breaking those rules (or more specifically, getting caught breaking those rules). Driving on the left (in Britain) makes sense, not killing people makes sense, paying your taxes makes sense (although you may not agree with it) – this post is not really about those types of rules, it is about what rules do you consciously or unconsciously live your life according to?

What rules are limiting your potential?

Let me start with a (rather blunt) rhetorical question. ‘If your partner were to die, how long should you wait before dating again?’ Some people might say that they could never love again, another might say after one year, perhaps, a third person might say 6 months – who is right? Which rule is right? Does there even need to be a rule?

What if the person left you rather than died? Would the rules be different? Could you date again sooner if they left you rather than passed away? What rules do you have about respecting other people (or being seen to be respectful by others).

And if we drill down deeper again, for most people, these rules are really about what other people might think and how we might feel emotionally about what they may (or may not) be thinking about us and our actions. And how much do we beat ourselves up with all these rules?

Here are some more rules:

  • I mustn’t let them down
  • I should put their feeling first
  • I should avoid conflict
  • I should be a nice person
  • I should try and be helpful

Who said any of these are true, factual or even helpful to a happy life? Where did they come from? Parents, schooling, religion, society? One of our favourite rules is about parking between the painted lines in a car park, for many people it is really important that that park neatly and courteously – for others, they don’t worry too much – who is right? Who is wrong? They are both paying the same amount to be there. What if the car park was empty, should you still pay as much attention to these painted white lines? What if they were covered with snow and you didn’t know if you had parked within their bounds? Would you worry in-case the snow melted before you returned and then found out you were over a line! Rules, rules rules – do they really help us to be calm and happy? Another way of looking at rules might be…..

Are there sensible rules for emotional happiness?

Or even, do we actually need rules to be happy? For many years we focussed our attention on The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and it was quite a revelation to realise that from a few clever rules nearly all decisions could be made with minimal emotional stress and without the worry of what others might think of us.

Rule 1. – Be impeccable with your word.

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

When you follow this rule the following happens. You stop beating yourself up in your internal dialogue, you stop judging everybody (and yourself), you can begin to say no if you don’t want to do a certain thing and it opens you up to more flexibility in the choices that you can make in your life. It will also introduce some discomfort into your life, but this is different type of discomfort, rather than pleasing others at your expense, you begin to please others when it is in your integrity to do so, it is about saying and doing what YOU really want to do. In the beginning this will fire off uncomfortable feelings based around your old rules about selfishness or caring or letting others down. But, at least you will be able to see those old rules and decide if they are your old rules or those of your parents, guardians or culture! And are they emotionally serving you well – or not?

Rule 2. Don’t take anything personally.

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Now this is our favourite rule for personal growth and emotional freedom, we could see the logic immediately, however, it took about two years of really living with it until the real majesty unfolded in front of us. When your boss is shouting at you – it is them who wants you to be different, it is them who isn’t happy with you, it is them who is looking for a different outcome – it feels personal but it isn’t! It is only personal if we make it personal! If your partner is angry because you didn’t empty the dishwasher – it is them who wanted it emptied, it is them who is disappointed at you (you might not even care if it is emptied) of course, you might want to empty it because you love them and accept that they have a dishwasher emotional thing or sharing the work is important to you. We would strongly advise everybody to really think about this rule because it can liberate you at great depth from what any persons says or does to you!

Rule 3. Don’t make assumptions.

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

We have noticed that so many people just assume that they know what others mean, or what they are thinking, or how they will react – the truth is they don’t know! They just think they do! Often, they are just using past experiences or assumptions about ‘well, if I feel this way then they must feel this way too’ – No, it doesn’t work that way, we are all different, we need to ask more questions and be more specific, we need to bring in more context so we can have a clear communication and understanding of the situation. We see it all the time where one person says to another ‘I know what you are thinking‘ do they? Let’s be honest, a better question might be ‘what are you thinking?’ And even then, will you get the truth? Also, don’t make assumptions that others will actually know what you want – tell them what you want, tell them how you would like to be treated, be impeccable with your word.

Rule 4. Always do your best.

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Just to realise that your best is a variable that can change from moment to moment – and is influenced by internal factors, such as, how you feel, how tired you are, how much time you have, how interested you are, how much money you have etc. And it is influenced by external factors too; how complex is the task, how much help is available, how is the weather, how much time is available etc. Perfection is hardly ever required, that is just a belief! Can your best be a variable between 60% – 90% dependant on circumstances? Could you be happy with 70% good enough? Could you get to a place where 70% is good enough and there is silence in your mind with no voice saying ‘you should do better?’ Who is that voice anyway?

It is not easy, but it is worth while.....
It takes time to adopt rules like these, we think it takes even more time to let go of the old rules that were controlling your life – either way, if emotional calmness, choice and happiness are important to you this is the work that will make all the difference to how you feel in any moment, with any person and under any condition – and that is true personal growth. Also, if you can get down to living with only four rules, perhaps you could get down to only one or two? How simple could you make your life?


So, do we really need to follow rules? Maybe, probably, perhaps, who knows? Certainly we need to consider if we are OK with the consequences of not following some rules – and for many people who suffer from anxiety disorders they discover that they may have dozens of rules that have been perfected over time to avoid emotional pain. However, real growth comes when we can focus on sensible rules that free us from doubt, blame, shame, guilt, regret, anger, fear – especially if we want more calmness and choice in our lives.

Perhaps working with me will give you some new ways of looking at the world and your roles within it?

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